On her chart-destroying new album Red, Taylor Swift brought in pop assassins like Max Martin and Shellback to effectively erase the first half of her “country-pop” descriptor. It’s a testament to Swift’s musical prowess that what should have been a jarring change was pulled off with confidence and finesse. But does this stark musical evolution underscore a lack of lyrical evolution? It sure seems like Swift is singing about the same things that populated her songs at age 16, doesn’t it?
Well, we pored over the lyrics from her 2006 self-titled debut and compared them to the lyrics on Red to find out if that’s actually the case. We approached this from a cold, unfeeling angle, uninterested in the perceived complexity of specific couplets or the subjective merits of a certain hook. Rather, we focused on metrics such as word frequency and, ya know, actual content. We didn’t listen to the accompanying music in our soundproof lab (though we may have heard it in our heads anyway) — it was just her lyrics on the page. Below, you’ll see the trends and divergences that jumped out at us when we put the words from her two career landmarks side-by-side.
:: Taylor is more verbose now.
Her debut had 245 words per song, but the rate went up to 328 on Red.
:: She’s also sexier now.
Red has one song about the dirty deed (“Treacherous”), while her debut, thankfully, had none.
:: Her status as a one-percenter is seeping into her songs.
Whereas on Taylor Swift she sings about pickup trucks and Chevys and riding shotgun, on Red Swift mentions black cars, Maseratis and yacht clubs. Not exactly like going Jay-Z going from Reasonable Doubt to Watch The Throne, but still…she’s no longer the girl next door and her points of reference are understandably starting to reflect that.
:: She’s even more obsessed with singing about herself
Red‘s second most common word is “I” (4.2% of all words). On her debut, “I” is also in the number two spot, but with 3.8%.
:: But she’s also more obsessed with singing about “you.”
The most common word on both albums was “you” — 5.6% on Red, up from 4.2% on Taylor Swift.
:: She’s more certain of herself these days.
“Think” and “know” came in ranked 18 and 19, respectively, on her self-titled album. On Red, the waffling subsided, as “know” is up at #12, and “think” is way down at #40.
:: Her musical landmarks have become more eclectic.
From Tim McGraw on her debutto James Taylor, blues and “indie records” on her latest effort.
:: Swift still needs to work on her conflict resolution techniques.
On TS, she indirectly threatens her ex with violence (“And if you come around saying sorry to me / My daddy’s gonna show you how sorry you’ll be…’Cause coming back around here / Would be bad for your health” on “Picture To Burn”). On Red, she directly tries to inflict harm: “I threw my phone across the room at you” from “Stay Stay Stay.”
:: Taylor might be a Valley Girl now.
“Like” is the seventh most common word on Red, while it was way down at #53 on Taylor.
:: Scratch that, it’s just the similes. She’s now dropping similes like rappers drop…similes. (That was a simile.)
Despite Taylor’s gum-chewing cheerleader usage of “like” on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” the uptick in the four-letter word is primarily due to her new obsession with similes. We counted eight uses of the figure of speech on TS. The song “Red” alone tops that, with nine, and the whole album contains 22 similes.
:: The metaphorical walls in her songs are still painted, as opposed to, say, covered in wallpaper.
“You put up walls and paint them all a shade of gray” — From 2006′s “Cold As You.”
“And all my walls stood tall painted blue / But I’ll take them down” — Ed Sheeran on 2012′s “Everything Has Changed.”
:: She still has the occasional line that, devoid of context, totally makes her sound like a stalker.
“I will get you, get you alone / Your name has echoed through my mind…And I will follow you, follow you home” from “Treacherous.”
“And I’m back for the first time since then / I’m standin’ on your street / And there’s a letter left on your doorstep” from “Tim McGraw.” (She also leaves a note at someone’s door in “Holy Ground” on Red, because apparently neither email nor snail mail exists in Taylor’s painted-wall wonderland, and the self-delivered, hand-scrawled telegram reigns supreme.)
:: We already know matters of the heart are Swift’s lifeblood, but she also has a strange obsession with modes of transportation.
Swift mentions walking, running, driving or flying in nine out of 11 songs on her debut. That rate stays steady with 12 out of 16 on Red.
Check out all of Taylor’s lyrics over at Direct Lyrics, and let us know what you think of her songwriting evolution over the past six years. Hit us up in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.