Taylor Swift's 11 solo albums ranked, from 1989 to Tortured Poets Department

Swift's discography is full of highs, marked by smart lyricism and crafty songwriting. But where does her latest stack up?

It's clear The Tortured Poets Department by Taylor Swift will be a treasure trove for fans invested in her personal life. AP
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As Taylor Swift releases her 11th album on Friday, the artist is inarguably at the peak of her cultural dominance, coming off the back of big-award wins and the record-breaking Eras Tour.

And for her legion of dedicated fans around the world, known as “Swifties”, The Tortured Poets Department represents multiple aspects of what makes her so dynamic as an artist.

Not only is it an insight into her evolution as a songwriter, it's also an intimate look into her recent personal life, full of details that will surely have fans interpreting both their metaphorical meaning as well as literal, with early chatter online already connecting dots between it and moments in her well-documented lived reality.

And from our early listen, it feels she's stayed true to the line in her album announcement: “All's fair in love and poetry.”

That said, how do the new songs stack up against her acclaimed previous albums, which ranged from pandemic-era folk to late noughties country, and a turn to stadium pop anthems in between?

Here's how Swift’s albums rank within her storied career.

11. Taylor Swift (2006)

Her debut album didn't exactly herald a new star being born, but demonstrated that Swift, who was 16 at the time, was definitely an artist to watch.

This remains her most classic country record to date with Tim McGraw and Our Song featuring twanging guitars and smooth arrangements.

Meanwhile, the sparse Mary's Song (Oh My My My) hinted at the evocative and rootsy folk music Swift would go on to explore nearly 15 years later with the Grammy Award-winning album Folklore.

10. Speak Now (2010)

This release lyrically detailed her growth from adolescence to adulthood.

While not exactly a concept album, songs including Sparks Fly and The Story of Us, speak of love and heartache as unvarnished emotions with repercussions.

With tracks such as the caustic Dear John and Back to December inspired by failed relationships (the former reportedly with John Mayer), it was here that Swift's lyricism caught the attention of the public and media – for better or worse – for some of its soap-operatic qualities.

9. Fearless (2008)

An album that gets better with time.

At 18 years old, Swift sounds remarkably assured as she deliberately made her first step out of the straight country sound of her self-titled debut album to incorporate more pop elements in the style of Shania Twain.

While the production is glossier, songwriting craftsmanship abounds Fearless with songs such as Love Story and You Belong to Me tuneful and emotionally resonant.

8. Lover (2019)

Lover felt like a rescue attempt after predecessor Reputation flopped.

With the attitude dialled down, tracks including Cornelia Street and Me! aim to charm you off your feet, as opposed to burning the dance floor.

Despite the strong material, at 18 tracks the whole affair feels unwieldy, thus making Lover feel more like a mixtape than a coherent album.

7. The Tortured Poets Department (2024)

For some of Swift's most hardcore fans, following her career is a para-social relationship. There's an admiration for her artistry, of course, but there's also a feeling that Swift is a friend whose public struggles in love are a key insight into her work.

For many, even before its release, it was impossible to analyse The Tortured Poets Department without linking it in part to her years-long relationship with actor Joe Alwyn, with rumours of personal inspiration abound from the album title announcement.

Listening to the album now that it's released, it is clear this will be a treasure trove for the fans invested in her personal life. Though, divorced from that interpretation, it does not reach the heights of her work in recent years.

There are, however, joyful highlights. Post Malone continued his trend of improving almost everything he contributes to on the album's opener, Fortnight. The album's closer Clara Bow may be its late peak, ending on a warm note just a few tracks after the album's most pointed critique of a former lover, The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived.

6. Red (2012)

It is with Red that Swift began plotting her bid for the mainstream.

At this stage, she was well respected within country music circles and Red allowed her to emerge from the tightly knit scene with a more expansive sound.

The Lucky One is a vibrant slice of pop-rock, while The Last Time (featuring Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody) swells and soars. The lyrics to All Too Well demonstrate emotional maturity and clarity beyond Swift's age, she was 22 at the time.

5. Reputation (2017)

In Reputation, Swift examines the various aspects of growing up in public, from the albatross of being viewed as a wholesome role model to seeking mental and emotional balance among the whirlwind of paparazzi and social media attention.

As a result, she refused to do any media interviews for the release – a decision contributing to her fractious relationship with the press.

The music does a solid job of speaking about her vulnerable mindset and chaotic relationships over super polished beats by Swedish pop-meisters Max Martin and Shellback.

Tracks such as End Game and Getaway Car are some of the most accomplished of Swift’s career, while Dancing with Our Hands Tied once again shows her lyrical prowess.

However, despite the pedigree and quality of the work, what made Reputation a relative commercial failure was in how emotionally monochrome it all sounds.

A miserable and snarky sounding Swift is not what the fans ultimately want.

4. Midnights (2022)

For her 10th album, Swift is back in her comfort zone.

Gone are the acoustic and roots sounds of Folklore and Evermore – which now increasingly resemble a wonderful career interlude induced by the pandemic. These are replaced with her blockbuster brand of autobiographical and shimmering synth pop.

While that return to familiar territory has been welcomed by her fans, who crashed Spotify on the day of the album's release, does it represent a backwards step?

Not necessarily so.

While the production is expectedly top-notch, Swift has used some of the songwriting lessons learnt from writing Folklore and Evermore to create a beguiling collection of songs packed with hooks and subtle intricacy.

Midnights is about the emotions she felt from bouts of sleepless nights, something she eloquently describes as when “depression works the graveyard shift.”

Over the scudding synth riffs of Anti-Hero, she descends into self-loathing when, in the swelling chorus, she declares “I am the problem.”

Meanwhile in the caustic and slow-burning Karma, Swift seemingly points her rage at Scooter Braun, her former manager and powerful music executive who controversially sold the masters of her first six albums for a reported $300 million – a move Swift has publicly criticised.

“You’re terrified to look down/'cause if you dare, you’ll see the glare/ Of everyone you burnt just to get there,” Swift sings, with added steele.

Snow on the Beach sounds exactly like how a Swift and Lana Del Rey duet should.

It is bold, affecting and cinematic in scope and lyricism: “One night, a few moons ago I saw flecks of what could've been lights/But it might just have been you passing by unbeknownst to me,” Swift sings in the opening verse.

While not the kind of game-changer Swift has produced in the past, Midnights ensures there is still some way to go in this phase of her career.

3. Folklore (2020)

While the album was a surprise drop – Swift gave fans less than 24 hours notice that it was being released – arguably, it was the singer's move into alternative folk music that surprised fans most.

Collaborating with Aaron Dessner from indie-rock darlings The National, Folklore sounds ornate and sumptuous with beautifully realised songs fit for the introspection and isolation forced upon us by the pandemic.

Swift also removes herself from the lyrical equation with third person songs about artists, teenagers and suburbanites with a little dash of modern American history.

Beautiful and melancholy, Folklore heralded the beginning of the next phase of Swift’s career.

2. Evermore (2020)

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with more of the same.

Released five months after Folklore, Swift's ninth album is a companion piece, in that it was recorded with many of the same production staff and supporting musicians.

Once again, to great effect, Swift serves as a narrator of characters making bittersweet decisions.

The arrangements are hazier, atmospheric and electronic, thus giving the album a shimmering cinematic quality.

1. 1989 (2014)

Big and bold, 1989 is a blockbuster release that helped Swift's transition from talented singer-songwriter to pop queen.

That said, it still sounds like a Taylor Swift ­album – although one that's expanded to the musical equivalent of big-screen Imax proportions.

Nearly all of the tracks have been polished to a sparkling sheen with a steady supply of warm synths, scudding beats and, of course, her confident vocals.

Despite the big sonic makeover, her artistic voice remained solidly intact for what is a career best effort.

Updated: April 19, 2024, 6:53 AM