The Anthology of Taylor Swift, From A-Z

Everything you need to know to be a Swift scholar.

by Kelsey Barnes

It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the musical universe of Taylor Swift is as vast as that of Star Wars and Marvel. After 10 studio albums and four re-records (and not to mention the countless singles and “From The Vault” add-ons) — the pop star has created her own massive shared language consisting of Easter eggs, recurring motifs and characters, and objects like the “Lover House,” which are continuously referenced throughout her discography.

With the upcoming release of The Tortured Poets Department, which was preceded by a Spotify pop-up featuring Easter eggs like frozen clocks stuck on one time and fountain and quill pens — it seems like the album will be referencing her universe again. And since certain clues and cues from the record might not make sense unless you’ve invested in the lore, NYLON put together a definitive guide to the Taylor Swift anthology, including the most important recurring characters, Easter eggs, themes, motifs and more that you need to know from her 10 albums so far.


Abigail is Swift’s best friend from high school, who has since become a mainstay in her life. She’s the inspiration behind Fearless’ “Fifteen,” written about Swift’s time in high school meeting a “red-head named Abigail,” and what it meant to have her friendship before she was famous.


Betty is one of three fictional characters in a love triangle on folklore. On her eponymous song, she’s in love with James (See: James), who cheats on her in “august.” “Cardigan” is a matured Betty looking back at her lost love. The characters are named after Taylor Swift’s longtime friends Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively’s children. Although Swift has said the triangle is fictitious, the songs inspired theories that it might represent a situation Swift found herself in.

Clara Bow

Clara Bow a song title from Swift’s eleventh studio album, The Tortured Poets Department. It’s a reference to American actress Clara Bow, who thrived during the silent film era and was dubbed a pioneer in the industry and an "It Girl." Her fame turned her personal life into a rag for public consumption, eventually forcing her to admit herself to a sanatorium.


On reputation, Swift declared that “in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive.” Although that lyric was about her being reborn, Swift also writes about death in the form of regrets (“Death By A Thousand Cuts”), relationships on life support (“You’re Losing Me”), and being a martyr (“hoax”) to express the depth of her loss or love.

Easter Eggs

Easter eggs have become synonymous with Swift album release campaigns. Anything from her website breaking down, to her using a specific emoji, could signify that something is coming. Common Easter eggs are the clothes she’s wearing, details in music videos alluding to another project, and nods to her personal life in her lyrics (See: Hidden Messages).

Fairy tales

Princes, white horses, dragons, and castles have appeared in Swift’s work since Fearless. She’s still referencing them in her discography, recently including nods to Peter Pan on “exile” and Alice in Wonderland on “long story short.” But instead of using them to speak on naive and romanticized views of love, she’s more focused on the darker aspects of those fairytales and how they speak to adult relationships and experiences.

Growth & Growing up

Reflecting on her coming-of-age and growing up has been a central component of Swift’s music from her debut album, Taylor Swift. More recently, she’s been uses this motif to examine how she’s been detrimental to her own growth, as seen on “The Archer” (“I never grew up, it’s getting so old”) and “Anti-Hero” (“I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser”).

Hidden Messages

The original Easter egg, Swift began incorporating hidden messages in her album’s lyric booklets by capitalizing specific letters. The codes would either offer a hint at who the song was about (See: Stephen), or nod to a specific experience she had. After using hidden messages on her first five albums, she stopped for reputation and for her next four albums. Recently, to tease The Tortured Poets Department, capital letters began appearing again in random songs on Apple Music.


On Swift’s songs, the act of infidelity is both inflicted upon her in songs like “Should’ve Said No,” and something she has done herself, as noted in songs like “​​Illicit Affairs” and “High Infidelity.” The latter interpretation has appeared more in later albums like folklore, and evermore, and hinted at in Midnights.


Betty’s ex-lover in the folklore love triangle, James eventually shows up on her doorstep begging for forgiveness after his betrayal, the narrative of “Betty.” Their story concludes ambiguously, with the listener not knowing whether Betty ultimately grants him another chance.


Swift writes about kissing a lot, often zeroing in on specific details to convey the act as something much bigger than people give it credit for. She’s described it as hanging from someone’s lips “like the Gardens of Babylon,” or something as simple as it being an opulence (“The taste of your lips is my idea of luxury” on “King Of My Heart”).


From classic stories like Rebecca and The Great Gatsby to fairy tales like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, and poetry by Pablo Neruda, Swift uses literary references often to describe the dynamics of a relationship like on “Love Story” (Fearless) and “Wonderland” (1989). For The Tortured Poets Department, it’s rumored she’ll lean on literature and poetry more than ever.


Marjorie is Swift’s grandmother, an opera singer who passed away when Swift was 13. The song “marjorie” from evermore focuses on Swift’s regrets of not taking advantage of the time she had with her. Swift added her grandmother’s voice to the song’s bridge and included it on the Eras Tour, seemingly fulfilling Marjorie’s dream.


Swift’s favorite number, 13, shows up everywhere in her art and life. Born on December 13th, she turned 13 on Friday the 13th; her first album went gold in 13 weeks; and she just won her 13th Grammy. Fans now see 13 as a potential Easter egg to look out for when trying to determine Swift’s next step. The number five has also become legendary in the fandom, as long-time Swifties consider track five to be the most emotional and raw song of every project.


After losing the battle to buy her masters, Swift began writing about ownership. Folklore’s “my tears ricochet” explores this by using the metaphor of a funeral to mirror losing her old work, and the bitter breakdown of her relationship with her previous record label. Meanwhile, evermore’s “it’s time to go” sees Swift coming to terms with the experience (“He’s got my past behind glass/ But I’ve got me”).

Perception & publicity

Swift has become an expert at meta-referencing her career and public identity, with reputation being the most obvious exploration of this. But she also writes about the hysteria she incites (“Anti-Hero”), how she copes with fame (“I Know Places”), and how everyone will never understand what she goes through (“You're On Your Own, Kid”).


Swift places the songs she writes in three categories: glittery gel pen, for fun songs like “Blank Space;” fountain pen, for songs with modern imagery like “All Too Well;” and quill pen, for songs with flowery language and imagery, like “ivy.” Quill songs, in particular, tend to become fan favorites due to their depth and intimacy.


Swift once called red the most “interesting color to correlate with emotion” because it can encompass passion and jealousy. And of all colors, its shades show up the most across her discography. There’s the album, Red, of course, but also her famous “red lip” on “Style,” and her “rosy” cheeks on “Wildest Dreams.” On Midnights, she tracks the way a relationship goes rancid with “Maroon.”


The subject of Fearless’ “Hey Stephen” — one of the first people Swift directly called out in a song — was easily tracked down by fans because of the song’s hidden message which had random capital letters which spelled “LOVE AND THEFT.” She used the song to express her crush for Love and Theft frontman Stephen Barker Liles, who called it in an interview “actually one of the nicest things anybody's ever done for me.”


Swift’s fixation with time is a common motif from her debut to Midnights, an album crafted around the concept of 13 sleepless nights. The early hours are mentioned on songs like “I Wish You Would” and “Breathe,” but other creative nods — like clock latte art at the end of the “Karma” video further show her obsession with time. Often, she’s attempting to speed it up to heal from heartbreak (“Time won't fly, it's like I'm paralyzed by it”) or using it to chart her own growth ("Ten months older I won't give in/ Now that I'm clean I'm never gonna risk it").

Unretrived Items

One major Swift quirk is her tendency to hone in on personal artifacts that later come to define a relationship. There’s her infamous scarf from "All Too Well" (left at Jake Gyllenhaal’s house) and the hat she cries over on “Hits Different.” Reminiscing — and obsessing — over leftover clothes or items has arguably become a trademark of her songwriting.


As part of her album re-recordings, Swift has been releasing songs “from the vault.” These are old songs she wrote during the original album’s release that have been revisited and now released to accompany the re-recorded albums. They include fan-favorite tracks like the 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” which often expand previous narratives from the album.


From axes to daggers, weapons and war imagery have become a common motif for Swift to express pain and hurt. Daggers, in particular, seem to be the weapon she uses most to describe how she feels when she’s betrayed, as seen in the lyric “What would you do if I break free and leave us in ruins/ Took this dagger in me and removed it” from “Tolerate It.”

X marks the spot

“X marks the spot where we fell apart” is a lyric from reputation’s “Getaway Car,” alluding to a failed relationship. Now, “X marks the spot” visuals show up in her concerts, often depicting her in the desert with an “X” being marked underneath her location as she recites a poem.


Swift reflects on her youth with equal parts fondness and empathy, particularly on tracks like “Nothing New” and “You’re On Your Own Kid.” Both, in their own ways, see Swift’s desire to be loved and accepted — either in the music industry or in social circles — a common theme in her music.


A Sagittarius, Swift mentions astrology and zodiac signs in interviews and has used traits of specific signs in her lyrics. On Red, she alludes to star signs on multiple songs like in the lyric, “Twin fire signs/ Four blue eyes” from “State of Grace.” There’s also the secret code “SAG” hidden in Red’s album booklet.