To all readers of The Oracle: I, too, hate that I reset to factory default and choose to write about Taylor Swift each time a new challenge presents itself. But when the concept of “The Best Vs. The Worst” was presented to me, I couldn’t help but think of Miss Americana herself. I pretty famously have a pea brain, and while I do pride myself in dabbling in an expansive list of artists, the discography of Taylor Swift occupies about 99% of it.
Picking Taylor’s best and worst albums wasn’t mental gymnastics for me, as my definitive ranking of the eight studio albums is something I think about probably the third most in my life, behind breathing and maybe eating.
The Worst: Lover (2019)
Somewhere within Lover is a truly excellent concept-album that explores love in its various forms, and the heightened emotions it inevitably causes. What makes Lover Taylor’s worst album is that the final product is unfortunately not this.
Plagued by a tracklist that is more bloated than my lactose intolerant self after three slices of pizza with ranch, Lover is frustrating in that it surrounds some of the best songs in Swift’s discography with some of the absolute worst.
“Me!” Kicked off the era with a confetti-cannon, Nickelodeon-esque bang, and “You Need To Calm Down” said “gay rights!” in a time where we’re far past “gay rights!” being enough. Both are the clear low-points of the album, and both are truly stains on Swift’s otherwise impeccable catalog. “The Man” is far too on-the-nose for a Taylor Swift song, especially when compared to the thematically similar “mad woman,” which would follow less than a year later.
“The Archer” is bad, period. Swift released the song with a level of self-awareness that it was to be Lover’s “emotional” Track Five, and this awareness is reflected in the song. The beauty of Swift’s fifth tracks — which are notoriously the most emotional/vulnerable of the album — is that they happen naturally. By writing “The Archer” with the knowledge that it would fill this slot, the result is some of the most cookie-cutter songwriting Swift — arguably the greatest songwriter of her generation — has ever done.
It’s unfortunate that these overshadow tracks like “Cruel Summer,” “Death By A Thousand Cuts” and “False God,” which did not in any way receive the credit they deserved. When I’m bored, or sad (or both), I like to imagine a world where Lover left five or so songs on the cutting room floor, rolled out with an entirely different aesthetic and went down as one of Taylor’s best. Unfortunately, ’twas not the case in our reality, which is why it lands in this spot.
The Best: reputation (2017)
Years from now — five, maybe 10 — a tastemaker, somewhere, will publicly proclaim that “wait, is reputation the best Taylor Swift record?” In a very biblical sense, third eyes everywhere will open, and we will finally, collectively as a culture, admit what we all know to be true.
It’s hard to put into words just … how … genius … reputation is, though if you speak to me for more than an hour, I’m sure it will come up. Released in the midst of what was inarguably the lowest point in Swift’s career, the album is a forceful taking back of the narrative, doing so with no regard for opinions or reactions.
On reputation, she weaves through the intricacies of being a woman who is perceived — especially on such a level as one of the world’s biggest stars — and the effect it has on not only your life, but the relationships that occupy it. We listen as she builds her guard up on “…Ready for It?” only to tear it down just a few songs later with “Delicate.” She constantly presents herself in contradictions: she’s a thief one moment, a victim the next; she claims control, only to disclose her insecurities in the same breath.
The 15 tracks are the best combination of stunning production — brash, jarring highs juxtaposed with soft, dreamy lows — and masterful songwriting Swift has put out yet. It’s hard to pick out highlights when the album is a highlight in and of itself, but “So It Goes…,” “Don’t Blame Me” and “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” top my list. (Side note: “End Game” has the best hook Taylor has ever written, and would universally be considered one of her best songs save for the messy Ed Sheeran and Future features.)
I love reputation like I imagine most people love their children, and will defend it to the grave; I’ll be patiently waiting for the culture to catch up.