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Taylor Swift's eras: What she was trying to say with each album's style

Each album tells a story — beyond the lyrics.
Taylor Swift in 22, Reputation and Willow
Taylor Swift has mastered the art of harnessing specific aesthetics for each of her albums. TaylorSwiftVEVO
/ Source: TODAY

When Taylor Swift drops new music, fans know to look out for everything around the songs. The outfits, the fonts, the music videos and more also tell a story — the story of that album’s aesthetic. So with every album, comes an era.

Swifties know that their monarch tends to embed "clues" everywhere, from song lyrics to liner notes. Nothing, it seems, is an accident. Her aesthetic choices only help to emphasize just how deliberate she is in her framing of an album as a "story," or a moment.

For example, Swift surprised fans with her slinky, fierce attitude on "Reputation" in 2017, conveyed through lyrics and imagery (specifically, snake imagery). The subsequent album "Lover," out in 2019, explored a more romantic side of Swift, in which butterflies, rainbows and happiness reigned supreme.

While Swift doesn't often address her personal life, she said she embeds references into the lyrics. So "Reputation," the 2017 album written following her public feud with Kim Kardashian and then-husband Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West), would have a different vibe than "Lover," thought to be an ode to her relationship with boyfriend Joe Alwyn.

Swift's aesthetic shifts are stark enough than fans can identify themselves in tandem with her various looks — or even to have parties where everyone comes dressed as their favorite Taylor Swift era.

Think of each album as having a personality. If you hear someone say, “I’m in my ‘Reputation’ era right now,” for example ... run — they're probably secretly plotting revenge on you and your entire bloodline.

Ahead of the impending release of “Midnights” on Oct. 21, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to explore and remember all of Taylor Swift’s most memorable eras and what each aesthetic contributed to its corresponding album(s).

'Midnights' (2022)

Taylor Swift Midnights
"Midnights" will release on Oct. 21. What is she saying with her art? We'll find out.

Swift's 10th studio album, "Midnights," is shaping up to be another example of a vibe shift for Swift.

From what we've seen so far, it appears as though "Midnights" will be a blast to the past, with a Stevie Nicks-esque energy — and track names like "Bejeweled" and "Lavender Haze" certainly emphasize that charming '70s vibe.

There's ample evidence of a retro-inspired aesthetic. In social media content to promoting the album, Swift is often wearing mod patterns before a backdrop with color-blocked wallpaper and velvet furniture reminiscent of the '70s.

Lyrically, the songs are poised to explore one of her favorite themes: late nights, whether sleepless from anxiety or from adventure. She said the new track "Anti-Hero" would be about her insecurities.

Plus, there will be three special edition covers for the vinyl albums. Target will also release an exclusive lavender edition of the vinyl album. From the vinyl covers, fans can see that there's definitely a retro element to the aesthetic of this album.

One of the three vinyls for "Midnights."
One of the three vinyls for "Midnights."

'folklore' and 'evermore' (2020)

Taylor Swift Folklore
"folklore" was released in 2020.

"Folklore" and "evermore" were released five months apart in 2020, both surprise drops. Some fans theorized a third album, "woodvale," was on the way — but Swift said the album artwork containing the word "woodvale" was a "mistake" while on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

Written during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, the albums have a similar aesthetic. Both "folklore" and "evermore" exude a woodsy kind of vibe — one that might make you wish you were a fairy living in a little mushroom house.

During this era, we saw Swift wearing an abundance of cozy sweaters, long, stylish coats, lots of velvet ... and basically anything that screamed "cottagecore."

Fans often try to re-create this era by styling their hair in Swift's iconic braid displayed on the cover of "evermore" or wearing a flannel (bonus points if you're gallivanting through the woods).

'Lover' (2019)

Taylor Swift Lover
The "Lover" era was characterized by color.

If you've been to any department store in the last three years or so, you've probably heard the song "ME!", featuring Brendon Urie and Swift's first single off the album "Lover."

Although this song didn't quite accurately represent the romantic nature of the album, the visuals definitely aligned. "Lover" was a time of bright colors and dreamy visuals.

On the cover of the album, Swift is sporting blue ombré-d hair in front of a swirling background of colorful clouds. You can also really see Swift's desire to color the world of "Lover" in the music video for the titular track on the album.

For visual proof of this larger-than-life rainbow aesthetic, fans can look to her "Lover" performance on "Saturday Night Live" in 2019, or her performance at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards.

'Reputation' (2017)

Taylor Swift Reputation
"Reputation" signaled another shift for Taylor Swift.

With the release of “Reputation” in 2017, Swift shifted her vibe from “America’s musical sweetheart” to “don’t f--- with me” — and all it took was a wardrobe change.

Throughout her “Reputation” era, Swift ensured a very consistent aesthetic: black ‘fits, snakes galore, lots of knee-high black boots and dark lips to match.

The catalyst of Swift's "Reputation" era seems to be the gossip and rumors trailing her the year prior.

In the summer of 2016, Swift was in the spotlight alongside Ye (formerly Kanye West) and then-wife Kim Kardashian over Ye's song lyrics about Swift and whether she had given her consent. In a now-deleted tweet, West claimed he "had a hour long convo" with Swift and that she gave him her "blessings."

Swift denied that via her rep. “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account,” the rep said at the time. “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that b---- famous.’”

Taylor Swift Reputation Tour
Taylor Swift performs onstage during the opening night of her 2018 Reputation Stadium Tour. Kevin Winter / Getty Images for TAS

This story continued to escalate with tweets and leaked audio tapes, leading to Swift finally issuing a statement with her famous line, "I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative," featured at the end of the "Look What You Made Me Do" music video.

The video for "Look What You Made Me Do," the album's first single, encapsulates Swift's fierce presentation of herself. The video features Swift in various settings: a zombie, an heiress-like figure clad in diamonds in a bathtub, a biker chick, her sitting on a throne as a snake served her tea (the symbolism!!!), etc.

In a knowing and meta moment, Swift stands atop a mountain of past iterations of herself — the “old Taylor” who is “dead,” as the song’s lyrics declare. (More on those old Taylors below.)

Oh, and speaking of snakes, remember when Kim Kardashian famously (but perhaps indirectly) called Swift a "snake" on Twitter and then Swift used 35-foot inflatable snakes as set pieces on her Reputation tour? Yeah, us too.

'1989' (2014)

Taylor Swift 1989
"1989" was a hit album for Swift, transitioning her out of country music altogether.

As the song "Style" goes, Swift certainly had that "red lip, classic thing," going on during her "1989" era. During this time, Swift transformed into the global pop star she is today — and had the look to prove it.

While all of Swift's previous albums focused on a country sound (with "Red" dipping into both pop and country), she made the full transition to pop with "1989" — which New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica called a "thriving" era for her.

The aesthetic of “1989” celebrated youth and the freedom that comes with growing up — but also a sadness, too.

She seems to long for what’s already passed her by, a craving for nostalgia made evident from the polaroid-inspired cover art Swift chose for her 2014 album, as well as the accompanying polaroid photo series.

Taylor Swift 1989 tour
Taylor Swift performs during her 1989 World Tour.Graham Denholm / Getty Images

One of the biggest changes for Swift to come out of her "1989" era was the bob haircut she sported for much of this album's span. She also donned red lipstick and nails, white sunglasses and polka dots — and lots of sequins.

And who could forget some of the unforgettable music videos that were released for "1989"?

“Blank Space,” one of the singles off “1989,” is Swift playing into the public's perception of her — that she’s a love-crazed woman with a Rolodex of love interests — and the music video is a dramatization of that. Swift plays a rich woman who turns mad and ruins her boyfriend's life until the next guy comes along.

In "1989," Swift seemed to be coming into her power and having fun while doing so.

'Red' (2012)

Taylor Swift Red Taylor's Version
Cover art for Swift's re-recording of "Red (Taylor's Version)"

As the album name suggests, Swift certainly incorporated the color red into a lot of promotional assets for this album — but that wasn't the only sartorial trend to come out of this era.

For example, around the time of "Red's" release, Swift started consistently wearing her trademark bangs hairstyle.

Another attention-grabbing look from her "Red" era was an outfit from her "22" music video, where she's wearing a shirt that says "not a lot going on at the moment" with a black hat and shorts.

At the time in 2013, the phrase wasn't as significant as it is now — but in 2020, Swift used this phrase not once, but twice in Instagram posts to hint at a pattern of her dropping surprise albums. Swift certainly knows how to keep the fans on their toes.

Taylor Swift Jingle Ball 2012
Taylor Swift performs onstage during Z100's Jingle Ball 2012.Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for Jingle Ball 2012

'Speak Now' (2010)

Taylor Swift Speak Now
Swift's cover for "Speak Now." Fairy tale-esque, right?

"Speak Now" walked so "folklore" and "evermore" could run. When you think of "Speak Now," think romantic — flowing dresses and flowing hair. During the era of "Speak Now," Swift embraced lush aesthetics and added an air of fantasy to the promotion of this album.

One of the songs on the album that perfectly depicts this fairy tale energy is "Enchanted," which coincidentally is the most streamed song on the 2010 album, coming in at over 300 million streams according to Spotify.

Taylor Swift Speak Now Tour
Taylor Swift performs during her Speak Now World Tour on July 24, 2011, in Newark, New Jersey.Kevin Mazur / WireImage / Getty Images

'Fearless' (2008)

Taylor Swift Fearless
You can also stream "Fearless (Taylor's Version) on streaming platforms.

"Fearless" marked the time when Swift really started making an international name for herself as a country-pop singer/songwriter.

"Fearless," Swift's second album, is chock-full of hits: "Love Story," "You Belong with Me," "Fifteen," "White Horse," among others.

Throughout the “Fearless” era, Swift seemed to start exploring her style — and embracing her individuality — more. This was the era of Swift's legendary big, blond curls.

Taylor Swift Fearless Tour
Taylor Swift performs on stage in concert on the Sydney stop of her Fearless Tour.Don Arnold / WireImage / Getty Images

'Taylor Swift' (2006)

Taylor Swift album
Taylor Swift's debut album cover.

“Taylor Swift,” her debut album released in 2006, was the start of what was to become a very long and successful career.

This album solidified Swift as an up-and-coming country singer. As a girl from a small town in Pennsylvania, Swift really embraced the “just a girl with her guitar” vibe as she began navigating her place in the music industry.

Taylor Swift 2009
Taylor Swift performs onstage during the 2009 CMT Music Awards at the Sommet Center. Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

If the first few seconds of "Our Song" don't already send you back to awkward school dances and singing in the back of your parents' car ... it's not too late to make some memories with the song.