Miss Taylor Swift.
The singer whose illustrious career and artistry has done enough to earn her a place as America’s musical Statue of Liberty.
Across her nine studio albums, 206 songs and two album re-recordings, the artist has traversed the genres and defined a generation.
From the curly-haired country-singing teenager, to the buoyant popstar and indie slow pacer, Swift has managed to excel at every stage of her career and refine her songwriting — no matter the era or genre.
Swift has shined on everything from acoustic guitar twangs on her 2006 self-titled debut, to heartfelt breakup ballads in “Red,” to unapologetic backlash at public critiques and tabloid tales in “reputation,” and finally, on her latest slow-burning letters to love, loss and ivy-wrapped tales in “folklore” and “evermore.”
Her lyrics are simultaneously haunting and mesmerizing, adding color and genuine meaning to already melodic vocals and upbeat instrumentals.
With double entendres and “scarlet letters” lining her work, each song feels as if it’s forged in fire and chiseled from marble — making the choice of her top lyrics difficult, to say the least.
Though some horrific blips (*ahem* “Hey kids! / Spelling is fun!” *ahem*) definitely make the choice easier, a top-10 list wasn’t enough, so we’re going to take a look at Swift’s top-11 lyrics to mirror her 11 Grammy wins thus far.
Here’s a look at Taylor’s best — primarily breakup based — lyrics:
11. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” — Lover (2019)
“I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be all right / They say, ‘I don’t know.’”
OK yes, there really isn’t much to this lyric. But that’s what’s so great about it.
Simply put, Swift summarizes all the moments of hurt we experience after a breakup in a vulnerable and straightforward way — a plain glimpse at our helpless search for reassurance that we’ll feel alright tomorrow.
The imagery of traffic lights morphing into safe havens and confessionals for a broken heart are so incredibly pretty, shedding light on how the flooding memories and “cuts” of any broken relationship catch us off guard everywhere we go.
On top of this, the “all right” wordplay is just another brilliantly subtle flourish to Swift’s lyrical penmanship.
10. “Clean” — 1989 (2014)
“You’re still all over me / Like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore.”
This entire song is a raw testament to the emptiness felt after losing a close relationship — romantic, platonic or otherwise.
Most breakup songs skip over that feeling of nothingness, choosing instead to focus on deep angers or hurt.
But “Clean” embraces all the aimless mental and physical wandering you can go through after a breakup.
In long metaphors involving addiction and abuse, Swift comes to terms with the long days and nights one spends getting over someone, and acknowledges severing a part of yourself to become whole again.
These lyrics (again) plainly express the ineffable.
The depths of saying goodbye to someone you loved, as remembrance of them is enough to physically tarnish whatever’s in your wardrobe.
9. “cowboy like me” — evermore (2021)
“And the skeletons in both our closets / Plotted hard to f–k this up.”
Pointed words elevate these lyrics, as Swift tracks feelings of inevitably and disappointment in fractured relationships.
Her exploration of this poisoned chalice through our past experiences, insecurities and baggage is beautiful.
She transforms the known idiom into something recognizable for listeners, and gives us a captivating visual of the predestined graveyards and inadvertent pollution all the way from flings to marriages.
8. “right where you left me” — evermore (2021)
“Friends break up, friends get married / Strangers get born, strangers get buried / Trends change, rumors fly through new skies / But I’m right where you left me.”
The rhyme scheme? Brilliant.
The style and flow? Fantastic.
The sentiment? Love.
Swift holds up a cracked mirror to the passage of time and its surface level ability to gloss over personal wounds. It’s vulnerable, and almost effortlessly sums up the finite nature of life itself and our attempts to slot into that.
Also, the continuation of this murder mystery-turned-cautionary tale with “no body, no crime” and this bonus track is sublime.
7.”Picture To Burn” — Taylor Swift (2006)
“There’s no time for tears / I’m just sitting here planning my revenge / There’s nothing stopping me / From going out with all of your best friends.”
This throwback to Swift’s acoustic guitar and “yee-yee” aura is more than deserving of seventh place.
These might not be the most refined or meaningful lyrics you’ll ever see, but try shouting them at the top of your lungs in your best country accent to see where it gets you.
Everything about these words embodies the early Swift era, and makes you feel like you’re a teenager who’s just put their ex on blast over Blackberry Messenger.
The nostalgia and feel-good factor is everything, and blasting this in the car is a fix-all cure to any bad day.
6. “All Too Well” — Red (2012)
“And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest.”
It is finally here:
The infamous line from Swift’s quintessential breakup song.
Aside from the fandom pushing Jake Gyllanhaal and his scarf into compulsory silence, this line (and Swift’s near-shouting of it) is unbelievable.
It’s cutting, empowering and painful all in one breath.
This entire song — and its 10 minute counterpart released on “Red (Taylor’s Version)” — is filled with lyrical gems, like “You kept me like a secret / But I kept you like an oath.”
But this lyric and its faultless rhyme scheme give people a reason to clutch at their chest when they belt it aloud.
5. “my tears ricochet” — folklore (2020)
“And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?”
Swift’s words here are absolutely gorgeous.
She again manages to twist and turn motifs of morbidity into something incredibly heartfelt, which gives an immediacy to the grief we can all feel after a relationship breaks down.
Subtle undertones of irony soothe Swift’s scathing bite back at the physical and emotional scars of lingering exes.
The lyrics, and the haunting tone that they’re sung in, serve to transport the listener to that exact moment she’s in, with those exact same heartache afflictions.
4. “tolerate it” — evermore (2021)
“I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life / Drawing hearts in the byline / Always taking up too much space or time.”
This song, and its reflection on complacent love, is truly heart-wrenching.
Swift’s look into unrequited affections and the desperate want to pull someone into your life who’s already pushed their way out of it is brilliant.
Palpable apathy and torment permeate the song, as listeners can physically feel the sad outpourings of unreturned warmth, intimacy and passion.
3. “champagne problems” — evermore (2021)
“Sometimes you just don’t know the answer / ‘Til someone’s on their knees and asks you / She would've made such a lovely bride / What a shame she’s f–ked in her head.”
Again, from start to finish, the lyrics in this song are first class.
Swift tackles the topic of a called-off engagement, and the difficulties of trying to be with someone who seemingly has no flaws aside from the fact that you just can’t love them back.
It’s brutally honest and gives a refreshing new take on the breakup genre, taking the lens of someone who wishes they could love another but just can’t bring themselves to.
2. “mirrorball” — folklore (2020)
“I want you to know / I’m a mirrorball / I can change everything about me to fit in.”
These lyrics are beguiling.
Swift constantly outdoes herself in vocalizing her unpolished sincerities in a few words to pierce through her feather-soft vocals and mellow instrumentals.
A humbling tribute to personal insecurities and imposter syndrome, this song evokes the feeling that your only trait is impersonating someone else.
Swift’s purposefully pretty composition and poignant lyrics give depth to the impostorship the artist takes on.
1. “this is me trying” — folklore (2020)
“They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential.”
This line is flawless, from start to finish.
It encapsulates the helplessness we may feel at any stage in our lives, and Swift’s ability to rhyme and condense these different facets of worthlessness is astounding.
Swift’s rain-punctured chords and crestfallen words amount to lyrical perfection.
The artist bottles the exact feeling of trying your best to do better, be better and feel better when you just can’t manage to, no matter how hard you try.
That feeling of never being enough.
If there’s any song you cry to, make it this.
Long story short, Swift deserves a civil engineering degree for her bridges, and the lyrics the singer boasts are second-to-none.
Sophie McNally is an assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sophie McNally is an assistant sports editor at The Spectrum. She is a history major studying abroad for a year from Newcastle University in the UK. In her spare time, she can be found blasting The 1975 or Taylor Swift and rowing on a random river at 5 a.m.