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Good Playlist: Taylor Swift embraces her political power ▶️

Tune in for insights and inspiration on gender and feminist politics, and much more.

- April 30, 2024

Taylor Swift is seemingly everywhere. With the release of her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, on April 19, 2024, she continues to dominate popular culture and pervade the national discourse.

Swift’s music has become increasingly political. This trend appears to be driven by her concern over the state of American politics as well as her increased maturity and confidence as a female artist in an industry dominated by men. 

Accompanying this shift is her increased willingness to openly embrace her political power. Indeed, Swift has already demonstrated the potential to influence voter registration. Her tours boost the U.S. economy. And one tour stop in Asia even sparked a bit of an international conflict

As a celebration of her work and in recognition of her broad reach, we have assembled a playlist of Taylor Swift songs with both explicit and implicit political themes. We broadly categorize these works into four themes:

  • Songs that speak directly to gender and feminist politics (“The Man,” “Mad Woman,” “The Last Great American Dynasty,” “I Did Something Bad,” “But Daddy I Love Him,” “Clara Bow,” “Nothing New”)
  • Songs that address LGBTQ+ politics (“Welcome to New York,” ”You Need to Calm Down”)
  • Songs that are a call to action or reflection on the distraught state of the country (“Only the Young,” “Epiphany,” “Change,” “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”)
  • Songs with political references and imagery, even if their broader message is not political (“Anti-Hero,” “The Great War,” “Starlight,” “Mastermind,” “Exile,” “Death By a Thousand Cuts,” “Endgame,” “The Archer”)

Below, we group each of the songs by theme and highlight some sample lyrics from each work.

Gender & feminist politics:

  • The Man (Lover, 2019): “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker / If I was a man / And I’m so sick of them coming at me again / ‘Cause if I was a man / I’d be the man”
  • Mad Woman (Folklore: The Long Pond Session, 2020): “And there’s nothin’ like a mad woman / What a shame she went mad / No one likes a mad woman / You made her like that”; “And women like hunting witches, too / Doing your dirtiest work for you”
  • The Last Great American Dynasty (Folklore: The Long Pond Session, 2020): “And they said / ‘There goes the last great American dynasty / Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruinin’ everything’”
  • I Did Something Bad (Reputation, 2017): “I never trust a playboy / But they love me / So I fly him all around the world / And I let them think they saved me”; “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one / They got their pitchforks and proof / Their receipts and reasons / They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one”
  • But Daddy I Love Him (The Tortured Poets Department, 2024): “I just learned these people only raise you to cage you / Sarahs and Hannahs in their Sunday best / Clutching their pearls, sighing ‘What a mess’”; “Dutiful daughter, all my plans were laid / Tendrils tucked into a woven braid / Growing up precocious sometimes means not growing up at all”
  • Clara Bow (The Tortured Poets Department, 2024): “Beauty is a beast that roars / Down on all fours / Demanding ‘more’ / Only when your girlish glow / Flickers just so / Do they let you know / It’s hell on earth to be heavenly / Them’s the breaks / They don’t come gently”
  • Nothing New (Red – Taylor’s Version, 2021): “They tell you while you’re young / ‘Girls, go out and have your fun’ / Then they hunt and slay the ones who actually do it / Criticize the way you fly / When you’re soaring through the sky / Shoot you down and then they sigh / And say, ‘She looks like she’s been through it’”

LGBTQ+ politics:

  • Welcome to New York (1989 – Taylor’s Version, 2023): “And you can want who you want / Boys and boys and girls and girls”
  • You Need to Calm Down (Lover, 2019): “Why are you mad? / When you could be GLAAD? (You could be GLAAD) / Sunshine on the street at the parade / But you would rather be in the dark ages / Making that sign, must’ve taken all night / You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace / And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate / ‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay so”

Call to action/reflection:

  • Only the Young (featured in Miss Americana, 2020): “So every day now / You brace for the sound / You’ve only heard on TV / You go to class, scared / Wondering where the best hiding spot would be / And the big bad man and his big bad clan / Their hands are stained with red / Oh, how quickly, they forget”; “Don’t say you’re too tired to fight / It’s just a matter of time (can run) / Up there’s the finish line / So run, and run, and run”
  • Epiphany (Folklore: The Long Pond Session, 2020): “Something med school did not cover / Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother / Holds your hand through plastic now / ‘Doc, I think she’s crashing out’ / And some things you just can’t speak about / Only 20 minutes to sleep / But you dream of some epiphany / Just one single glimpse of relief / To make some sense of what you’ve seen”
  • Change (Fearless – Taylor’s Version, 2021): “Because these things will change / Can you feel it now? / These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down / It’s a revolution, the time will come / For us to finally win / And we’ll sing hallelujah, we’ll sing hallelujah”
  • Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince (Lover, 2019): “My team is losing, battered and bruising / I see the high fives between the bad guys / Leave with my head hung, you are the only one / Who seems to care / American stories burning before me / I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed / Boys will be boys then, where are the wise men / Darling, I’m scared (ah)”

Political references:

  • Anti-Hero (Midnights, 2022): “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism / Like some kind of congressman? (Tale as old as time)”
  • The Great War (Midnights, 2022): “We can plant a memory garden / Say a solemn prayer, place a poppy in my hair / There’s no morning glory, it was war, it wasn’t fair / And we will never go back”
  • Starlight (Red – Taylor’s Version, 2021): “I met Bobby on the boardwalk summer of ’45 / Picked me up late one night out the window / We were seventeen and crazy running wild, wild / Can’t remember what song he was playing when we walked in / The night we snuck into a yacht club party / Pretending to be a duchess and a prince”
  • Mastermind (Midnights, 2022): “And I swear / I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian ’cause I care”
  • Exile (Folklore: The Long Pond Session, 2020): “You’re not my homeland anymore / So what am I defending now? / You were my town / Now I’m in exile, seein’ you out”
  • Death By a Thousand Cuts (Lover, 2019): “Our songs, our films, united we stand / Our country, guess it was a lawless land”
  • Endgame (Reputation, 2017): “After the storm, something was born on the Fourth of July”
  • The Archer (Lover, 2019): “Combat, I’m ready for combat / I say I don’t want that, but what if I do?”

Swift’s ubiquity is what makes her work a powerful pedagogical tool – both as a way to discuss political ideals and values as well as a way to connect with students on (perhaps) more familiar territory. Happy listening!

Danielle Lupton is an associate professor of political science at Colgate University and a contributor to Good Authority. She studies foreign policy, international security, and civil-military relations. She is the author of Reputation for Resolve (Cornell University Press, 2020).

Jennifer Ostojski is a visiting assistant professor of political science at Colgate University. She is an expert in popular culture and international relations. 

Do you have a good playlist with a political science theme? Want someone to make one? Know someone who has one? Send us your suggestions using this form! Please note that we will review all proposals but not all will be published.