My Favourite Singer: Taylor Swift



There are any number of bands I thought about when trying to decide who to write this piece on. The Strokes, Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. All favourites of mine. But I’ve gone down a different route. Fully aware that I risk losing any credibility I may have once had on this website, I’m @hannakin__ and I'm here to tell you why My Favourite Band is...well, not a band. It’s Taylor Swift. Sorry.

Now, I’m sure that many of you hear ‘Taylor Swift’ and conjure up a certain image in your head. Boy obsessed serial dater whose feminism is limited to the idea of ‘girl squads’. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of criticism aimed at her over the past few years is valid. However much of it, such as a recent Cosmopolitan op-ed comparing her to Donald Trump, and the idea that her relationship-focused songwriting is somehow shallower than, say, Adele’s relationship-focused songwriting, is not.

Somewhere along the line, we forgot why Taylor Swift became one of the biggest stars in the world almost a decade ago. For teenagers and young adults all over the world, Taylor Swift is a sort of conduit for the things they can’t properly articulate. We all have a band or an artist who did that for us. She writes about love and heartbreak and friendship and growing up and moving on and all the other things that seem like the end of the world when you’re young, and she’s really bloody good at it. Yet, as a recent Rolling Stone article put it, ‘Taylor Swift the celebrity is such a magnet for attention, she can distract from Taylor Swift the artist’.

The following 20 songs are just a few examples of why, for me at least, ‘Taylor Swift the artist’, the millennial answer to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Carole King, remains one of the most talented, authentic, and all round brilliant songwriters of her generation. These songs aren’t listed in any particular order, and there’s a mix of tracks which I think represent her strongest work, and some that just happen to be favourites of mine.

1. Love Story (Fearless) I remember exactly where I was when I first came across Taylor Swift. It’s 2008, I’m on a coach on a school trip to London, we’re all swapping the latest hits via Bluetooth (I know, right), and my friend sends me this. The rest is history. Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, Taylor wrote this when she was just 18. It became her breakthrough hit in the UK, and began her emergence from the country scene into the mainstream US pop market. There are better songs on this album, but for sentimental value it will always be one of my favourites.

2. Red (Red) Rattling through an impressive list of similes, Taylor’s construction of imagery in this song is some of her strongest lyrical work. Among her pop contemporaries, perhaps only Lorde is better at portraying emotions in this kind of style. The title track from her 4th record, this song is a great example of the album’s overarching sound - anthemic guitar based pop with the new addition of electronic synth based elements.

3. Style (1989) A standout track and one of the later singles from 1989, similarly to ‘Red’, ‘Style’ can be viewed as a manifesto for Taylor’s synth-pop laden 5th album. The guitar intro gives way to the pulsating synth beat that drives the track, and plenty of reverb on the vocals make this one of the more immersive songs on the album. Speculation over Taylor’s love life peaked around the release of this album, and despite the title of this song being one of the more explicit clues she’s left throughout her work (Hint: Stick an ‘s’ on the end), overall 1989 displays a much more mature attitude toward relationships than on previous albums.

4. Dear John (Speak Now) Written about her brief relationship with John Mayer, ‘Dear John’ sits alongside ‘Style’ as one of two songs in which Taylor has explicitly mentioned her subject’s name. Stretching to a Swift record of 6:46, this ballad goes on all out attack, and contains some of the harshest lyrical criticism she’s ever written. My favourite petty element here is a bit of an easter egg – the bluesy guitar fills dotted throughout the track come straight from the Mayer playbook, leaving no doubt as to who this one is aimed at.

5. Mary’s Song (Oh My My My) (Taylor Swift) Taylor’s debut self-titled album has a bit too much country twang for my liking, but I do have a soft spot for this one. It’s a cute little track about childhood sweethearts, Taylor wrote the lyrics when she was 15 about an old couple who lived next door to her. Though the vast majority of her songs deal with romance, it wasn’t actually until ‘Red’ that Taylor revisited the idea of ‘soulmates’ with ‘Starlight’, written about Ethel and Robert Kennedy (though she tactfully kept the ending to that particularly love story ambiguous).

6. Fearless (Fearless) Despite winning the Grammy for Album of the Year (making her the youngest ever winner in that category) Taylor’s breakthrough album ‘Fearless’ is actually pretty underrated. This opening track in which she describes a dream-like first date embodies the wide-eyed teenage wonder that runs through this album. She’s not doing anything particularly out of the ordinary here, but it’s a great example of what teenage Taylor was able to produce when she’d barely started to flex her songwriting muscles.