Don't Blame Me...for Doing a Taylor Swift Project

Hello everyone and welcome back! For this digital tools assignment, I decided to do something a little bit more fun than I usually do. It’s the very end of the semester, and so I decided that I wanted to explore some of Taylor Swift’s discography through a digital tools assignment. More specifically, I chose to analyze the songs from her 2012 album Red (I used the Deluxe edition), 2017 album reputation, and 2019 album Lover. Red is the album where Swift really began to break from her roots in country music and to explore pop and electronic music. Later, after switching to all-out pop on 1989 (thanks Jack Antonoff, Shellback, and Max Martin), on reputation she doubles down with an infusion of pop, EDM, and even house. On Lover she’s back to a more tradition synth-pop sound, distinctly more bubblegum than reputation, with some acoustic-style tracks mixed in (no hate to “New Year’s Day” or “Call it What You Want”). On a completely selfish level, I wanted to analyze the themes present on these albums because I lyrically appreciate these three very much (Swifties, don’t hate on me, I like them all, but I was in the mood for these three at the time of writing this).

So, the research question I went into this project with was: Which themes are most common across these three particular TS albums? What themes go together in songs, and which combinations of moods/themes is the least common? What does that say about those tracks in particular, if anything? Here’s the spreadsheet I used to categorize the songs. I came up with a list of themes and then went through the track lists to decide which track fit with which theme. When I imported it to Cytoscape and analyzed the data (after some tweaks), this is what I got:

cytoscape image

The connection between songs about being and love and being happy was interesting, but I wouldn’t really categorize it as surprising. 26 of the songs from these three albums fell into the “in love” category, making that the most common theme with “happy” following at 20 and “sad” coming in with 18. Only 12 were “breakup” songs. I think the thing that surprised me the most about my network was the sheer number of songs about being in love. I know that that’s probably the thing that Swift is most associated with, but I guess I just never realized how many of her songs are about love until I saw them all mapped out. The most obvious connection, by far was between “sad” and “breakup” songs. To be honest, I’m not totally sure that Cytoscape was the best tool to use to visualize this type of analysis; I think it might be nice to use something that allows me to cross reference (or at least color code) by album, so that it would be easier to visualize the association between themes and albums. Despite this, I found that Red had the most “sad” and “breakup” songs. Although reputation definitely had the most “angry/revenge” and “anxious” songs, it also clocks in with as high a volume of love songs as the more brightly titled Lover.

The songs that were the most interesting were “Cornelia Street”, “All Too Well”, “Holy Ground”, and “Everything Has Changed.” These four were all associated with 3 different themes. I don’t feel that I can comment much on this in an objective way though, since I made up the themes and grouped the songs (and there are arguably many other songs on this list that could fit in several categories this way). These nodes stick out to me in particular because of their many connections; but other than that, I think the patterns were largely as I expected.

I really enjoyed learning a little more about my favorite musical artist, and I hope you found my meander into pop culture refreshing. The next time I post, it’ll be the big final project. I can’t wait!

Have a wonderful day!