Covid may have put the brakes on Taylor Swift’s Glastonbury debut, but the singer has still managed to have a wildly successful 2020.
January saw the premiere of music documentary Miss Americana at the Sundance Film Festival, an intimate (but also carefully stage-managed) look at the singer’s recent political awakening which debuted on Netflix later that month. Then, as the world went into lockdown, Swift’s creativity went into overdrive, writing and recording her eight studio album, Folklore, in isolation.
Released in August, the stripped-back record saw Swift move away from the electro-pop sound that’s dominated her other recent efforts. It’s now become the first album to sell more than one million copies in 2020, according to Billboard.
It’s far from the first time that Swift has hit this milestone: in fact, all of her previous releases - and even her 2007 Christmas album - have hit the one million mark. Last year’s effort, Lover, was the only record of 2019 to do so, too.
Folklore was a critical darling, but too many reviews seemed to suggest that the record could be deemed a masterpiece because it strayed into indie territory - the subtext being that only certain types of music, especially when that music is made by women, should be taken seriously.
A quick look back through Swift’s back catalogue, though, shows that she’s always been a brilliant songwriter, whatever the genre.
If you’ve had Folklore on heavy rotation for the past few months, it might be time to delve a little further into Swift’s discography. These are some of our favourite hidden gems.
This collaboration with Imogen ‘Hide and Seek’ Heap should have been a single; in fact it feels like the cooler, more cynical older sibling of Wildest Dreams, the similarly contemplative but less memorable 1989 cut that got released instead. Underpinned with hiccupy electronic beats and echoing vocals, Clean also features some of Taylor’s most striking lyrics (‘You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear any more’ springs to mind).
This feels like the spiritual successor to Clean: both tracks sound a tentatively hopeful note against a dreamy soundscape of synths and looped backing vocals. This time around, Taylor’s preoccupied with how our memories and emotions can stick to places (like her New York apartment on Cornelia Street) for better or worse.
State of Grace
With its rolling drums and slow-burn guitars, State of Grace, the opening track for her game-changing fourth album, ushered in a new era for Swift, showing she was ready to swap chirpy countrified ballads for stadium-sized tracks like this one (it also ended up being the first song on the set list for her Red tour, which catapulted her career into the stratosphere).
All Too Well
Is it a stretch to brand All Too Well underrated? Perhaps - it’s often rightly cited as one of her best tracks (if not the best) by fans and critics alike, and Swift gave it a memorable outing at the Grammys in 2014 (featuring some impressive piano-bound headbanging). And yet Taylor’s five-and-a-half minute Jake Gyllenhaal lament never really got the mainstream recognition it deserved - it got sidelined as a single, in favour of a plodding collaboration with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and the sweet but forgettable Begin Again. Luckily, Swift has given it a more prominent placement on recent tour set lists.
Here’s another one that should have got the single treatment - that Cruel Summer was neglected in favour of cartoonish nursery rhymes like You Need To Calm Down and Me! makes this oversight even, well, crueller. Unspooling against a backdrop of woozy synths, this feels like a lost 1989 track - by kicking off Lover with this, it’s as if Swift was reassuring us that Reputation’s hit-and-miss revenge tragedy was just a blip.
Tell Me Why
A spurned Taylor in possession of a banjo is always a classic combination, as demonstrated on this track from her second album, Fearless. It’s not her most sophisticated work (understandable, really, given that Swift was probably about 18 when she wrote this) but it’s certainly a winning and brilliantly catchy earworm that reminds us that simple songwriting can be powerful too.
The Best Day
This one’s another charming throwback to Taylor’s country days. A tribute to her mum, Andrea, it sees the then-teenage singer looking back at the sacrifices her parents - who uprooted the family from Pennsylvania to Tennessee to allow her to pursue her musical dreams - made for her. As with Never Grow Up, a similarly nostalgic track on third album Speak Now, the emotional stakes shift up a gear towards the end, when she starts to reflect on time passing.