Ranking all of Taylor Swift's lead singles from best to worst
Let's bring it back to the music.
When Taylor Swift released “Me!” in April, fans and critics of the polarizing single could agree on one thing: It shattered a bevy of records. YouTube’s highest single-day debut for a female or solo music video? “Me!” The most first-day streams on Amazon Music? “Me!” And though the track debuted at No. 100 on the Billboard Hot 100, it also broke the record for a single-week leap up the chart, blasting straight up to No. 2 (landing, of course, just below 2019’s summer juggernaut “Old Town Road”).
“Me!” introduced audiences to Swift’s seventh album, Lover, due Aug. 23 — and continued a career trend of buzzy, aesthetically striking lead singles. But how does it compare to her previous album-launching tracks? Read on for a ranking of Swift’s reintroductions.
1. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
Sing it now: “We-eeee are never, ever, ever getting back together!” In a career full of impossibly good hooks, the lead single off Swift’s fourth album, 2012’s Red, is her finest, with it’s witty, wonderful, funny, snarky, feeling-good-about-feeling-bad revelry. Swift crafted the hit — her first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 — with the help of pop gurus Max Martin and Shellback. Together, they fanned the embers of a dying relationship — and then stomped and jumped on them. Pretty soon after, we were all singing along. —Madison Vain
2. “Shake It Off”
Swift introduced her fifth full-length, 2014’s seismically popular 1989, with an instantly iconic self-aware tune that effortlessly excoriated her haters. “I stay out too late, got nothing in my brain,” she begins, “that’s what people say!” With “Shake It Off,” Swift deftly weaponized criticisms levied against her, taking an approach she’s used repeatedly with respect to romantic relationships and expanding it to apply to her detractors at large. And the swaggering instrumental, another collaboration with Martin and Shellback, only bolstered her case; the lyrical and musical juggernaut became Swift’s second No. 1 on the Hot 100 when it debuted in the top spot. It’s such a perfect song that it even rules when it’s slowed down 27 percent. —Eric Renner Brown
3. “Love Story”
Swift’s soaring country-pop anthem established her as one of contemporary music’s foremost songwriters. The first single off her sophomore album, 2008’s Fearless, smartly weds fairy-tale idealism with detailed, unflinching analysis of love and its pitfalls — but in her retelling of Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet, the lovers enjoy a happy ending. Peaking at No. 4 on the Hot 100, “Love Story” was Swift’s biggest hit yet and presaged the sober romanticism of subsequent Fearless smash “You Belong With Me.” —E.R.B.
4. “Tim McGraw”
Before Jake Gyllenhaal inspired “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and John Mayer inspired “Dear John,” high school freshman Taylor Swift anticipated breaking up with her senior boyfriend, who’d soon be leaving for college. She channeled those uneasy feelings into a breezy, loping country melody and set it to 12-string guitar, launching one of the century’s most compelling music careers. (Plus, she got her wish after all: “When you think Tim McGraw, I hope you think of me.” Consider it done and done again.) —M.V.
If Swift is at her most polarizing when her work feels calculated — listen to her recent songs and you can practically feel the gears turning in her head about her new sound and new stabs at self-parody — then she’s at her most magnetic when her work feels effortless. And of her many singles, few come as naturally to her as “Mine.” Right from its opening uh-uh-oh-oh, the whole thing feels casual, even tossed-off — like one day Swift woke up, yawned, and then out came a multi-platinum megahit. Look deeper, though, and you’ll find evidence of hard work: Just when you think you know where her story of a small-town meet-cute is going, she’ll drop a deceptively clever line like “you made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.” “Mine” isn’t the best thing she’s ever done, but as the track’s sole songwriter, the credit is all hers. —Nolan Feeney
6. “Look What You Made Me Do”
Think of “Look What You Made Me Do” as “Shake It Off” gone awry. The first taste of Swift’s forthcoming sixth album, Reputation, takes the low road — it’s rife with thinly veiled barbs at Kanye West, Katy Perry, and other Swiftian enemies — and proves that Swift is at her best when she goes high. There was a universality to “Shake It Off” that’s lost here; where that song functioned as both a rebuke of Swift’s haters and an uplifting anthem for everyday listeners with everyday problems, “Look What You Made Me Do” channels Swift’s problems and her’s alone. In other words, few people can empathize with disses of West’s Saint Pablo Tour stage. And while producer Jack Antonoff’s verse and pre-chorus instrumentals build promisingly, the song collapses when it hits a chorus appropriating Right Said Fred’s 1991 “I’m Too Sexy.” —E.R.B.
The most difficult part of “Me!” is how exciting the song is on paper versus when one actually listens to it. Coming off of her darkest album yet, fans would think a Swift collaboration with emo prince Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco, co-written and produced by Lorde’s main collaborator Joel Little, would provide for a moodier, more introspective transition from snake to butterfly (as the single’s video depicts). Instead Swift attempts an anthem fit for theme park commercials or flash mob videos. A sound that is bright, but dated. Yes, there are lines that are self-referential, as the singer is wont to do, but overall the song promoting individuality is devoid of all the little elements that make Swift’s songwriting truly great. —Marcus Jones
This story was originally published on Sept. 21, 2017, and was last updated on Aug. 20, 2019.