Now, it seems like she has the whole world wrapped around her finger with a showstopping world tour that is breaking attendance and ticket sale records left and right.
But it’s not just her personal style or musical genres that have changed over the years. Taylor’s perspective on love has evolved drastically since her rise to stardom, and this change can be seen most clearly in her two most recent albums: Midnights, released in the fall of 2022, and Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), her third re-recorded album that was originally released in 2010 and rereleased July 2023.
In 2019, in retaliation against music producer Scooter Braun teaming up with her old record label to purchase the masters of her first six albums, Taylor announced that she would be re-recording her albums to own her music and in turn devalue the original recordings. This project has been successful on virtually every level, especially because it has allowed a new generation of fans to discover her old discography. Millennials grew up alongside Taylor, but Gen Z was too young to be there for the release of deep cuts such as “Untouchable” off 2008’s Fearless. Even older generations who once saw Taylor as a serial-dating teenybopper are now coming to recognize Taylor’s undeniable impact in the music industry, with some even calling themselves fans.
As an incentive for fans to buy the re-recordings, Taylor began releasing “vault tracks” – previously unreleased songs written during the same time as the original album that didn’t make the final cut. With the re-release of Speak Now, an album that originally came out in 2010, Taylor gave the fans six vault tracks, giving them the chance to experience new songs from the familiar era. But most importantly, the vault tracks give us a fresh glimpse into the mind of a younger Taylor Swift and allow the listener to truly see how she has grown as an artist in her voice, lyricism, and themes.
Sparkly Dresses and Sweeping Love Stories
Taylor has become more grounded as the years have gone by. Speak Now and Fearless were self-proclaimed princess albums, and her new song “Timeless (From the Vault)” is an excellent example of that. It’s a big, sweeping, orchestra-worthy song about a fantastical love that can only be found between star-crossed lovers in storybooks. Arguably her most famous song, “Love Story” quite literally depicts this idea through its lyrics bringing the listener into a flashback to another time where Taylor and her lover are Romeo and Juliet, but this time with a happy ending.
This theme of grand and perhaps dramatic gestures of love (see: “The Way I Loved You”) continued throughout these two albums. Her vault tracks emphasize this. “Electric Touch (From the Vault)” resembles her hit “Sparks Fly” in meeting someone who has so much chemistry with you it’s electric and perhaps a little scary because you don’t want things to end badly. “When Emma Falls in Love (From the Vault)” talks about a friend of Taylor’s who is so intriguing she is “Like if Cleopatra grew up in a small town.”
A Shift in Tone
As she grew both in age and in fame, Taylor became more realistic about love, and her lyrics revealed the thing she wanted most was simplicity and quiet. You can see this most in the title track of her seventh studio album, Lover. In the opening line of the song, Taylor croons, "We can leave the Christmas lights up 'til January, this is our place, we make the rules." This line raised eyebrows – honestly, what psycho is taking down their lights on December 26? But Taylor defended the line because, in her words, “It’s not about it being a crazy thing. It’s about how mundane it is.” This idea of a slow, simple life is so much more real and perhaps even boring to those who have never truly been in love compared to the lines she wrote at 19 years old, like from “Timeless”: "If I first saw your face in the 1500s, off in a foreign land, and I was forced to marry another man, you still would've been mine, we would have been timeless."
This change was gradual, but you could see inklings of wanting to be grounded in reality the more famous she became. Even during the Red era, two years after the release of Speak Now, there is a video where Taylor explains that the visuals for the tour are more "real" and less about fantastical things.
The clearest marking of a change in her perspective on love comes in her most vulnerable moments. Even early songs like “White Horse” from Fearless hit the nail right on the head: “I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairytale.” It’s in these lyrics that we see the introspective side of Princess Taylor. “Dear John” from Speak Now is another great example of this, giving soft allusions to her fairytale view on love to show how it is now shattered: “Maybe it’s me and my blind optimism to blame.” “Foolish One (From the Vault)” also marks a change in perspective, revealing a young Taylor telling herself to not keep falling for someone who clearly doesn’t care for her.
Midnights and Taylor’s Perspective on Love Now
Taylor recently went through a breakup with her longtime beau Joe Alwyn, and is most likely in a different place now than when she released her album Midnights last October, but it’s the most recent insight into her view on love. In Taylor’s own words, Midnights is “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” It’s more of a self-reflective album than a romantic one, and perhaps the most prominent theme throughout the work is Taylor Swift the Human Being (who wants love and normalcy) versus Taylor Swift the Superstar (who wants fame).
The opening track, “Lavender Haze,” is an interesting take on this where she explicitly says that she doesn’t want to be living in a 1950s type of world where “all they keep asking me is if I’m gonna be your bride.” This of course is a stark contrast to works like “Paper Rings” from the Lover album with lines like “I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings.” But it’s an even greater departure from her songs like “Timeless.”
The fourth track on Midnights, “Snow on the Beach (featuring Lana del Rey),” is the most whimsical the album gets in terms of both lyrics and production, but would have been very different if it had been written during the Fearless or Speak Now eras of her career. In the earlier years of her career, she would have never described love as “weird” as she does in this song. The song goes on to describe falling in love in a magical way despite the difficulties of life being, as she sings, “emotionally abusive.”
“Snow on the Beach” and “Lavender Haze” are particularly interesting when compared to the recently re-recorded “Enchanted”; the former songs describe falling for someone despite the difficulties of life, while the latter describes falling in love with nothing holding you back – describing the sensation as being left “wonderstruck.”
Although her more recent work has a more grounded – some may even call cynical – view of love, Taylor’s love for the theatrical has not gone away. The Eras Tour is a celebration of this aspect of womanhood, with many of the “Eras” (including Midnights) being fabulously adorned with glittery gowns, dancers, and lavish sets that feel straight out of Broadway.
The truth is, even as Taylor has grown and changed alongside us, she is a woman who is proud to be a woman, with a soft heart and a great love of all things princess.
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