Taylor Swift, 27, is about to drop her sixth studio album, “Reputation,” on Nov. 10. She’s also one of those celebrities so famous that even if you don’t listen to her music, you probably know something about her. Usually, the assumption is, “Isn’t she the one who always writes songs about her boyfriends?”
However, those who know Swift only from those headlines and her major commercial hits (“Love Story,” “You Belong With Me,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) miss the fact that her music goes far beyond crushes and exes. Swift, who has solo or co-written every song she’s ever recorded, also tackles other substantive subjects, which have a major impact on her extremely loyal fan base.
We took a deep dive into Swift’s albums to track her evolution on these other themes:
As the story goes, aspiring teenage singer-songwriter Taylor Swift knocked on doors around Music Row, dropping off demo CDs. Her parents eventually saw enough promise to move from Wyomissing, Pa., to Nashville, where Swift became the youngest songwriter ever signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing at 14.
Shortly after, Swift landed a record deal with Big Machine. As she was suddenly thrown into an adult world, her songwriting was still very much from a high-schooler’s perspective.
“I don’t know what I want, so don’t ask me,” she sings on “A Place In This World” (Swift, Robert Ellis Orrall, Angelo Petraglia). “ ’Cause I’m still trying to figure it out.”
This direct connection to her fans — many young girls indeed felt similar to Swift — would catapult her to superstardom.
Swift’s solo-written “Change,” an anthem about not giving up, was chosen as a 2008 Summer Olympics theme song, but “Fifteen” was the standout track from the Grammys’ album of the year, convincing critics that Swift was a true force. (Rolling Stone dubbed her a “songwriting savant.”)
Ultimately, Swift wanted listeners to know it was okay to feel overwhelmed by high school. “I’ve found time can heal most anything, and you just might find who you’re supposed to be,” she sings. “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at 15.”
Swift wrote this entire album herself. While the quiet “Innocent” got many headlines — it chided Kanye West for interrupting her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards — one overlooked song was “Never Grow Up,” a melancholy guitar acoustic tucked between Swift’s forays into rock and pure pop. In the track, 20-year-old Swift grapples with the fear and loss that arrives during the early years of adulthood.
Swift’s most famous — and happiest — friendship song arrived in the form of “22” (Swift, Max Martin, Shellback), an upbeat track that basks in a carefree existence, dancing and making fun of exes and eating breakfast at midnight after a night out: “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time, it’s miserable and magical, oh yeah!”
The song’s hidden clue on the album liner notes is “ASHLEY DIANNA CLAIRE SELENA,” also known as her close pals Ashley Avignone, Dianna Agron, Claire Kislinger and Selena Gomez. Swift explained she wanted to write with the attitude of, “We are in our 20s, and we don’t know anything, and it’s awesome.”
Album: “1989” (2014)
Although “New Romantics” (Swift, Martin, Shellback) is hidden as a “bonus track” on “1989,” it’s a fan favorite, and Rolling Stone recently ranked it as the second-best Swift song. It has “22” vibes with an ’80s sonic spin, celebrating the heartache and joy of being young: “Heartbreak is the national anthem, we sing it proudly, we are too busy dancing to get knocked off our feet.”
Album: “1989” (2014)
Swift’s stardom skyrocketed again as her pop songs took on mass appeal. “Blank Space” (Swift, Martin, Shellback) is a parody of the tabloid media’s characterization of Swift: A needy serial dater with a long list of ex-lovers who can tell you she’s insane. And someone who, when she gets dumped, “goes to her evil lair and writes songs about it for revenge,” as Swift once put it. Swift started writing the lyrics as a joke and then realized the character was actually fascinating — as the song goes, “a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”
Martin and Shellback also co-wrote “Shake It Off,” one of Swift’s top-selling singles, an earworm that hits back at her critics who she says are “gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” In a YouTube interview, Swift said she wanted to write a “joyful” song about the criticism she gets on a daily basis — otherwise she would just burn with resentment forever.
“I Know Places” (Swift, Ryan Tedder) takes a more despondent view of a lifestyle in which privacy simply isn’t an option. Swift has repeatedly talked about the difficulties of starting a new relationship while the world watches and mocks her, and this track is a wistful tune about hiding out: “They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run — baby, I know places we won’t be found.”
Album: “Speak Now” (2010)
Swift first displayed her thirst for vengeance against exes on songs such as “Picture to Burn” (Swift, Liz Rose) on her first album and “Better Than Revenge,” about a romantic rival, which she wrote for “Speak Now.” But on that third album, her motivation also went beyond boyfriends with “Mean,” a single that she wrote by herself and that earned her two Grammy awards, including one for best country song. The song’s rumored genesis was a critical blog post by music writer Bob Lefsetz, who roasted Swift’s cringe-worthy duet with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 Grammys.
In return, Swift paintedher critic as an eventual bitter, washed-up loser, “drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing.” Swift concludes, “All you are is mean — and a liar and pathetic and alone in life.”
Album: “1989” (2014)
Swift’s most infamous revenge track is “Bad Blood” (Swift, Max Martin, Shellback). Once she revealed that the tune was about a fellow female pop star who tried to “sabotage” an arena tour, the Internet quickly figured out that it was Katy Perry, who hired several backup dancers away from Swift’s Red Tour.
Although it might seem like a benign slight, Swift’s lyrics are rough: “Did you have to hit me where I’m weak, baby, I couldn’t breathe, and rub it in so deep? Salt in the wound like you’re laughing right at me.” Things only escalated when Swift recruited her famous friends for the song’s fiery music video, which shows her vanquishing an enemy. In summer 2017, Perry fired back with a track of her own, “Swish Swish,” although it received more mockery than anything.