Taylor Swift measures her career in eras, but what about the songs that don’t fit so neatly in those time periods?
Since the pop star began her project of rerecording her first six albums, she’s introduced From The Vault tracks, songs that she wrote during the original creation of those records that were ultimately scrapped, but have been revisited, retinkered, and released now. These 21 songs now occupy an interesting space in her catalog, caught between time, eras, and albums, and now imbued with layers meaning. While, we can’t count them as a part of Swift’s canonical catalog, they’re worth deeper inspection in their own right, even if it’s just to arbitrarily rank them from best to worst (note: even the worst Taylor Swift song is still perfectly fine).
So below, we evaluated the merits of every From The Vault track (so far) from “You All Over Me” to “All Too Well” (10 Minute Version) — see how they shored up, below.
Of all the From The Vault tracks with features, “Run” is the one with the least amount of juice. The guitar melody is fine, if a bit of a snooze and, unfortunately, picking Ed Sheeran as the guest didn’t bring any additional appeal to the track. I just listened to it three times and still can’t remember what it sounds like. —
Steffanee Wang, music editor
There’s something about the way Swift sings “baby” on this song that makes my arm hairs stand up (not in not good way). For that, “We Were Happy”
does end up being more memorable than “Run,” but the songwriting still feels second-rate: “When it was good, baby, it was good, baby/ We showed 'em all up/ No one could touch the way we laughed in the dark/ Talkin' 'bout your daddy's farm we were gonna buy someday/ And we were happy.” Listen to “Tim McGraw” instead. — SW
Here, the use of the word “baby” is so much more palatable, and the melody of the hook is catchy, and you’ll find yourself absentmindedly humming it. Maybe its biggest weakness is that there isn’t something more punchy about it, which is generally fine but its ultimate downfall, here. —
There is a soft, sloping build up on this song that is nice, and Swift does that thing where she cleverly structures all of her lyrics around the phrase “Don’t You.” It’s overall pleasant, and that’s about all. —S
Swift has a gift for turning some of her most potentially unhinged daydreams into genuinely romantic prospects. On “Timeless,” her imagination spans from being a stranded young wife whose husband leaves to fight in WWII, to a young woman in the 1500s who’s forcibly married off to another man — all to illustrate the lifetime-transcending connection she has with another person. Intense? Very. But it works! —
SW 16 “When Emma Falls In Love”
How rare it is for Swift to write about a love that isn’t her own. This automatically makes “When Emma Falls In Love” a unique and significant artifact in her catalog. Plus additional points for the fact that it’s (rumored to be) about real life Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin (or Andrew Garfield, depending what TikTok you watch), thanks to the many cute hints Swift dots the song with. —
Forget that mashup that kicks off the Eras tour — this vault track truly feels like an amalgamation of Swift’s discography. You have the wide-eyed optimism of
Fearless; the country-pop of Speak Now; the synth-driven beats of 1989 (and a Polaroid mention thrown in for good measure). It’s some of her greatest hits, but here, the sum is not necessarily greater than its parts. — Lauren McCarthy, executive editor 14 “That’s When (ft. Keith Urban)”
The first of three From The Vault tracks that feature country musicians, “That’s When” just has the unfortunate fate of not being
as good as the other two. But it’s still great! Swift’s and Urban’s voices compliment each others’ nicely, the instrumentation is so pretty, and the hook is hooking. What’s missing is the deeper substance in the songwriting that we’ve come accustomed to. — SW 13 “You All Over Me (ft. Maren Morris)”
Magical things happen when Swift leans all the way into country, and “You All Over Me” is a fine example. Weepy harmonica makes it sound like she’s singing while the sun is setting, and her storytelling is as vivid as ever: “I lived, and I learned/ Had you, got burned/ Held out, and held on/ God knows, too long/ And wasted time, lost tears/ Swore that I'd get out of here/ But no amount of freedom gets you clean/ I've still got you all over me.” And she wrote this when she was 18? Chills. —
The pure caffeinated energy of this song powered it all the way up to no. 12 on this list. This is the first song Swift ever wrote with producers Max Martin and Johan Shellback and it’s incredible how complete it sounds. It’s fun, exuberant, with a beat that’s 100% addiction, even if the lyrics are a bit lackluster. —
Where you stand on the 2018 Swift-penned Sugarland song will directly affect your opinion on this version. Is the original soulful country at its finest, or does it need more from Swift, who lends quietly to the chorus and outro? We’re in the latter camp. Swift adds a smirking “you know what you did” take to her version without losing any of the previous iteration’s yearning and regret. —
One listen to “Better Man” and you know in your heart that it was never meant to be in the vault. And, actually, it wasn’t. When Swift couldn’t fit it on the final tracklist for
Red, she ended up giving it away in 2016 to Little Big Town, who in turn won a Grammy and a CMA Song of the Year award with it. Years later we can finally hear the original rendition, which just hits 10x more. — SW 9 “Electric Touch (ft. Fall Out Boy)”
A catchy ear-worm that feels bigger than your typical pop song. Here, we get a maturity from two artists that have affected teens for generations — but they’ve grown up and so have we, both of which come to the forefront here. The only complaint? More Fall Out Boy please (technically only singer Patrick Stump is credited in liner notes)! If next vault drop comes with a studio version of their last collab — a performance of “My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark” at the
2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show — we’ll call it even. — LM
If I was 12 and heard “Foolish One” when Taylor Swift originally released
Speak Now, I wonder how much it might’ve impacted many of my decisions around love growing up. Probably not very much if I’m being honest — but how startling it is to hear Swift speak so sternly against unrestrained crushes and imaginations! This makes “Foolish One” a highly precious gem and also such a shock to hear. “You are not the exception/ You will never learn your lesson,” she critiques with near disdain in her voice! I am shaken to my core. — SW 7 “Castles Crumbling (ft. Hayley Williams)”
Fans have noted that this track is the antithesis of album standout “Long Live,” a searing joyful ode to the life-long friendships she’s made with her fans. Here, Swift imagines a scenario where she let them all down, succumbing to the pressures of fame. Though it’s a topic she’s handled before (it’s not even the only song on this list about the subject), this one packs an extra punch, imagining at 20-year-old Swift writing it just off an Album of the Year win at 18, as well as the always chills-inducing vocals of Hayley Williams. —
Despite being revered for her diary-like confessional lyrics, some of Swift’s most poignant songs are the ones where she looks outwards. Here, Swift addresses mental health head on, a topic she’s previously flirted with (see: “Champagne Problems”) but never addressed so blatantly as tries to reckon with and support someone close as they deal with suicidal thoughts. It’s a testament to both Swift’s songwriting and vocals that the song is neither pandering nor shallow; rather one of her rawest and heart-wrenching. —
LM 5 “Nothing New (ft. Phoebe Bridgers)”
A consistent theme of listening to From The Vault tracks is the disbelief when you realize the actual age she wrote some of these songs. That realization is especially profound here, on this truly stunning track that exhibits such an unbelievably deep understanding of what it’s like existing in this world as a young woman.
From its opening lines, “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,” “Nothing New” is a sterling example of the ultimate ethos of Taylor Swift’s entire career: using her personal story to illuminate new sides to femininity and womanhood. It is devastating when she wonders, “Lord, what will become of me/ Once I've lost my novelty?” It is comforting when she admits she knows “nothing at 22.” It has a melody that rushes like water, tumbling forward like the build-up of life when it gets too much, but also cleansing everything it passes over too. —
One thing Taylor Swift is going to do is write a bop about Joe Jonas (allegedly). For listeners of Las Culturistas, you’ll know that this track is pure Tayla Swiff — petty, snarling, and out for blood. After sarcastically reaching out to a playboy ex who’s moved on a little *too* quickly, Swift once again comes out on top as she switches up her hello to goodbye in the final chorus. Tell you once, tell you twice: don’t cross Ms. Swiff. —
LM 3 “I Bet You Think About Me (ft. Chris Stapleton)”
Over the course of her career, Swift has examined almost every stage of a breakup and on "I Bet You Think About Me" she takes on the best part: triumph. With an assist from Chris Stapleton, Swift revisits the country genre school of songwriting, telling the story of a relationship gone south in matter-of-fact detail and a knowing sneer. She may have been dumped, but here, she's getting the last word.
Swift's catchiest vault track is also her sexiest. "I Can See You" is all want and lust over an equally slinky beat. At the song's best moments, Swift's voice breaks down into deep, longing sighs — as if the desire was so strong she somehow forgot she was recording a song. "I Can See You" teases both the object of her affection and the listener with just what she's imagining in these fantasies of hers. And based on how many times I’ve hit repeat, the mystery is definitely working.
— LM 1 “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”
On “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” Taylor Swift pulled off the impossible: she made a perfect song, beloved by fans to the point of God-like revery, even better. Every Swiftie knows where they were when you first heard the lyrics, “and you were tossing me the car keys/f*ck the patriarchy,” the first diversion from the song’s original five minute version, coming in just past the two minute mark. And it only takes off from there. The original had one of her best (if not best) bridges? Let’s add two more. Finally catching your breath? It’s just the seven minute mark, and here comes a new, slower pace that’s more and more damning as each beat passes. This is the vault track to end all vault tracks because if this was left on the original cutting room floor — what else is left down there with it?