The Guide to Getting into Taylor Swift

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Wow! You’re finally open to becoming a Swiftie! Perhaps you’re a casual listener and you found your bum wiggling to “Shake It Off” at the grocery store. Perhaps you’re that nostalgic person who always sings “Our Song” at karaoke because it reminds you of more innocent times. Perhaps you’re a even hardcore hater. Who cares! You’re here now.

So what did it take? Her endless charm? Her enviable songwriting talents? Her clever business sense? Or is it because Taylor Swift’s entire catalogue just went up on Spotify for free.99? What a cheapskate!

Besides the fact that you can now listen to Taylor Swift without having to navigate her battles with the streaming industry, this is the perfect time to start listening to her music, even if you skipped out on the past five albums. We’re currently in the calm before Swift’s storm—the time when she’s conjuring up a new album that may defy any expectations we have about the country-turned-pop star. Before she inevitably returns to the tabloids, there’s a chance to get to know the artist whose work earned that fame, the singer who, at 14, prompted label boss Scott Borchetta of Big Machine to take her on, writing in his notes, “This could be your Mick Jagger.” Taylor’s fans have long known her as someone who can weave fairytales into everyday life and pastoral romanticism into a regular school day, who can detail relationships with piercing honesty. That kind of music inspires devotion, and this is your chance to feel it.

So, before you dig in, you’ll need a Taylor Swift starter pack. Cut all your shirts into crop tops. Write Joni Mitchell lyrics on your arm. Adopt a Scottish fold and name it after a Grey’s Anatomy character. Start calling the paparazzi before leaving the apartment. Show up at your friends’ houses unexpectedly, offering them Christmas gifts and wondering why they don’t cry tears of joy at the mere sight of you. At the very least, join an online forum to talk about her fandom when it hits. Start yearning for Taylor’s old country days even though you hate country music! Send a Swift song to your ex instead of messy blocks of texts. Quote her lyrics in therapy. Invest in some quality scarlet-hued lipstick… Nars’s Dragon Girl is a decent choice.

And if you need some help with different entry points into her music, I’ve got you. Below, there are five options for getting into Taylor Swift. Pick the section that best suits your soul.

So, as Taylor’s best friend Selena Gomez (you should know that too) says, if you’re ready, come and get it.

So You Want to Get Into: Kiss-Off Bop Taylor Swift?

OK, so you want to get into the feisty side of Taylor Swift. Great choice. Alongside her songs about love, heartbreak, her first day of high school, her mom and Lena Dunham (it’s true—”You Are In Love” is about her), there are angsty ditties that take her foes and pie them in the face like the true dunces that they are. This might be the side of Swift you’re most familiar with lately, as her feud with Katy Perry has made the 12,000th headline and we’re meant to believe that Taylor is on a warpath to punish all her enemies. However, Swift is just like any of us: If she’s wronged, she feels a little jaded. And despite serving as a role model to her listeners, she experiences anger like anyone else. But most of us don’t have the talent to write songs about them.

Taylor’s kiss-off anthems started with “Picture to Burn” (perhaps her best song to this day?), off her debut, self-titled album in 2006, released when she was just 16. “Picture to Burn” has Swift expressing pent-up G-rated aggression with a twang (this is back when she still had a Southern accent, and it’s endearing as fuck). She goes one shot under pulling a Carrie Underwood and disses her ex-boyfriend’s truck; she threatens to sic her dad on him; she calls him a “redneck.” There are all sorts of killer lines in the track (“There’s nothing stopping me from going out with alllll of yer best frans!”), but this one’s the most poetic and charged: “So watch me strike a match on all my wasted time / As far as I’m concerned you’re just another picture to burn.” Don’t be thrown off by the flutter of banjo and down-home guitars that sound like they’re out of a muddy Ford commercial—let the country sound sink in and guide you to revenge.

Since then, Taylor’s had dozens of songs that ward off sour critics and ex-boyfriends. Her third album in particular, 2010’s Speak Now, is chock full of them. On “Mean” she sheds off her haters who are “Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things / Drunk and rambling’ on about how I can’t sing / But all you are is mean.” Then she piles it on, calling them “And a liar / And pathetic / And alone in life.” Meanwhile, she maintains sweet, kill-em-with-kindness disposition: You’ll be glad you never cared about that loser anyway! This side of Taylor is best enjoyed if you like looking cute while rolling your eyes.

Of course, there’s “Bad Blood,” which, if you pay just a speck of attention to pop culture, you know is about a petty pop star argument. And there’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which is supposed to send a message to a guy trying to slide back into a relationship—although it comes off more as a mantra for Taylor to chant when she’s about to let him back in again. And there’s the slightly problematic “Better Than Revenge,” where she blasts a girl who’s known for her “talents on a mattress.”

So if you’ve been wronged, don’t pick up a baseball bat; yank out yer fake country accent and a Zippo, and start lighting stuff on fire!

Playlist: “Mean” / “Bad Blood” / “Picture to Burn” / “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” / “Better Than Revenge” / “Shake It Off”
Apple Music | Spotify

So You Want to Get Into: Take My Heart And Run It Over With A Rusty Pickup Truck Taylor Swift?

If you’ve chosen to get into Heartbreak Taylor, you’re probably the type who needs time to fully soak into your sadness when you’re going through something. You absorb other people’s heartbreak too. As a Sagittarius, Taylor is one of these people. (I know nothing about astrology, but I figured you might?)

The beauty about Taylor Swift is that she makes her songs vague enough to where you can imagine yourself in the song—yet she drops in just enough little details so you know the story in the song is hers. It’s so easy to apply any of her songs to your life without forgetting her own drama.

Swift’s romantic life has been easily mocked for a good ten years now, a topic she satirized in 2014 with “Blank Space” (but more on that later). From age 16 to now, age 27, we’ve known all of her boyfriends… and by the details she adds in her songs, you can tell which boyfriends inspired which songs: Joe Jonas (“Forever & Always”), Taylor Lautner (“Back to December”), John Mayer (“Dear John”), Harry Styles (“Out of the Woods), etc. By knowing the very real dudes behind the tracks and their very real relationships, Swift songs play out more like movies, where you can envision these celebrities going through the same breakup you might have with your partner. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these songs is “All Too Well,” a song clearly about Jake Gyllenhaal, with references to Swift’s scarf, which he was photographed wearing after their breakup.

Red‘s “All Too Well,” like most of Swift’s songs about breakups, is crushing. Raise your hand if you’ve ever met your partner’s parents and they start reminiscing about when they were a little kid: “You tell me ’bout your past, thinking your future was me.” Or if you’ve gotten stuck wallowing and it felt like you’d never be happy again: “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it.” Or if your ex called you just for old times’ sake, just as you were starting to move on: “Hey, you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” You remember it all too well.

There’s something about Swift’s sad songs that are like a film you can revisit over and over again, pulling tears from your eyes as if you’re experiencing heartbreak for the first time. And it’s not just heartbreak—it’s grief in general. When you’re exploring your way around these gutwrenching songs, don’t forget “Ronan,” a charity single written for the mom of a child who died of cancer just days before his fourth birthday (that one, unfortunately, is not part of her return to streaming). And “Never Grow Up,” which will have you wanting to crawl back into your mom’s arms.

Either way, it’s best to listen to these when you’re alone.

Playlist: “Ronan” / “All Too Well” / “Teardrops on my Guitar” / “Back to December” / “Dear John” / “Last Kiss” / “The Last Time” / “Never Grow Up”
Apple Music | Spotify

So You Want to Get Into: Fairytale Wedding Day Taylor Swift?

Ready to fall in love, you hopeless romantic? Read up on your Romeo and Juliet. Brush up on Rapunzel. Fall madly in love with the guy who’s waiting tables at your favorite cafe. Go all in. Take risks. Ask that guy on a date. Ignore what anyone else says. Go head over heels. Get married (the guy has to propose on one knee and ask your dad for permission, of course). Have babies. Grow old together. Love is a fairytale!!!!!!

Taylor’s very aware of her idealistic view on love (“Stupid girl, I should’ve known / I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairytale,” she sings on “White Horse”), especially earlier on in her catalogue. You won’t find her singing about dancing in the rain with her angelic-faced crush in her latest album, 1989, or anything in the future, but teenaged Taylor wrote the best love songs back in the day. She’s either chasing highs or sinking into lows, and with mythical metaphors abound, she explains that sparkling feeling of falling in love.

You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for a song to dance to at your wedding. Imagine twinkly lights and barefeet as you twirl around the floor to 2006’s “Mary’s Song,” which follows a seven-year-old girl and her nine-year-old beau as they grow up and get married. Or maybe you want dozens of photos of your family floating from clothesline at your barn wedding, soundtracking the moment with the voracity of 2010’s “Mine.” Or maybe you’re under the moonlight, letting your vintage dress sweep over dewy grass as you dance with your hearts pressed together to “Enchanted.”

Swift’s love songs give you faith that love can last a lifetime, that you can pull off a medieval princess dress and that kissing in the rain is more magical and euphoric than wet and cold. Even if Prince Charming will never come galloping around on his awkwardly endowed stallion, it’s nice—if but for three and a half minutes—to dream.

Playlist: “Mary’s Song” / “Fearless” / “Love Story” / “Mine” / “Today Was A Fairytale” / “Enchanted” / “Wildest Dreams” / “Starlight”
Apple Music | Spotify

So You Want to Get Into: Banjo and Fiddle Taylor Swift?

Taylor Swift made the same journey as Shania Twain when it’s come to the crossing the country-to-pop bridge—except with Swift, it seems like she’s left that bridge far, far behind. With the declaration that she was taking 2014’s 1989 fully into pop territory, Swift hasn’t looked back, reworking her old country hits when she plays them live and nearly ignoring her especially hoedown-oriented tunes. If you appreciate a good fiddle solo and snarky banjo, I urge you to start at the beginning of her discography.

The self-titled album is a mine of gold country nuggets with excellent lyricism from Swift and sharp production from Nathan Chapman (who had never produced an album until he met Taylor Swift when she was 14). Chapman adorned Swift’s green soprano with a bevy of fiddle, which could cry during a song like “Tied Together With A Smile” or frolick with joy during “Our Song.” Fiddle is the second singer on Taylor Swift. There’s dobro too, etching its earthiness into songs, along with some sparse scatterings of mandolin.

And then there’s pedal steel—completely absent after 2014’s Red—which swoops in like mood swing, unexpected, yet totally called for. It yearns on “Teardrops on My Guitar,” gives sassy support on “Picture to Burn,” and calms a bubbling banjo on “The Outside.”

Like Swift, who grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, before convincing her family to move to Nashville, you might have a small-town upbringing. And just the mere twang of a steel guitar may transcend you to fireflies and summer nights. If you’re more familiar with Swift’s more recent work, listening to her first album may seem like a novelty, but the progression across the five albums is organic, so don’t feel jolted when you hear the rush of country instruments and the mention of country’s prince, Tim McGraw, when you take her first bite of Taylor Swift.

Listen to country-era Swift—if not to conjure your own childhood memories, but to get a better understanding of where the pop star started from.

Playlist: “Picture to Burn” / “Forever & Always” / “Come Back… Be Here” / “Our Song” / “Come In With The Rain” / “Tim McGraw” / “Cold As You”
Apple Music | Spotify

So You Want to Get Into: Storyteller Taylor Swift?

Sit down, music lover, and let Auntie Swift tell you a story. This one’s a gripping tale about a girl who shows up at a fancy wedding, ready to interrupt everything and declare her love for the groom. The guy is obviously marrying the wrong woman, who’s “wearing a gown shaped like a pastry.” And although Taylor is not the kind of person to show up at a “white veil occasion,” she, like the title of the 2010 song suggests, is compelled to “Speak Now.”

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but as you enter the world of Swift for the first time, these storytelling songs might be your best entry point if you like a good narrative. These selections are perfect for long drives, when your mind wanders off the road. Ditch your Audible subscription (does anyone have Audible anyway?) and lean toward the Book of Swift instead. The first chapter dives into Taylor at three years old on “The Best Day,” a song she wrote about her mom: “I run and run / Past the pumpkin patch / And the tractor rides / Look now, the sky is gold / I hug your legs / And fall asleep on the way home.” The colors are vivid, the memories idyllic, and you can’t help but miss your own mom a bit. Of course, some stories make you cry more than others, but with Taylor Swift, it’s best to expect tears at all times.

Fast forward eight years to “Blank Space,” where she’s taken a wholly less innocent form—as a jet-setting manizer who steals her victims’ hearts and tortures them with love games. “Saw you there and I thought / ‘Oh my God, look at that face / You look like my next mistake’,” she sings, as coy as a Black Widow looking for a mate. I won’t spoil this one either, but let’s just say that this story involves a pretty toxic web.

So, if you’re in need of music that will hold you by your hand and take you through a journey, dive into “Love Story,” a ditty about a young couple with disapproving parents, or “How You Get The Girl,” a step-by-step tutorial on how to win your girlfriend back, or “Fifteen,” a story about her friend Abigail’s first year of high school, or “Mine,” a song about a rando dude who turns into her husband. Whatever chapter you open the book of Taylor to, there’s going to be a plot to keep you hooked.

Playlist: “Blank Space” / “Speak Now” / “Love Story” / “All Too Well” / ” How You Get The Girl” / “Never Grow Up” / “Fifteen” / “The Best Day” / “Mine”
Apple Music | Spotify

Emilee Lindner was born on a metaphorical Christmas tree farm, and you can find her preaching the good word of Taylor on Twitter.

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