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15 of Taylor Swift’s most emo songs ever, ranked

Taylor Swift’s affinity for emo music and culture is far beyond any doubt. 

She’s performed with Hayley Williams (and included her Paramore pal in her Bad Blood music video), called Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz her favorite lyricist,” dueted with Boys Like Girls, said Dashboard Confessional’s emo classic “Hands Down” is perfection and last year collaborated with Phoebe Bridgers, leader of the New Emo Republic.

Read more: Taylor Swift pulls all-nighter and reveals remaining tracklist for Midnights including a Lana Del Rey collaboration

But now, as Swift’s wildly anticipated new album Midnights — complete with its ominous “13 sleepless nights” emo-adjacent aesthetic — is set to drop Oct. 21, we pose a new question: Exactly how emo is Swift’s catalog? 

The short answer: pretty damn emo (or Sweemo, as has been so shrewdly coined on social media). Much of the same bleeding angst, pain, fury and desperation that comprise the touchstones of emo can also be found in Swift’s prolific catalog. 

But here’s the cream of the calamitous crop. These are her most emo songs of all time, ranked by pure emo-ness (you know it when you hear it).

15. “peace”

Album: folklore, 2020

Best emo lyric: “All these people think love’s for show/But I would die for you in secret”

Let’s kick this off with a newer track only the die-hards know, as it’s buried near the bottom of folklore. The slow-burner “peace” establishes a pillar of emo philosophy — emo is ageless, and the crush of life only makes you more emo as you trudge along. This tune nails a very adult-emo realization, shared from one partner to another: That try as they might, they can never bring their lover the solace they seek. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but Swift unpacks it eloquently, wondering if giving all of herself could ever be enough.

14. “Mr. Perfectly Fine”

Album: Fearless (Taylor’s Version), 2021

Best emo lyric: “I’ve been Miss Misery since your goodbye/And you’re Mr. Perfectly Fine”

The only thing worse than feeling miserable over a breakup is feeling awful and seeing your ex out there living their best life. To paraphrase Halsey, they should be sad, too! Well, the must-be-nice teen angst of “Mr. Perfectly Fine” is about exactly that. The guy in question is presumably Swift’s new ex at the time, Joe Jonas, who she deems “casually cruel” (preceding the “All Too Well” lyric). The whole emo saga plays like a forebear to Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u,” 2021’s emo-pop world-beater.

13. “coney island”

Album: evermore, 2020

Best emo lyric: “And I’m sitting on a bench in Coney Island wondering where did my baby go?”

So, Coney Island in Brooklyn isn’t an inherently emo place. Roller coasters, fun boardwalk food, famous hot dog eating contests! But sitting alone amid the amusement rides, considering where it all went wrong? Well, that’s emo 101. This is another of Swift’s adult emo contemplations, with delicate wordplay and the consideration of love’s fragility and erosion. The National’s Matt Berninger brings it all home with his patently doleful smolder.

12. “Fifteen”

Album: Fearless, 2008

Best emo lyric: “Laughing at the other girls who think they’re so cool/We’ll be out of here as soon as we can”

Swift’s commentary on the naivety of lovelorn high school freshmen plays out like an episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager (which also premiered in 2008) — ABC Family’s most emo show of all time. Also, Swift name-drops her best friend Abigail here, and guess who Swift famously got to play a song at Abigail’s birthday party in 2015? Chris Carrabba, aka emo deity Dashboard Confessional. 

11. “Haunted”

Album: Speak Now, 2010

Best emo lyric: “I thought I had you figured out/Can’t breathe whenever you’re gone/Can’t turn back now, I’m haunted”

“Haunted” makes the list for two reasons. First, its string-heavy, lightly foreboding instrumentation doesn’t not sound a little like scene-era Bring Me the Horizon. Second, and more importantly, the almost visceral desperation on this rock-heavy track really nails the emo vibe. For all of Swift’s bleeding lyricism, rarely does she sound desperate, like she’s fresh out of options. But that’s how the “come on, come on”’s come across here. Also, anything referencing hauntings of any kind is instantly emo. We don’t make the rules.

10. “Death by a Thousand Cuts”

Album: Lover, 2019

Best emo lyric:I look through the windows of this love/Even though we boarded them up/Chandelier’s still flickering here/’Cause I can’t pretend it’s OK when it’s not” 

As if the tortured title wasn’t enough, the song’s thesis of not being able to get over a breakup — and it’s driving you so crazy that you’re asking traffic lights for help — is high-tier emo. She also gets drunk to forget — classic emo trope — but it’s still not enough. The tongue-twisting bridge, one of Swift’s finest (emo or not), is a superb metaphor for racing thoughts, as well as the chaos that drives songwriters and listeners alike to enter the emo realm.

9. “The Moment I Knew”

Album: Red, 2012

Best emo lyric: “I try not to fall apart/And the sinking feeling starts/As I say hopelessly/‘He said he’d be here’” 

A birthday party ruined and crying in front of your friends because the guy you like never showed up —  that’s supreme emo fodder. It’s also the whole scene Swift recreates in this downright miserable song detailing love unraveling (the core of Red). Also, “The Moment I Knew” uses a cello, easily one of the most emo string instruments. 

8. “champagne problems” 

Album: evermore, 2020

Best emo lyric: “You booked the night train for a reason/So you could sit there in this hurt”

“champagne problems” feels like Panic! At the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” but in an alternate universe where they never even made it to the wedding because the prospective bride was “fucked in the head,” or so the cynics said. Swift, a hopeless romantic, loves to establish classic literary and theatrical themes — think “Love Story” — but sometimes things just don’t work out. And this mournful track about a fancy proposal gone very wrong (and then riding on the train in sorrow) is all sorts of emo — even if it’s rich-people emo.

7. “Cornelia Street”

Album: Lover, 2019

Best emo lyric: “That’s the kind of heartbreak time could never mend/I’d never walk Cornelia Street again”

If you promise to never step foot on a city street ever again due to reeling, borderless heartache, congratulations, you’ve written an emo song! “Cornelia Street” is definitely one of the most downtrodden tracks off an otherwise honey-soaked Lover. The song’s message is one of fear and desperation — that Swift could potentially lose the love of her life: “I’m so terrified of if you ever walk away.” In other words, she’s in her head and sad before she even needs to be sad. What’s more emo than that? 

6. “You Belong With Me”

Album: Fearless, 2008

Best emo lyric: “She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers/Dreaming about the day when you wake up and find/That what you’re looking for has been here the whole time”

Emo loves an underdog, and Swift established herself as the ultimate “take a chance on me” longshot in “You Belong With Me,” a classic tale of unrequited love and longing — a core emo principle. And why does the other girl always have to be a cheerleader? Pom Pom Squad probably has something to say about this. Anyway, “You Belong With Me” is one of the most popular closet-emo songs of the last 15 years, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and further establishing Swift as a pop force who would unleash her angst on the world.

5. “the lakes”

Album: folklore (deluxe version), 2020

Best emo lyric: “Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die/I don’t belong and, my beloved, neither do you/Those Windermere peaks look like a perfect place to cry/I’m setting off, but not without my muse”

Romanticizing dead poets is some profoundly emo shit — and a fair reminder that at her core, Swift is a Tumblr girl who was all about those grayscale cards with centuries-old poems typed in swirly typeface. This acoustic, dirge-y bonus track, which sings of “auroras and sad prose,” is basically one of those blog posts set to music, and a banner punctuation on folklore, which found all of us during a pandemic-emo era and injected some catharsis into our sorrows.

4. “Teardrops on My Guitar”

Album: Self-titled, 2006

Best emo lyric: Drew walks by me/Can he tell that I can’t breathe?/And there he goes, so perfectly/The kind of flawless I wish I could be”

There’s an argument to be made that Swift’s debut — her most overtly country, twang-and-drawl effort — is also one of her most emo. It makes sense: She was about 16 years old when it was written, and the rawness of teen sensibilities — from elation to anguish — lend well to the emo art form. Several cuts off her S/T could’ve fit this list: “Picture to Burn,” “Cold As You.” But the right call here is “Teardrops,” whose high school longing could’ve easily been a Hey Monday song with a few tweaks. Also, what’s more overdramatic than tears beading on a musical instrument?

3. “Nothing New”

Album: Red (Taylor’s Version), 2021

Best emo lyric: “How long will it be cute, all this crying in my room?/Whеn you can’t blame it on my youth/And roll your eyes with affеction”

It’s a simple equation: Any song — especially a woeful, contemplative ballad like this one — that employs ultimate sad-girl star Phoebe Bridgers instantly increases its emo cred by a factor of 10. This almost maudlin vault track off Swift’s Red re-release in 2021 is deep in its feelings, as Swift considers how much longer the music industry, her fans and humanity at large will tolerate her once she’s “lost [her] novelty.” Bridgers adds her patented bittersweet lilts as the song mimics a drunken night of self-wallowing.

2. “Better Than Revenge”

Album: Speak Now, 2010

Best emo lyric: “I’m just another thing for you to roll your eyes at, honey/You might have him, but I always get the last word”

The “Better Than Revenge” origin story must go something like this: A 20-year-old Swift walks into the studio, clearly pissed off, and tells her producers: “We’re writing a goddamn Paramore song today.” Because “Better Than Revenge” isn’t only a pop-punk song with less heavy guitar, but it’s basically “Misery Business.” The seething sentiment, the link between controversial lines — Paramore’s “Once a whore, you’re nothing more” and Swift’s “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress” — and the songs’ thesis, that the protagonist (Hayley Williams/Swift) would always emerge victorious in the game of love. Maybe that’s not the most emo message, but still, this bounding tune is as close as Swift’s ever gotten to a Warped Tour-ready jam.

1. “All Too Well” (10-minute version) 

Album: Red (Taylor’s Version), 2021

Best emo lyric: “He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was/Till we were dead and gone and buried/Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same / After three months in the grave” 

You already knew. What’s widely regarded as Swift’s single greatest track (or at least her magnum opus) is also surely her most emo, as she spends what feels like a lifetime skewering her ex (actor Jake Gyllenhaal, of course) with exceedingly melodramatic prods and jabs. The panoramic ballad is all fury, pain, passion, insecurity, hypersensitivity — and her famed “lost in translation” bridge unloads a raw uppercut forever worthy of scream-cries in the car. It’s an emo epic for all seasons, all ages and all humans who’ve ever felt a bad feeling. The corresponding short film is waaay emo, too. We bow down once more to Swift, in awe of her peerless, heart-strung lyricism, as we await the next emo blow from Midnights.