Before becoming a pop monolith, Taylor Swift was just a teenage girl with a guitar and a story to tell.
After years of making headlines with public breakups, social media feuds and award show mishaps, it is easy to forget how the 10-time Grammy winner first became a household name a decade ago with her confessional, carefully crafted songs jam-packed with personal details.
Whether she’s singing about the first kiss, vengeance or heartbreak – few artists can write a hit like Taylor. Before she unleashes her hot-blooded forthcoming album “reputation” on Nov. 10, Access has ranked her 21 best song lyrics of all time.
21. “And then the world moves on, but one thing’s for sure / Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours”
Hell hath no fury like Taylor scorned. The singer’s lead single off her sixth studio album – “reputation” – became her most controversial release to date as Taylor tackled the media scrutiny following her drama with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. In the boldest line from the track, Taylor fesses up to her short-lived fall from grace, but also ensuring some karmic justice for her foes.
20. “I gave you my best and we both know you can’t say that / You can’t say that / I wish you were a better man”
Country music group Little Big Town revealed their hit single “Better Man” was written by Taylor in late 2016. The song is rumored to give rare insight into her split from long-term boyfriend Calvin Harris. While she remained mum after the breakup, the painful lyrics detail how their relationship withered despite Taylor giving her all. She went on to win “Song of the Year” at the 2017 CMA Awards for the track.
19. “And he’s long gone, when he’s next to me / And I realize the blame is on me”
With this line from “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Taylor fought off criticism that she always plays the victim when her relationships end badly. The brutally honest, dubstep-flavored track sonically captures the complexity Tay felt after falling for the bad boy – and realizing she was the problem.
18. “I’ve been spending the last eight months / Thinking all love ever does / Is break, burn and end / But on a Wednesday, in a café / I watched it begin again”
Taylor’s critically acclaimed fourth album – “Red” – spawned some of the best songwriting of her career. With “Begin Again,” the singer shares how one picture-perfect first date helped dust herself off after a breakup.
17. “And you come away with a great little story / Of a mess of a dreamer with the nerve to adore you”
On her debut album, a 16-year-old Taylor delivered one of her most venomous breakup ballads – “Cold As You.” These lines are dripping with regret, as she takes the loss from a romance gone wrong while her ex walks away emotionally unscathed.
16. “And she thinks I’m psycho ’cause I like to rhyme her name with things”
Before “Look What You Made Me Do,” Taylor gave us a glimpse at her dark side with her fiery track “Better Than Revenge.” On a quest for vengeance after a Hollywood starlet stole her boyfriend, she unleashes some of her sharpest songwriting while taking a jab at her own “reputation.”
15. “Heartbreak is the national anthem / We sing it proudly”
While a bulk of Taylor’s discography mourns love lost, “New Romantics” signaled a more mature outlook on romance. Instead of cursing heartbreak, she revels in it – celebrating the freedom of being single.
14. “All my flowers grew back as thorns / Windows boarded up after the storm / He built a fire just to keep me warm”
Taylor’s “Love Story” becomes reality in the dreamy pop ballad “Call It What You Want.” The beautiful imagery of Tay quietly rebuilding her “reputation” and falling in love after months of media scrutiny makes this one of the most visceral lyrics from her forthcoming album.
13. “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter / You are the best thing that’s ever been mine”
This lyric from Taylor’s 2010 hit single “Mine” captures the moment a skeptic falls for the first time. While this song is far from autobiographical (Tay’s dad is awesome, by the way), the chorus in “Mine” manages to pack an entire story into just a few lines.
12. “And darling, it was good never looking down / And right there where we stood was holy ground”
Taylor gets wistful with “Holy Ground” off her album “Red.” The fast-paced track is dripping with nostalgia and longing as Tay reminisces about a former flame. Comparing the feeling of first love to “holy ground” details how sacred young love is. With such great heights, however, comes quite a way to fall when it’s over.
11. “And you understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars / And why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words”
With “You Are In Love” – a bonus track off “1989” – Taylor gets meta about her artistic manifesto. At her core, Taylor is a romantic and fueled by the intricacies of love. Despite her continuous musical evolution, her songs will always revolve around this sentiment.
10. “And I stare at the phone, he still hasn’t called / And then you feel so low you can’t feel nothing at all”
Taylor doesn’t hold back in the emotionally raw breakup song “Forever & Always” from her sophomore album “Fearless.” Anyone reeling from a broken heart can relate to the blunt, honest lyrics as she confronts an ex that promised her forever.
9. “My thoughts will echo your name / Until I see you again / These are the words I held back / As I was leaving too soon / I was enchanted to meet you”
What makes Taylor an exemplary artist is her ability to write a seemingly simple song about a complex emotion. With “Enchanted,” she cages the butterflies she felt when meeting a potential love interest for the first time.
8. “So you were never a saint / And I’ve loved in shades of wrong / We learn to live with pain / Mosaic broken hearts”
This lyric – tucked into the epic 5-minute track “State of Grace” – foreshadows Taylor’s fascination with “reputation” and public perception. Rumored to be about her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal, Tay confesses to her own missteps in love while acknowledging her beau’s notoriety. Plus, comparing her heartbreak to “mosaic broken hearts” is one of the most poignant metaphors in her discography.
7. “Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it”
“1989’s” closer track “Clean” shares a powerful sentiment about moving on. Though Taylor has healed from a love lost, those sudden moments of longing for what could have been are inescapable.
6. “I loved how you walk with your hands in your pockets / How you’d kiss me when I was in the middle of saying something / There’s not a day I don’t miss those rude interruptions”
There’s something powerful about Taylor listing the subtle details she misses after a breakup. The somber “Last Kiss” gets its power from Tay’s intricate recollection of these small moments she never expected to miss.
5. “When all you wanted was to be wanted / Wish you could go back and tell yourself what you know now / Back then I swore I was going to marry him someday / But I realized some bigger dreams of mine”
No matter how much Taylor grows up, “Fifteen” will always be a shining light in her career for its candor. The song intimately narrates teenage growing pains, the naiveté of young love and a sudden loss of innocence. With these lyrics, Taylor solidified her “big sister” relationship with her fans – assuring them that the world is bigger than the hallways of high school.
4. “So don’t you worry your pretty little mind / People throw rocks at things that shine / And life makes love look hard”
This lyric from “Ours” is the kind of heartwarming quote that deserves to be stitched into a living room throw pillow. Taylor’s sincerity shines in the track as she shakes off the naysayers and continues to dive headfirst into a new relationship.
3. “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”
No one makes fun of Taylor Swift better than Taylor herself. The brilliance of “Blank Space” stems from the thorns off her rose. Transforming into the sensationalized pop star caricature tabloids created for her, Tay gets the last laugh as she delivers pop perfection with the track.
2. “But I took your matches / Before fire could catch me / So don’t look now / I’m shining like fireworks / Over your sad, empty town”
These savage lines from “Dear John” shred into an ex-lover who left Taylor with a nasty scar. She shows no mercy on the track, as “Dear John” evolves from anguish into a victorious explosion of independence.
1. “And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest”
“All Too Well” is Taylor at her best. The track is five and a half minutes of pure aching as she pulls apart memories of a lost love as if they were shards of glass from her skin. Every line builds up to this powerful, cathartic lyric in the bridge as Taylor curses her ex for breaking her heart over and over again.
— Oscar Gracey