Taylor Swift's Best Lyrics, From 'The Tortured Poets Department' to Debut

Commentary: The singer-songwriter has written yet another set of memorable new tracks for her latest album.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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Abrar Al-Heeti
12 min read
Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour

A lyrical mastermind.

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Taylor Swift's vast musical catalog has something for just about everyone, from fans of bops (Alexa, play 1989) to those who enjoy heart-wrenching ballads (See: Folklore, Evermore and The Tortured Poets Department). Every time Swift releases an album, fans know we're in for a rollercoaster ride of powerful emotion, strong storytelling and revealing personal narrative.  

On the heels of her latest album release, The Tortured Poets Department, we Swifties have been busy decoding and absorbing lyrics from a whopping 31 songs poignantly chronicling heartbreak, grief, love and trauma. In addition to new album drops, fans now also look forward to rereleases of the singer-songwriter's first six albums, which include never-before-released "From the Vault" songs. 

See also: The Complete Guide to Taylor Swift's New 'Tortured Poets' Double Album, by Fans for Fans

Here are some of my all-time favorite lyrics Swift has written. This doesn't include every great line she's ever penned (otherwise this list would be much, much longer). Rather, they're lyrics I've often reflected on and discussed with fellow fans, and have found deep personal meaning in.

The tearjerkers

"You can plan for a change in the weather and time, but I never planned on you changing your mind." (Last Kiss)
-- A poetic way of describing unforeseen heartbreak.

"You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest." (All Too Well)
-- I could quote this entire song because it's a lyrical masterpiece. But I'm trying to be selective.

"And you say I abandoned the ship, but I was going down with it, my white knuckle dying grip, holding tight to your quiet resentment." (So Long, London)
-- At a certain point, you've just got to let go. 

"You know there's many different ways that you can kill the one you love, the slowest way is never loving them enough." (High Infidelity)
-- Emotional pain can be the most lethal.

"You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath." (All Too Well, 10 Minute Version)
-- This line succinctly illustrates the very different way two people can view the same relationship: One as something sacred and cherished, the other as something to keep hidden and downplay. That distinction can make all the difference.

"If I'm dead to you why are you at the wake, cursing my name, wishing I stayed?" (My Tears Ricochet) 
-- Chilling, haunting lyrics. It's what Swift does best.

"And now that I'm grown, I'm scared of ghosts, memories feel like weapons." (Would've, Could've, Should've)
-- There are some moments that will always haunt you, no matter how much time passes.

"I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere. Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here." (This is Me Trying) 
-- This is a relatable sentiment for anyone who has high ambitions but feels like they just can't make them a reality, or who finds themselves drawing comparisons to others.

"What we thought was for all time was momentary, still alive, killing time at the cemetery, never quite buried." (Loml)
-- Some things, you expect to live forever. 

"You come away with a great little story of a mess of a dreamer with the nerve to adore you." (Cold As You)
-- From the earliest days of her career, Miss Swift knew how to nail a tearjerker. 

"Criticize the way you fly when you're soaring through the sky, shoot you down and then they sigh and say, "She looks like she's been through it." (Nothing New)
-- This From the Vault track from Red is a chilling look into the anxiety Swift felt at this point in her career, and feels like an ominous foreshadowing of the media target she'd truly become in the coming years.

"I rewind thе tape but all it does is pause on thе very moment all was lost." (Evermore)
-- It can be difficult to overcome the moment everything fell apart and we find ourselves replaying that pain over and over, rather than seeing the bigger picture and the light at the end of the tunnel. 

"There'll be happiness after you, but there was happiness because of you. Both of these things can be true." (Happiness)
-- A truly accurate characterization of both the optimism and struggle of getting over someone. 

"You taught me about your past thinking your future was me." (All Too Well)
-- OK sorry, I couldn't help it -- one more from All Too Well. This is one of my all-time favorite lyrics. In just a few words, it sums up the fallen dreams of doomed love.

"Wasn't it beautiful running wild 'til you fell asleep, before the monsters caught up to you?" (Innocent)
-- A tragic ode to innocence and youth. 

"Who could ever leave me, darling, but who could stay?" (Archer)
-- Swift poignantly depicts the dichotomy between feeling worthy of love and questioning that very right.

"You kicked out the stage lights, but you're still performing." (The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived)
-- Even after the "show" is over, some people may not demonstrate who they really are.

"You had a speech, you're speechless. Love slipped beyond your reaches." (Champagne Problems)
-- Oh, how quickly things can change and render our dreams useless. 

"You're not my homeland anymore, so what am I defending now?" (Exile)
-- Cold, sharp lyrics to convey the struggle of coping with detrimental loss.

Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour

Miss Swift sure knows how to tap into heartbreak.

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"I don't like that falling feels like flying 'til the bone crush." (Gold Rush)
-- How does one come up with a line this poetic?

"You swore that you loved me but where were the clues? I died on the altar waiting for the proof." (So Long, London)
-- All talk and no action.

"Just because you're clean don't mean you don't miss it." (Clean)
-- Truer words on lost love have never been spoken.

"Time is taking its sweet time erasing you, and you've got your demons and darling, they all look like me." (Sad Beautiful Tragic)
-- Moving on and forgetting isn't always easy.

"I guess it's true that love was all you wanted, 'cause you're giving it away like it's extra change. Hoping it will end up in his pocket, but he leaves you out like a penny in the rain, oh, 'cause it's not his price to pay." (Tied Together With a Smile)
-- Symbolism is something Swift has always done quite well. 

"Take the words for what they are: a dwindling, mercurial high; a drug that only worked the first few hundred times." (Illicit Affairs)
-- Ah, the fleeting, deceptive nature of ephemeral love.

"It turns out freedom ain't nothin' but missing you." (Back to December)
--  This is a deep, personal admission of making a grave mistake, which is never easy to own up to.

"If I can't relate to you anymore, then who am I related to?" (Coney Island)
-- It can be all too easy to become so consumed in a relationship that you feel lost when it ends.

"A greater woman has faith, but even statues crumble if they're made to wait." (The Prophecy)
-- Patience can take its toll on anyone.

"Please don't ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere." (New Year's Day)
-- This level of specificity is a vivid illustration of just how much she fears losing the love of her life.

"I hate to make this all about me, but who am I supposed to talk to? What am I supposed to do if there's no you?" (Soon You'll Get Better)
-- There's a reason this song gets Swift choked up. 

"Old habits die screaming." (The Black Dog)
It's not so easy to move on.

"Only 20 minutes to sleep, but you dream of some epiphany." (Epiphany)
-- This song, a moving tribute to health care workers during the pandemic, never fails to give me goosebumps.

"The old widow goes to the stone every day. But I don't, I just sit here and wait, grieving for the living." (Ivy)
-- Loss comes in all forms. 

Love's a game, wanna play?

"'Cause you know I love the players and you love the game." (Blank Space)
-- It takes two to tango.

"You paint me a blue sky and go back and turn it to rain. And I lived in your chess game, but you changed the rules every day." (Dear John)
-- Swift always does an incredible job of conveying the game-like nature of love. These lyrics are particularly heart-rending.

"You did a number on me, but honestly, baby, who's counting?" (So it Goes...)
-- I love when she gets all poetic like this.

"We never painted by the numbers, baby, but we were making it count." (The 1)
-- Another fun instance of word play.

"It's poker, you can't see it in my face, but I'm about to play my ace." (New Romantics)
-- Brilliantly clever.

"We are alone with our changing minds, we fall in love 'til it hurts or bleeds or fades in time." (State of Grace)
-- That's pretty much how it goes.

"I love you, it's ruining my life." (Fortnight)
-- Sometimes (unrequited) love can be quite an inconvenience.

"I love you, ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?" (Cruel Summer)
-- This epic track is filled with punchy lyrics, but this one takes the cake.

"Spinning like a girl in a brand new dress, we had this big wide city all to ourselves. We blocked the noise with the sound of, 'I need you,' And for the first time I had something to lose." (Holy Ground)
-- The underlying fear of impending loss here is so tragically brilliant. 

"Love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right." (State of Grace)
-- Another solid example of relating love to a game. 

"There's no morning glory, it was war, it wasn't fair." (The Great War)
-- There's nothing quite like the relief of calling a truce in a battle no one was going to win.

"Remind myself the more I gave, you'd want me less." (Now That We Don't Talk)
-- Oh, that strange, inverse dynamic. 

"I walked out, I said, I'm setting you free. But the monsters turned out to be just trees." (Out of the Woods)
-- The illusion of fear is a tricky one to overcome.

"All we are is skin and bone trained to get along, forever going with the flow, but you're friction." (Treacherous)
-- Swift poetically describes falling for someone she knows she shouldn't.

"Fighting with a true love is boxing with no gloves, chemistry 'til it blows up, 'til there's no us." (Afterglow)
-- Here, Swift paints a clear picture of the fact that hurting someone you love will harm both parties. 

"I broke my own heart 'cause you were too polite to do it." (Suburban Legends)
-- Ah, that painful waiting game.

"You drew stars around my scars, but now I'm bleeding." (Cardigan)
-- Healing isn't always permanent. 

"So you were never a saint and I've loved in shades of wrong. We learn to live with the pain, mosaic broken hearts." (State of Grace)
-- Love isn't always picturesque, but it can still be beautiful. (Yes, I realize I've now quoted State of Grace three times but I can't help it.)

"Remember when I pulled up and said, 'Get in the car,' and then canceled my plans just in case you'd call, back when I was living for the hope of it all." (August)
-- Many of us felt personally attacked by these lyrics about holding onto love that was never really ours.

"But I've seen this episode and still loved the show." (The Tortured Poets Department)
-- That potentially slippery slope of allowing a (recurring) character flaw slide because you like the bigger picture. 

"I broke his heart 'cause he was nice." (Midnight Rain)
-- Welp, some actions just can't be justified.

"Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind, but I come back stronger than a '90s trend." (Willow)
-- Taylor Swift, queen of the punchy metaphor.

"I'm a mess, but I'm the mess that you wanted." (Dancing With Our Hands Tied)
-- This is what you signed up for.

Taylor Swift performs at The Eras Tour

Taylor Swift often leaves fans wonderstruck at her lyrics.

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Haters gonna hate

"If a man talks shit then I owe him nothing." (I Did Something Bad)
-- Preach.

"I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me." (New Romantics)
-- And they've thrown a lot of bricks.

"My castle crumbled overnight, I brought a knife to a gun fight, they took the crown but it's alright." (Call it What You Want)
-- That castle she mentioned in New Romantics apparently wasn't built to last. But she has what she needs in the love of her life, no matter what everyone else is saying about her or doing, and that's true strength.

"I bury hatchets but I keep maps of where I put 'em." (End Game)
-- Forgive, but don't forget.

"Band-aids don't fix bullet holes." (Bad Blood)
-- Keep your fake apologies.

"Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?" (Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince)
-- I wish I knew.

"I had a marvelous time ruining everything." (The Last Great American Dynasty)
-- There's a high likelihood you've either made this your Instagram caption or thought about it.

"I'm so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I'd get there quicker if I was a man." (The Man)
-- Same girl, same.

"I bet you couldn't believe when you realized I'm harder to forget than I was to leave." (I Bet You Think About Me)
-- Through the pain, Swift penned this song with all the right levels of sass.

"A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground, with no one around to tweet it." (The Lakes)
-- This is such vibrant imagery of regrowth following hostility, away from prying eyes and skeptics.

Life lessons

"Never be so politе you forget your power. Nevеr wield such power you forget to be polite." (Marjorie)
-- These are words to live by.

"Your nemeses will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing." (Long Story Short)
-- Don't get too caught up in the little things.

"Everything you lose is a step you take." (You're On Your Own, Kid)
-- An important reminder for when you've lost something you thought you couldn't live without. That push could be the thing that lands you exactly where you need to be.

"Love's never lost when perspective is earned." (Peter)
-- Sometimes, you've gained something greater than what you've lost.

"Nothing safe is worth the drive." (Treacherous)
-- Indeed.

"When you're young, you just run, but you come back to what you need." (This Love)
-- Finding truth and purpose is everything, and it'll all come in time. 

"Time, mystical time, cutting me open, then healing me fine." (Invisible String)
-- Time really does heal all wounds, even the deepest ones. A grown-up Swift now knows that.

"Now I know why all the trees change in the fall, I know you were on my side even when I was wrong." (The Best Day)
-- This line (and entire song, which is a heartwarming tribute to her mom) always makes me cry. It's a touching description of unconditional love.

"Don't you worry your pretty little mind, people throw rocks at things that shine." (Ours)
-- Always deflecting the haters in the most poetic way.

Now I see daylight

"I don't wanna look at anything else now that I saw you. I don't wanna think of anything else now that I thought of you." (Daylight)
-- That feeling of finding what you've been looking for is everything.

"All these people think love's for show, but I would die for you in secret." (Peace)
-- A nod to the critics who say her relationships are simply for publicity, and an intimate declaration of genuine love. 

"We bless the rains on Cornelia Street, memorize the creaks in the floor." (Cornelia Street)
-- Beautiful detail is Swift's forte. This track is filled with them.

"I've never seen someone lit from within, blurring out my periphery." (Snow On The Beach)
-- I love this imagery of someone being a pure source of light that illuminates your world.

"All my walls stood tall, painted blue, but I'll take 'em down, take 'em down, and open up the door for you." (Everything Has Changed)
-- This vibrantly depicts the beauty and struggle of letting your guard down.

"I'm only up when you're not down, don't wanna fly if you're still on the ground." (I'm Only Me When I'm With You)
-- The truest allegiance.

"My heart's been borrowed and yours has been blue, all's well that ends well to end up with you." (Lover)
-- Pure poetry.

"Is this the end of all the endings?" (King of My Heart)
-- Finally, an optimistic outlook on a relationship that appears to be going well. 

"He's got my past frozen behind glass, but I've got me." (It's Time to Go)
-- The future is in no one's hands but her own.