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A ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ song bracket: Ranking Taylor Swift’s life work

and | Monday, March 30, 2020

Lina Domenella | The Observer

Picture this: it’s day who-even-knows of quarantine, social distancing, self-isolation — whatever you want to call it. You’re stuck inside, away from the comfortable chaos of the tri-campus community. You’ve watched absolutely everything good on Netflix, there’s no sports of any kind to distract from the world and you absolutely cannot play another round of Go Fish with your younger brother. Boredom is officially setting in.

Thankfully, Twitter user Tom Ziller (@teamziller) came through for us with the Taylor Swift song bracket — a glorious 64-song bracket, complete with seeds, upsets and a championship round that comes down to the wire. Who even needs March Madness? (Too soon, we know.) 

Though we appreciate the painstaking effort that Ziller clearly put into making this bracket, we weren’t particularly impressed with some of the songs that were included — and excluded — from this showdown. So, as the dedicated journalists and the massive T-Swift fans we are, we decided to create our own brackets to accommodate selections that we felt deserved to be included. As we defend our choices, know that you, too, can participate in picking your Taylor Swift song champion — our bracket creations are attached below.

(Download your Taylor Swift bracket here!)

Claire Rafford:

I have to express my gratitude to Ziller for creating this bracket, which filled at least an hour of my social-distancing time. While I have often argued with my friends over what is truly Swift’s best song, I would have never thought to arrange her work in such a concise and entertaining way. This bracket has everything a fan could wish for — surprising matchups, upsets and a champion (song) which flattens all others with its skill and merit.

However, when I was filling out the original bracket, I was pained by some of the choices I had to make. My favorite song from the “reputation” album, “Delicate,” and the classic heart-breaker “All Too Well” faced off in the Round of 32 — resulting in a near-impossible choice. 

This grievance inspired my revised bracket — which, in addition to re-seeding “Delicate,” now includes some of my favorite songs which replace the ones that are, quite frankly, irrelevant. The original bracket included hardly any songs from “Lover” in favor of duets and singles from compilation works and movie soundtracks. While teamwork is important, Swift’s best music comes from her solo albums. 

In addition to classics like “The Way I Loved You” and “Enchanted,” I added a few songs from my personal favorite album of Swift’s, “1989.” “How You Get the Girl” is underrated, and “Welcome to New York” — the album’s opening track — perfectly defines the city’s young population of dreamers in a masterful pop song. In addition, I added several tracks from “Lover,” which was severely underrepresented on Ziller’s bracket. While some have said Swift’s newer albums lack the creativity and merit of her earlier works, I have to respectfully disagree. It’s hard to hear “I Forgot That You Existed” and not appreciate the artful pettiness — and relatability — of feeling not love, not hate, but “indifference” towards an ex, frenemy or foe. It’s absurd “Cruel Summer” was not the lead single off “Lover” — it literally screams “summer” and girl power in a pop anthem that we’ll be discussing for years to come. These — along with a few gems — populated my revised bracket. Let the showdown begin!

Like any bracketeer, I had to make some hard choices when first examining my bracket — albeit a somewhat seasoned veteran, I found the choices were even more difficult when I replaced some easy first-round losers with songs I genuinely loved. While I won’t name every difficult choice I made — as we’d be here all day — picking “Delicate” over “Getaway Car” in the second round was tough, as those two songs are my favorites off “reputation.” Another heartbreaking selection — “The Way I Loved You” — an angsty song about a toxic breakup for the ages — lost to “Blank Space,” a clapback song for the ages with a music video that amplified Swift’s message to all her haters. 

After making some difficult — yet, necessary — choices in the first two rounds, I moved onto the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and the moment we’ve all been waiting for — the championship round.

Sweet 16: “You Belong With Me” vs. “Enchanted,” “Style” vs. “Long Live,” “Out of the Woods” vs. “I Forgot That You Existed,” “Death by A Thousand Cuts” vs. “Delicate,” “How You Get The Girl” vs. “Welcome to New York,” “All Too Well” vs. “Speak Now,” “Love Story” vs. “Cruel Summer” and “Everything Has Changed” vs. “Blank Space.” 

I felt good about my match-ups going into the Sweet 16, but the competition obviously heats up when nearing the finals. Some of my match-ups provided a greater challenge than others, however. While I love “Enchanted,” “You Belong With Me” manages to retain relevance to this day, as a scene from the music video became meme fodder for college students longing for their campuses. “Style,” rumored to be about Harry Styles,” is a banger, but “Long Live” has a sentimental simplicity that gave it the edge in this round. “Love Story” brings me back to the middle school dance years like nothing else, but it would have been cruel to rob “Cruel Summer” here. 

Elite Eight: “You Belong With Me” vs. “Long Live,” “I Forgot That You Existed,” vs. “Delicate,” “Welcome to New York” vs. “All Too Well” and “Cruel Summer,” vs. “Blank Space.” 

This was a tough round. Picking “Long Live” over “You Belong With Me” might have taken years off my life. “I Forgot That You Existed” has been an ear-worm for me since it came out on “Lover” in August, but “Delicate’s” haunting melody and lyrics ultimately took this one. “Welcome To New York” and “All Too Well” are actually my two favorite Taylor Swift songs of all time, so this was especially harrowing — though I picked “All Too Well” after much deliberation. And while “Blank Space” will never fail to be iconic, “Cruel Summer” has to come out on top. 

And now — the moment you’ve all been waiting for — the T-Swift Final Four. My choices that brought me to this point in the T-Swift showdown surprised even me, the purveyor of my own choices. So it goes in all types of March Madness. In the end, it came down to “Long Live” — a nostalgic coming-of-age song from “Speak Now” vs. “Delicate” and “Cruel Summer” — a bop best listened to at 2 a.m. while scream-singing every word — vs. “All Too Well.” I’m proud to say that my Final Four are representative of four different albums, four different eras and ultimately, four great songs which all could conceivably come out on top.

Still, my champion was an easy choice. In both brackets — Ziller’s and my own — the poignant breakup song “All Too Well” off “Red” came out on top. While never a single, “All Too Well” has captured the hearts of fans to this day with its poetic, narrative lyrics. Swift’s best songs are her most personal, and this one is no exception. Somehow, “All Too Well” manages to evoke the exact, indescribable feeling of loneliness and regret after a breakup that can be difficult to pinpoint — in five minutes and 28 seconds.

After listening to this song, you, too, will remember it — like any heartache — “All Too Well.”

Lina Domenella

Dessi Gomez:

Who said Notre Dame only can host country artists? Legends brings a very diverse range of groups to its homey venue every year, and they only just got RaeLynn (a country artist) to come this winter semester. Taylor can easily shake up the stuffy generic country acts that Notre Dame keeps bringing to the stadium. In case you forgot, her “Reputation” tour only took place in stadiums. And mind you, she still managed to make her concerts feel intimate despite the exponential increase in crowd size. Not sure how this doesn’t immediately make sense with the audience that she would attract from Notre Dame’s campus, as well as the surrounding area.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Everyone knows at least the chorus to one Taylor Swift song. She is also still a very family friendly entertainer. Just because she has been forced to grow up under the spotlight with some of the most intense scrutiny ever doesn’t mean that she hasn’t done so with grace and maturity. If you can’t even agree with that, then at least respect the artist for her art. She took on a completely fictional character who people thought she was in her “reputation” album, and she turned that persona around in “Lover,” making these two albums some of her greatest in terms of how different they are from each other and how they bounce off each other, making the other ones stronger. Also, for the Scene writer who claims that she hasn’t produced a good album since Obama was president, I would argue that Donald Trump inspired some very phenomenal material, especially “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” on “Lover.” Wouldn’t you think the Notre Dame football stadium wants to host a woman for once? And why not one of the most successful female singer-songwriters of all time? It would do Notre Dame some good to have Swift’s “Gorgeous” anthems and “Delicate” ballads echo around the house that Rockne built.

Ziller’s bracket was a great start to this process, which must be taken seriously in a time where we can devote most, if not all of our energy to determining the best song that Taylor Swift has ever written. Initially in examining the seeds of each song within the bracket, I found certain pairings presented a real challenge in choosing a winner. For example, “Today Was A Fairytale” against “The Story of Us” made me realize the similar themes in both songs. “White Horse” vs. “Speak Now” proved difficult for different reasons, since they are both classic Taylor Swift. “Fifteen” vs. “Out of the Woods” presented a challenge centered around when Swift wrote them. The same goes for “Sparks Fly” against “New Romantics.” I felt both “Fearless” and “Ours” got at the heart of a fated love that would last forever. And lastly, “Everything Has Changed” against “The Man” might have been my most difficult choice since I love when Swift features Ed Sheeran, but I had to choose “The Man” as a woman myself, and because it definitely goes down in Swift’s Top 10. 

In filling out Ziller’s original bracket, my Sweet 16 included “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” “Story of Us,” “Style,” “Long Live,” “Out of the Woods,” “Dear John,” “Lover,” “Getaway Car,” “Fearless,” “Highway Don’t Care,” “New Year’s Day,” “Delicate,” “Love Story,” “State of Grace,” “The Man” and “Blank Space.” Here I will note “Blank Space” and “The Man” faced off, and I had to choose Blank Space because it both came first and made way for “The Man.” Swift embodies the persona the media creates for her as a crazy serial dater. “Blank Space” walked so “The Man” could run. 

The songs that made it to the Elite Eight were: “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” vs. “Long Live,” “Out of the Woods” vs. “Getaway Car,” “Fearless vs. New Year’s Day” and “Love Story” vs. “Blank Space.” Upon narrowing down the top eight to the Final Four, I started to realize certain songs were missing from the lineup because some of my all time favorites didn’t even get a chance to challenge the very similar Final Four that both Claire and I came up with. My final four included “Long Live,” “Getaway Car,” “Blank Space,” and “New Year’s Day.” “Long Live” came out victorious against “Blank Space in the finals, which made sense to me with the choices that Ziller gave, but not when I considered my own personal rankings of Swift’s songs.

So, I decided to make some important revisions to Ziller’s bracket, starting at the very roots. In the upper left quadrant, I replaced “Look What You Made Me Do” with “Cruel Summer.” “Look What You Made Me Do” came along with a masterpiece of a music video to accompany it. The music video improved my opinion of the song, and while it was a great song in the long line of superficial radio hits that Swift always releases as first singles off of the album, I felt that “Cruel Summer” showcased her songwriting ability and sonic strength a little bit more. Next in the left bottom quadrant, I replaced “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” a mere feature of Swift’s vocals with “Starlight,” one of the most underrated songs on her “Red” album.  Last for the left side of the bracket, I had to substitute “Soon You’ll Get Better” with “Death By a Thousand Cuts.” If you haven’t read my previous articles about Swift, please peruse those to read why.

The right side of the bracket needed some fresh legs as well. The top right quadrant got a boost from “Enchanted,” replacing “Ronan,” and “I Wish You Would” subbing for “All You Had to Do Was Stay.” The bottom right quadrant saw “Don’t Blame Me” step in for “I Did Something Bad,” “Daylight” outshone “Safe & Sound,” and “Holy Ground” edged out “Should’ve Said No.”

Upon making these changes, I already knew how my Final Four would change with them, and here are the results: 

Sweet 16: “Miss Americana,” “Story of Us,” “Cruel Summer,” “Long Live,” “Out of the Woods,” “Starlight,” “Lover,” “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” “Enchanted,” “Highway Don’t Care,” “New Year’s Day,” “Delicate,” “Love Story, “Daylight,” “The Man” and “Blank Space.”

Elite Eight: “Miss Americana” vs. “Long Live,” “Out of the Woods” vs. “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” “Enchanted” vs. “New Year’s Day” and “Daylight” vs. “Blank Space”

Final Four: “”Long Live” vs. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” and “”Enchanted” vs. “Daylight”

Finals: “Death By A Thousand Cuts” vs. “Enchanted”

Champion: “Enchanted” 

Lina Domenella | The Observer

While I will continue to agonize over this bracket long after it has been published, I am satisfied with my Final Four results,, as well as the finalists and champion song. Swift’s ability to tell stories through songwriting is unparalleled, and the Final Four songs exhibit some of her best work in this arena. “Long Live” and “Enchanted” are my two favorite songs off of “Speak Now” and they tell some of the most beautiful stories that Swift has ever written, taking listeners on an emotional rollercoaster while leaving Swift’s audience on a feel-good note. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” and “Daylight” do the same thing on ”Lover.“ I would argue that these are some of Swift’s deepest songs both on the “Lover” album and in her broader collection of work. Like “Long Live” and “Enchanted,” they showcase a range of emotions — yet they do so with more maturity, since a lot of time has passed for Swift between “Speak Now” and “Lover.” Thus, Swift has further sharpened her craft and hit us with some even harder details than when she first started writing songs.

My final four songs changed by three-fourths when I revised Ziller’s bracket. Now I want to see what you think! Vote in our brackets by either printing them out or posting them on your Instagram story! Look out for a poll on Twitter. And, don’t worry, this won’t be “The Last Time” I write about Taylor Swift!

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About Claire Rafford

Claire is a senior from Tempe, Arizona majoring in English and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Business-Economics. She peaked when her team won the Battle of the Books state championship in 2011.

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About Dessi Gomez

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