Taylor Swift might have started out crafting down-home clips about innocent young romances in Chevys, but the pop icon has played remarkably diverse on-screen roles since 2006’s “Tim McGraw” video. She’s done it all, for better and worse: stood up for the misfits, made tone-deaf artistic decisions, emerged as the victor against her brunette nemeses, played into cliché country tropes, burned through dizzying budgets, and poked fun at herself time and time again. Here’s our ranked list of her best 30.
30. “Wildest Dreams” (2015)
The video depicts a Hollywood film crew on set in Africa in 1950, where old-timey movie stars Marjorie Finn (Swift) and Robert Kingsley (Scott Eastwood) fall in love among the giraffes, lions, and zebras. If it sounds like a white colonialist fantasy of a black continent, well, many critics thought it was exactly that.
“Crazier” intersperses scenes from Hannah Montana: The Movie with shots of Swift performing in a dreamily lit barn. It’s standard teenage cowboy fare, with denim-clad Lucas Till impressing Miley Cyrus with his ropin’ and ridin’ skills, taking her for truck rides, and even gettin’ wet in the ol’ water hole. At the end, it’s revealed that Swift and the couple have been in the same world all along—and the two lovebirds are slow dancing to her sweet ballad.
This was Swift’s first proper big-budget video. Culled from tour footage that spans purple-lit trees, acrobatic feats, staged weddings, and pyrotechnics, it’s an excellently crafted keepsake for those who were there. Why such a great song was relegated to a tour video is beyond us, but watching Swift go through her massive production in the pouring rain at the end is pretty impressive.
For this melancholy apology tune, Swift finds herself in a rustic house, writing a letter about how sorry she is for mistreating her ex (read: Taylor Lautner). Somehow it’s snowing in the house—a lot—which conveys just how isolated she’s feeling. Her ex finally reads the letter on some very cold-looking bleachers, and we’re left with an ambiguous end. In real life, there was no comeback for Taylor & Taylor.
Not only was one of Swift’s most beloved songs shockingly left to the bonus section of 1989, but it also gets the tour video treatment. Pairing warm synths and a fists-raised chorus with her live show’s mega-glow aesthetic, it’s peppered with candid backstage moments and a bit of corny voiceover. But as tour videos go, this captures Swift on the high of 1989, perhaps more on top of the world than she’s ever been.
“Safe & Sound” finds Swift collaborating with Americana duo The Civil Wars for one of the Hunger Games soundtracks. It’s a haunting tune, with fittingly haunting imagery: Swift, dressed in a long white gown, walks slowly through a vast Tennessee forest. In the background, huge swaths of it are ablaze as The Civil Wars sing solemnly in front of a fireplace and Swift ends up perched atop the graves of a couple who died in 1853. Spooky.
The is the video for Swift’s first collab with soulful pop-folkie Sheeran. It depicts two kids going through life as children, but doing adult things as well. The boy reads the paper and drinks coffee, the girl gives him some ink with a toy-like tattoo gun, and they pretend to use smartphones and do yoga. Then their parents, played by Swift and Sheeran, who are clear adult versions of the kids, pick them up from school. It’s just like these two industrious pop stars to have a couple kids who can’t wait to grow up and work out their cores.
Paris provides the stunning backdrop for “Begin Again,” where Swift strolls along the Seine, bikes around on the cobblestones, and sings from rooftops while the Eiffel Tower stands tall behind her. You know, stuff people do in Paris. By the end, she has gotten over her lover and allows herself to, well, begin again, this time with a French dude who was snapping photos of her. True love.
This is the song that started Swift’s rise from twangy teenager to pop world-shaker. As much as it reminds us what CMT looked like 2006, it’s a pretty endearing, if deeply cliché, young love story. Swift lies on a riverbank singing along to the radio, strums her acoustic guitar, walks through fields with her Chevy truck boy (who is wearing a dangerously gaudy button-up shirt), and then leaves him via a nice handwritten letter.
Here’s another song that seems too good to be relegated to a tour video. While its production quality is on par with videos for “New Romantics” and “Sparks Fly,” “Red” is such a beautifully realized aesthetic vision—an album, song, tour, and tour video all named after the color, plus the actual red, white, and black scheme of the performances—that it’s elevated to a higher ranking.
Made for Fifty Shades Darker, this team-up with One Direction alumnus Zayn is appropriately sexy, shadowy, and dimly lit. Zayn ducks the paparazzi to hide in his hotel and stare at his phone, while Swift holes up in a room that’s playing host to what looks like an adults-only party. They both do their best Keith Moon impersonation (but in a sexy way, of course), trashing their rooms with reckless abandon. It really captures the agony of being young, rich, and beautiful.
Swift has giddy fun here, matching the exuberance of this country love song’s summery choruses. It’s the first of her videos to make a real effort to visually pop: All the colors fall somewhere between fantastical (like Swift’s bright blue fairy dress) and excessive (like the pool of roses she sits in). There’s a bit of monochrome in the performance segments, but she’ll be damned if she isn’t gonna cover any appropriate surface with glitter.
It’s not like Swift has never played a regular person in any of her videos, but “Ours” is an outlier in that it shows her working in an office. The ins-and-outs of being an adult stuck inside a cubicle sound a bit boring, but it’s fascinating to imagine how Swift would react if she actually had to make spreadsheets and write reports at a desk. She revels in a small victory at the end, as the military husband she’s been pining for, played by Zach Gilford, returns home to her.
This is straight-up pop-punk aesthetic, with Swift clad in a disheveled school uniform complete with an Avril Lavigne-esque loosened necktie. Set in what looks like a prestigious private school, it depicts Swift learning how it feels to be writing one story, only to have the plot change due to forces beyond your control. She falls in love with an uptight-looking nerd who breaks her heart, and she’s torn up about it until the end, when she decides she doesn’t care. Good for her.
No video has ever nailed such an extremely specific version of the millennial experience. The whole thing, which is more or less a Brandy Melville ad, is shot through what looks like an Instagram filter, as Swift and crew celebrate being able to drink legally. The song is fun in an impossibly annoying way—meaning it’s impossible to shake from your head—and at times feels like a highly effective satire of privileged hipsters. It’s so of its time, in a cringe-worthy way, that it could be studied in school.
The second single from Reputation gets a spectacular visual companion, though it’s tough to fully decipher. There are two Swifts—one resembling a replicant from Blade Runner and one 100% copped from the whitewashed American adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. The nude-bodysuit Taylor explodes the fake skin of the replicant Taylor with lightning. There are telling messages everywhere, like “THEY’RE BURNING ALL THE WITCHES” graffiti and “Year of the Snake” in Chinese characters. It’s all very cryptic, but it’s got some of the coolest visuals in Swift’s videography, like her commanding electric blue energy from all around her.
“Love Story,” which replaces the tragic ending of Romeo & Juliet with a happy conclusion, won Video of The Year at the 2009 Country Music Awards. The video doesn’t really allude to Shakespeare’s intricate story, instead focusing an HBO-looking budget on elaborate, pseudo-medieval set pieces as Swift ballroom-dances with a prince (former Nashville Star contestant Justin Gaston) and then waits for him from atop her castle, Rapunzel style. In present day, the two lock eyes at college and gaze dreamily at each other until the song ends.
Another of Swift’s grown-up fantasies (remember “Ours”?), this love story takes things all the way. A meet-cute turns into a full-blown romance and marriage proposal before it’s trouble in paradise—Swift and her beau (Toby Hemingway) end up in a big fight, reminding her of her parents, and she runs away. Eventually they make up, and their life blossoms into a WASP-y American dream—complete with Swift rubbing her faux-pregnant belly as she stares out a window at her video family.
The video for “Bad Blood” feels more like the trailer for a feature film. It kicks off with Selena Gomez (“Arsyn”) and Swift (“Catastrophe”) kicking bad guys’ asses until Swift secures an important briefcase. Then Gomez grabs it and kicks Swift out a high-rise window. The rest is Swift and her squad, including Cara Delevigne (“Mother Chucker”), Zendaya (“Cut Throat”), and Cindy Crawford (“Headmistress”) training to exact their revenge. It ends with the warriors meeting Gomez and her masked cronies, with Michael Bay-esque explosions consuming the London skyline. Kendrick Lamar, as “Welvin da Great,” throws in two guest verses, too.
After “Tim McGraw,” Swift upped her game by adding a little more depth to her visual narratives. Here she’s been friend-zoned by Tyler Hilton, who’s met this girl and has just gotta tell her about it. Between the requisite shots of Swift pining for him and cradling her six-string on her bed in a ridiculously elaborate gown, they screw up chemistry assignments and make too much noise in the library. It’s the first of her videos to tick some classic Swift video boxes: yearning, cutesy humor, being rejected. It also features a brunette nemesis, a concept that will resurface.
This song may be the most straightforward Swift has ever been in taking on her perceived bullies, like music critics (ouch). The ol’ fiddle-and-banjo combo makes the song hard to forget, and the video is just as fun, regardless of its initially sad subject matter. Case in point: Swift gets tied to train tracks by a comical old-timey villain. By the end, everything has improved for the video’s misfits, because this is a fantasy where karma works in fast and obvious ways. If only real life was so easy.
As the lead single for Red, on which Swift started her ascent toward pop bangers, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” made a bouncy splash, and its video follows suit. It’s all made to look like it was filmed in one shot, as if P.T. Anderson took on a millennial break-up narrative where Swift’s friends are all dressed up as furries and she drives around in a cardboard car. It’s nicely balanced with a lot of fourth-wall breaking, where she always shines.
“SHE LOST HIM” ominously hovers over a black background to start this video, quickly cutting to a wide shot of Swift on a vast beach in a swaying blue dress. Things quickly turn bad—Swift is chased by a pack of wolves through dense forest, jumping off of cliffs into the ocean, and being frozen, trying in vain to outrun it all. It’s one of the most stunning pieces in her videography, turning a run-of-the-mill tune into an epic journey of self-discovery. She eventually finds herself back on that calm beach, and we get the conclusion of that opening statement: “SHE LOST HIM, BUT SHE FOUND HERSELF, AND SOMEHOW THAT WAS EVERYTHING.”
The reaction to Reputation’s lead single was lukewarm at best, but the video is one of Swift’s most entertaining. It asserts the snake queen’s dominance by bathing her in diamonds, putting a vampiric version of her on a throne where an actual snake serves her tea, and staging a car crash the paparazzi lap up as she cradles a Grammy. Oh, and she lifts two motorcycles with each arm. It elevates the tune from annoying to fun, and there are few more satisfying visuals in Swift’s collection than her standing atop a clawing, screaming mountain of different versions of herself. The cherry on top is post-song, when all those versions comically lash out at each other.
The first single for 1989 arrived like a bomb: Here was Taylor Swift, former country star, with a bona fide, dance-ready, hyper-pop song. The video, accordingly, was giddy and glowingly fun, featuring scores of dancers—ballerinas, b-boys, cheerleaders—doing their thing as she tries her best to adorkably groove along. At one point, hip-hop dancers twerk like mad as Swift crawls between their legs, which led some to accuse Swift of perpetuating racial stereotypes. Director Mark Romanek insisted the video has a “humanistic and utterly colorblind message.”
This stands out among Swift’s videos for its bonkers storyline and narrative ambition, as she spends two solid minutes simply setting up a story about a relationship doomed by a reckless wild boy. Swift wakes up alone in what looks like a post-apocalyptic, Burning Man-esque aftermath in the desert, drenched in the color treatment of a scrappy indie film. Then the opening verse chimes in with its fun, punchy little riff, stripping the story of its weight until the pseudo-dubstep chorus. It takes bar fights, arrests, and other generally douchey behavior for Swift to reach her conclusion, but finally she lets the smarmy jerk go.
More than any of these videos, “Style” has style. It adds a timeless look to one of Swift’s most timeless tunes, which even invokes the timelessness of certain styles in its lyrics. It conjures an artsy fractured feeling in its broken glass motif, builds a stormy ominousness by superimposing scenes onto silhouettes of Swift and her video boyfriend, and retains the song’s booming, moody feel with almost creepy images projected onto its stars. It plays deeply to the classic vibes Swift alludes to in the choruses, as the boyfriend stands around looking sexy in his James Dean-esque blue jeans and white tee. The boldest shock of color you’ll catch is her deep red lipstick.
Ah, delicious revenge—a classic Taylor Swift theme. It all started with “Picture to Burn,” which is also her first really rockin’ single. Swift’s best friend, Abigail Anderson, makes an appearance as they begin the video spying on Swift’s ex-boyfriend and his new love interest (“He let her drive the truck?! He never let me drive the truck!”). Swift spends the rest of the video—between pyrotechnic-heavy performance clips—trashing his house, which includes heavy TPing. Turns out it was all just a fantasy—she’s over it, and her (again!) brunette nemesis can keep him. Want a great piece of trivia? Swift’s high school boyfriend, whom the song is about, eventually became a firefighter.
Positioning herself as the sad, sweet, quirky Girl Next Door who just can’t stop pining over her neighbor, Swift won the 2009 VMA for Best Female Video. Yep, that’s when Kanye West jumped up to assert that Beyoncé’s contender was “one of the best videos of all time.” Swift’s goofy, marked-up “Junior Jewels” t-shirt and thick-framed glasses are now nearly iconic (this Taylor, of course, made an appearance in the video for “Look What You Made Me Do”), and this wasn’t the last time she emerged victorious over her supposed bullies (or painted herself as a victim). This is also by far the most famous version of the brunette nemesis, whom Swift plays herself.
“Blank Space” is Taylor Swift’s greatest music video because it combines all the things that make her music videos great. There’s romance, drama, more than a touch of excess, stylish shots, and fashionable outfits. Swift’s cat, Olivia Benson, even makes an appearance. But most importantly, “Blank Space” is hilarious. Playing into the gossip, rumors, and myths that tabloids have made out of her dating life, Swift plays the part that was unfairly written about her—that of an insane girlfriend. And boy, does she lean into it. She destroys her beau’s car with a golf club, knifes a cake full of blood, and maniacally axes the tree she carved their names into. Then, once he’s good and gone, the next guy she’ll write into her blank space dutifully pulls up. It’s Swift’s most self-aware (and funniest) video to date, and that’s saying something.