5 Essential Taylor Swift Songs for Navigating Life’s Ups and Downs

As Swifties and casual fans alike well-know, there’s a Taylor Swift song for everything. The global megastar has spent the better part of two decades writing the soundtrack to our lives, documenting the magical moments of adolescence, helping listeners navigate the happy, free, confused, and lonely labyrinth of young adulthood, and finding the exact right notes and lyrics to pull us through our darkest nights and most catastrophic blues.

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That’s part of the singer’s legacy: her uncanny ability to capture the good, the bad, the memorable, and the unforgettable, and encapsulate it all in verse/chorus/bridge format. And yes, Swift’s many hits and deep cuts may hit differently at various times in our lives, but all together, her music offers the perfect playlist for riding the waves of life both high and low.

Below, American Songwriter has rounded up five beloved Swift tracks that can be helpful in navigating all the challenges and victories, heartbreaks and punches life can throw your way, from Speak Now, to Red, to Reputation, and beyond.

1. Look What You Made Me Do

There’s no denying Swift had a particularly difficult 2016. Following her coronation as a bona fide pop star with the release of 1989 (2015) and its epic world tour, the tides of public opinion began to turn against the icon—to the point that #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty became the number one trending topic on Twitter that summer.

Much of the online drama had to do with Kanye West’s song “Famous” referencing Swift in its lyrics, and whether or not the songstress had given her permission for the rapper to call her a “bitch” in the verse. (TLDR: She didn’t, and a clip circulated online by West’s then-wife, Kim Kardashian, later turned out to be manipulated to appear otherwise.)

Coupled with her breakup with then-boyfriend Calvin Harris and a feud with Katy Perry making waves, Swift went quiet amid a deluge of public criticism. The following year, though, she came roaring back with a response in the form of “Look What You Made Me Do.” The lead single off her 2017 album, Reputation, introduced the world to a completely new Taylor—one with a list of those who’d wronged her and a red pen ready to underline each and every name.

The world moves on another day, another drama, drama
But not for me, not for me
All I think about is karma
And then the world moves on but one thing’s for sure
Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours

“Look What You Made Me Do” remains, arguably, Swift’s most polarizing No. 1 hit, but it also offers a pretty good blueprint to anyone weathering a public or private storm. When it’s time to fight back, have your receipts in hand and don’t be afraid to declare, I’m sorry, the old [me] can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh…‘cause she’s dead!

2. I Forgot That You Existed

In the wake of reclaiming her reputation with her sixth studio album and history-making Reputation Stadium Tour, Swift wanted to turn the page and focus on all the things she loved. But she couldn’t quite resist putting a winking period on the Reputation era as she moved into her Lover mode. Which is exactly what she did on Lover‘s opening track, “I Forgot That You Existed.”

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With its bouncy, finger-snap-laden beat and carefree vibe, the song is the antithesis of Reputation’s dark, often tempestuous sonic palette, and just goes to show that time does, in fact, heal most wounds—if you let it. 

In the verses, Swift admits to getting more than a little wrapped up in her feels as she was betrayed by friends and stabbed in the back by very public enemies. But in turning the page, she finally felt free to laugh off the all-consuming drama of her past and cheerfully confess:

I forgot that you sent me a clear message
Taught me some hard lessons
I just forget what they were
It’s all just a blur

After all, sometimes the best mark of true healing isn’t love and it isn’t hate: it’s just indifference.

3. Karma

Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours, Swift promised as she kicked off her Reputation era with “Look What You Made Me Do” in 2017. Years later, though, she showed off an altogether more peaceful outlook on the old adage that “what goes around comes around” with Midnights single “Karma.”

On the breezy track—which shot to No. 1 on the Hot 100 after Swift enlisted Ice Spice for its official push to radio—the singer is the living embodiment of a clean conscience. She’s spent years in the spotlight being maligned by famous foes and betrayed by former friends, even quite literally having her life’s work stolen out from under her, all while quietly keeping her side of the street clean. And would you look at that? Time and again, she’s been proven right, validated, and vindicated. So if you’re in the middle of a particularly tumultuous bout of drama, just remember: karma will eventually be a relaxing thought.

4. Begin Again

Endings can be one of the hardest parts of life—whether they be a romance, a friendship, an era, or an age. And that was certainly true on “Begin Again,” the second pre-release single off Swift’s 2012 album Red, which found the singer nursing a broken heart in the wake of a devastating breakup. 

However, Swift miraculously manages to walk a razor’s edge on the tender track, with her melancholy eventually giving way to a spark of hope as a surprisingly good coffee date breathes new possibilities into her future. 

I’ve been spendin’ the last eight months
Thinkin’ all love ever does is break and burn and end
But on a Wednesday, in a café
I watched it begin again

Ending on a particularly sanguine note, “Begin Again” remains one of Swift’s most affecting ballads, providing perspective and hope that the next great thing in your life could be just around the corner.

5. Long Live

I said, remember this moment…

Since her days as a teenaged country phenom, Swift has always been an expert at capturing memories with her pen and preserving them in the amber glow of nostalgia. There’s perhaps no better example of this special skill than “Long Live,” the triumphant anthem that closes the 2010 album Speak Now (notwithstanding bonus tracks like “Ours” and “Superman” or vault tracks off the Taylor’s Version rerecording, of course). 

After Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) was released in July 2023, “Long Live” was the one song from the album that Swift added to the setlist of the Eras Tour, giving Swifties a chance to throw their fists in the air and celebrate the years of memories they’d made as “a band of thieves in ripped-up jeans” who “got to rule the world” alongside their queen.

Months later, the song also played over the end credits of the Eras Tour concert film, and in all of its perfectly-worded sentimentality, “Long Live” remains a potent reminder to recognize and appreciate the people, places, and moments that are happening now. Because one day, you’ll look back on them with a tear in your eye and be able to say, “I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you.”

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

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