Auroras and Sad Prose: Taylor Swift’s Studio Albums and Their Perfect YA Counterparts
Taylor Swift is, among many things, a legend, constantly breaking records and creating new standards for music. Her award-winning music landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2015 for the most Teen Choice Awards ever awarded to a single person. She currently has 26 of these awards, which is two more than she had when she originally broke the record. She also has had more songs than anyone else make it to the number one spot on Billboard’s Digital Song Sales chart, with 22 songs.
While I could go on and on all day about Taylor Swift and her impact on the music world, I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this. We all know Swift has her various eras based around her albums, and you can bet money on the fact that there is a YA book that matches each of these eras. Buckle up, Swifties, and get ready to read.
Taylor’s self-titled debut album was released in 2006 by Big Machine Records and immediately put Taylor on the country scene. With songs like “Tim McGraw”, “Teardrops on My Guitar”, and “Picture to Burn”, Taylor showcased her songwriting and storytelling skills. Armed with a faux southern twang, Taylor hit the stage ready to take the world by storm, and I think we all know how that went. Wildflower by Alecia Whitaker, sets a similar stage with 16-year-old Bird Barrett who has grown up as a background singer in her family’s bluegrass band (that’s banjos and fiddles for your information). She’s used to life on the road, but in a twist of fate she is discovered as a solo artist and begins to make contracts and tours of her own. Her life of RV road trips with her family by her side turns into boardroom meetings, tour buses, and the never-ending flashing of paparazzi cameras. Will she regret coming out from the background into the spotlight?
My favorite Taylor Swift song: Our Song
Best Wildflower line: “Mother Maybelle, have mercy, we’ve just been discovered.”
It’s a “Love Story” wrapped up in a Cinderella ballgown. Or, at least, it was in 2008 when Taylor Swift originally released her sophomore album, Fearless, which still holds the title of one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century. Honestly, it might be an old school pick, but I think that Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries (that’s right – the book the movie was based off of) is an excellent pick. While Fearless is about romance and royalty, it’s also about the teenage experience, especially Taylor’s epic friendship ballad “Fifteen”. I mean, imagine if you became a princess right now (or in your teens, for my older readers) and now not entirely royal you might actually feel. And, let’s be real, isn’t “You Belong with Me” SUCH a Mia and Michael song?
My favorite Fearless song: “The Best Day”
Best The Princess Diaries line: “Lilly says I have an overactive imagination and a pathological need to invent drama in my life.”
Speak Now, released in 2010, was the album that began Taylor’s transition from Country to Pop. She incorporated a little bit of magic into this era, and who doesn’t love that? We got our first glimpse of angry Taylor with “Mean” and a great celebration of her accomplishments so far with “Long Live”, but we also got a bit of her softer side with the ever-so-sad “Back to December.” Her titular song “Speak Now” outlines a story of a secret, forbidden romance that our main character yearns to go public. It matches up quite nicely with The Falling in Love Montage, which outlines the romance of Saorise, our main character, and a mysterious girl, Ruby, who she meets at a party and has a unique blue freckle and a love of rom-coms. As Saorise’s mother begins to develop dementia, Saorise questions whether or not she should even become involved with someone when her life is otherwise so overwhelming, so Ruby proposes an alternative plan: instead of committing to a relationship, they will play out all of the different rom-com tropes over a summer and see what happens.
My favorite Speak Now song: “Story of Us”
Best The Falling in Love Montage line: “That was one of the hardest things about breaking up. It’s not a pair of bookends, the beginning and the end… It’s all the things we used to do that we’d never do again and all the things we’d never do for the first time together.”
Much like Taylor Swift’s relationships, the enemies-to-lovers relationship in Tweet Cute is suddenly taken from private meme tweeting and sub-tweeting to the court of public opinion when Pepper and Jack realize that people are, um, obsessively following their relationship and shipping them together. Jack is a class clown who is desperately trying to save his family’s business after a new chain swoops into town, and Pepper is a neurotic perfectionist who
rises to the top of her class while her family life crumbles behind the scenes. This novel showcases what it’s like to have your private relationships thrust into the public eye, something Taylor Swift knows “all too well.”
My favorite Red song: All Too Well
Best Tweet Cute line: “I don’t want this. But the problem is I do, and I don’t, and my feelings are still way too tangled for me to be able to say I don’t want to spend my whole future in this place when I also can’t imagine a future without it. It’s dumb, but I wish for a stupid, childish second I could just stay like this forever.”
Taylor Swift goes pop in this 2014 album, titled after her birth year. This is when Taylor Swift curated her squad and this album screamed friendship, fun, and getting over it. Though this album came out in October, it gives distinctly summer vibes, just like Hot Dog Girl. Yeah, you read that book title right. The book that I’m pairing with 1989 is Hot Dog Girl, a novel about one girl’s mission to have the best summer ever with her friends and ends up working for a theme park in the process. While her friends get to dress up as pirates and princesses, Eloise (who just prefers to be called Lou) gets to dress up as… a giant, dancing hot dog. Not ideal, but can she still have the best. Summer. EVER??
My favorite 1989 song: Bad Blood
Best Hot Dog Girl line: “And it took me a long time, but I figured it out. The difference between liking and loving, the difference between make-believe and what’s real, the difference between right now and please, please, let this last forever. So this is me telling you that I would rather have my heart broken by you than anybody else.”
If anyone was going to make a revenge album in their career, it was gonna be Taylor Swift, and she came out with one of the greatest ones yet. Reputation, released in 2017, was a gigantic “buzz off” to both the media as well as some of her more notable disputes with other celebrities, with a couple of light love songs with themes of growth sprinkled throughout. Pairs perfectly with Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights, set during the 1920s in Shanghai. Juliette Cai is poised to be the heir of the Scarlet Gang, and proud of it. Their only rival, the White Flowers, is led by the father of her former lover, Roma Montagov. Rival gangs go to war in this Romeo and Juliet retelling. There are a lot of themes of revenge, scorned women, and fiery battles in both works. If you want to watch the behind the scenes of some of the songs on this album, check out Miss Americana, Taylor Swift’s documentary available on Netflix.
My favorite reputation song: Getaway Car
Best These Violent Delights line: “’These days Juliette,’ he said, low and warily, ‘the most dangerous people are the powerful white men who feel as if they have been slighted.’”
When Taylor Swift left the scene after her release of reputation, she was nowhere to be found. Dead on social media, nary a paparazzi shot, nothing until the release of her 2019 Lover album, which was poppy, pastel, and light, where she sang a lot about personal growth. It seemed, from this album, that for Taylor life was but a dream. Yes, of course, there was still pressure from the media, which led to songs like “The Man” and her own family troubles which are showcased in “Soon You’ll Get Better”, written for Taylor’s mother, Andrea, but overall, the theme of the album is, well, love, and finding the right person after trying out some wrong ones. The vibe is much the same in the final installment of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series by Jenny Han, Always and Forever, Lara Jean. Now, I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t read the other books (or at least seen the Netflix movies) but Lara Jean gets her guy in this book and is finally, blissfully happy. This album and this book series are definitely no skips for me!
My favorite Lover song: I Forgot That You Existed
Best Always and Forever, Lara Jean line: “Is this how it goes? You fall in love, and nothing seems truly scary anymore, and life is one big possibility?”
Everyone’s saving grace at the start of the pandemic, folklore brought a lot of people those cottagecore vibes that we were all dying for. 2020 got a whole lot better that July because while we were all staying home, baking bread, and watching Tiger King, Taylor Swift was cutting a surprise album. Swift really showcases her incredible storytelling abilities in this album, in songs like “The Last Great American Dynasty” and her cardigan trio, “Cardigan,” “August,” and “Betty,” we see a lot of range, both vocally and stylistically in this album. Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales evokes the Cardigan trio in this story about the emotional dilemma of being in love with someone who is in love with someone else. A little bit “August” a little bit Grease, this story outlines the romantic summer between Ollie and Will before Ollie begins the year at a new school – the school that Will goes to! Ollie soon begins to understand why Will stopped answering his texts and calls. While over the summer Will was a confident, romantic dream come true, Will at school is closeted, a class clown, and overall, a jerk. Ollie yearns for the Will that he once knew, but comes to terms with the fact that the Will he knew wasn’t the Will that everyone else thought he was. Alternatively, if you’re looking for general cottagecore/folklore reads, check out this list of cottagecore YA reads by our own librarian, Amy.
My favorite Folklore song: Okay, forgive me, but this one is a tie between The Last Great American Dynasty and Invisible String
Best Only Mostly Devastated line: “She had the air of someone who’d won a battle with the patriarchy.”
folklore’s sister album, evermore, was released in December of 2020 and had been worked on since the release of its older sibling. Similar to folklore, evermore was a surprise album that received next to no promotion prior to its release. Though the albums are twin fire signs (folklore being a Leo and evermore being a Sagittarius), they did have some distinct differences. evermore featured more themes of crushing betrayals, friendship, and forbidden love, while folklore focused largely on stories of wistful nostalgia, escapism, and empathy. It’s not often that I would pair a murder mystery with a Taylor Swift album, but I Killed Zoe Spanos is a fantastic pick if “No Body, No Crime” or “Tolerate It” are your favorite songs on the album. I Killed Zoe Spanos tells the story of Anna, a nanny who bears a strikingly similar resemblance to Zoe Spanos, a girl who recently went missing in the Hampton’s neighborhood of Herron Mills. Anna teams up with Martina, the local host of a podcast called Missing Zoe, to uncover the truth about exactly what happened to Zoe Spanos, and why everyone thinks Anna knows something about it. Not only did I choose this book because of the serious “No Body, No Crime” vibes, but I also chose it because, like Swift’s “Tolerate It” this book was based on the novel Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.
My favorite evermore song: ‘Tis the Damn Season
Best I Killed Zoe Spanos line: “But there are some secrets—my secrets—that Windermere will hold forever, trapped beneath the ash like spilled blood.”