At age 16, Taylor Swift released her first single, “Tim McGraw.” The song is sweet and sad and basically everything a teenager (and maybe the rest of us) could want in a lost-love ballad. Now 16 years and over 200 songs later, Swift has taken her fans on an emotional roller coaster nobody regrets strapping in for. And to the trained fan’s ear, not all of Swift’s rhymes and riddles are dedicated to cute teenage romantics. In fact, you could quote some of her lyrics during Sunday School and no one would bat an eye. (And in fact, I may be known for doing it—sparingly, of course!)
So without further ado, here are 17 Taylor Swift lines that, with a twist, can help us think about gospel principles. We are going to jump around between albums and eras, so buckle up. If you think I’m crazy, do as Taylor taught us and “speak now or forever ho-o-ld yo-o-ur pe-e-eace.”
1. “Say you fancy me, not fancy stuff.”
This line is from the song “King of My Heart.” The beat will have you bouncing, and I love how these words remind us that we should make a conscious effort to let the people in our lives know we value them. Any relationship is strengthened when people are confident we care. In fact, once in an interview Sister Ardeth Kapp, former Young Women General President, was asked for her best marriage advice, and remembering to frequently express love was on her list: “I can say that after 70 years [of marriage], it’s still nice to know. We need to be able to reinforce that statement of love and not just assume that, well, we’re getting along OK [so] we don't have to repeat that—yes, we do have to repeat it.”
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2. “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes.”
The imagery of this line from “Bad Blood” is spot on for an important lesson: we shouldn’t minimize other people’s hurt. Don’t get me wrong—any effort to be kind should be appreciated, but do we ever offer a figurative Band-Aid when more extensive spiritual first-aid is needed? Maybe as we minister, we can think a little deeper about the conversations, love, and service that would really help heal the wounds in the lives of the people around us.
3. “I've been spending the last eight months / Thinking all love ever does is break, and burn, and end / But on a Wednesday in a café, I watched it begin again.”
“Begin Again” may be a ballad about believing in love again, but its soft, beautiful melody speaks of a deeper message of hope. During a difficult time—whether it be for eight months or much longer—we all crave moments of relief and feeling hopeful that life will be good again. In one of my favorite talks from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, he says, “Every one of us has times when we need to know things will get better.” If you are feeling that right now, try reading his talk “An High Priest of Good Things to Come.”
4. “People throw rocks at things that shine.”
This line from “Ours” is true sometimes. Even with our best efforts to be kind and live our faith, misunderstandings may arise about who Latter-day Saints are and what we stand for. But we don’t have to let that dull our shine. When responding to criticism the right way, it can actually help us become more compassionate. Elder Dale G. Renlund recently taught, “Not throwing stones is the first step in treating others with compassion. The second step is to try to catch stones thrown by others.”
5. “You’re the only one of you, / Baby, that’s the fun of you.”
This line from the song “ME!” is all too catchy, but I’m not mad about it. Because it’s true—no one is replaceable. We all bring different talents and perspectives, and that is part of what makes life joyful! Our wards and branches are stronger when we bring our different backgrounds and perspectives into our meetinghouses.
6. “Never be so polite, you forget your power. / Never wield such power, you forget to be polite.”
The song “marjorie” from the Evermore album has all the family history vibes. Marjorie was Swift’s late grandmother who, according to PopSugar, was an opera singer and encouraged Swift to pursue music. In this powerful line of antithesis, we are reminded that any virtue can be turned into a vice without caution. (Another fun family history tie-in: Swift’s song “Epiphany” from the Folklore album is an ode to her grandfather.)
7. “I bet you got pushed around / Somebody made you cold / But the cycle ends right now / ’Cause you can’t lead me down that road.”
Swift’s wonderfully twangy “Mean” takes us back to the peak of her country days. The song is a fun one to listen and dance to, but it also teaches a powerful lesson about breaking negative cycles. We don’t have to perpetuate any unkindness or unfairness shown to us. With the Savior to help, we can lead out in creating a happier life. (And if can we do it while playing a banjo like Swift did, all the better.)
8. “But in your life you’ll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team, / But I didn’t know it at fifteen.”
“Fifteen” may be about how a teenage girl’s dating expectations were shattered, but the lesson applies to many stages of life: When things don’t work out like we thought they would, it can be hard to readjust. But a more long-term perspective and faith in a loving God’s plan can help us maintain a hopeful attitude that “after much tribulation come the blessings” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:4).
9. “Time, mystical time cuttin’ me open, then healin’ me fine / Were there clues I didn’t see? / And isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some invisible string tying you to me?”
I couldn’t help myself from pulling quite a few lines from “Invisible String.” In this song, Swift takes a contemplative look back on her past relationships and how painful experiences led her to where she is now. Romantic relationships aside, many of life’s difficult days make more sense in hindsight. Like Romans 8:23 says, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” That is indeed a very pretty and comforting thought.
10. “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time / It’s miserable and magical.”
The song “22” has to be one of Swift’s catchiest hits, no matter your age. In this line, she acknowledges that there are a lot of big emotions in life, and it’s OK to not have all the answers. We keep moving along the path, embracing the happy moments and keeping a gospel perspective during the lonely ones. (Did anyone else just have a strong flashback to dancing to this on their 22nd birthday? Just me?)
11. “Flowers pile up in the worst way, no one knows what to say about a beautiful boy who died.”
In an unusual twist for Swift, the song “Ronan” is not about her own experience, but the grief of another woman—a mother who lost her 4-year-old son to cancer. (Fair warning: only watch the music video for this one if you are wanting a good cry.) These lines give a sense of what the mother was feeling: isolated with no one to understand her emotions. As friends, family, and ward members, it can be hard to know what to say to someone experiencing intense grief. Elder David A. Bednar was once asked in an interview what he has learned about talking to people who are in pain. I loved his response. He said,
“My answer to this will be very simple—don’t fake it. Just within the last several days, I spoke with a woman whose husband had passed away earlier in the day. And there’s nothing you can say. So I spoke with her and I simply said, ‘I wanted to call as an expression of my love and concern. But I don’t know the words to say.’
“I think we say with the best of intentions—I don’t want this to sound at all critical—but we say … kind of predictable things, [but] I don’t want to just say what sounds acceptable in a particular circumstance. You have to do what you can to try to ascertain, to discern, to perceive where people are.”
I’d highly recommend listening to the full interview on All In: “Elder Bednar: Living in Revelation.”
12. “How many days did I spend thinkin’ ‘bout how you did me wrong, wrong, wrong? / Lived in the shade you were throwin’ ’til all of my sunshine was gone, gone, gone.”
“I Forgot That You Existed” is a fun (if not a little sassy) song shaking off the shade of the past to live in the future with more sunshine. Of course, it’s hard to let go of hurtful remarks and unfair actions, but promptings and insights from the Spirit can help us do it and open all sorts of doors to happiness.
13. “I’ve come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze tell me what are my words worth.”
I may not be a songwriter under the world’s eye, but this line from “the lakes” reminds me to be careful of the criticism I let affect me. Not everyone around us is going to understand how hard we are trying, or how much progress we’ve made. Whether it’s the words, acts of service, or other ambitions you offer to the world, don’t let those who don’t know you shoot you down. President Thomas S. Monson taught, “Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life.”
14. “Remember the footsteps, remember the words said and all your little brother’ s favorite songs / I just realized everything I have is someday gonna be gone.”
“Never Grow Up” is a song that will hit you right in the feels every time. Who doesn’t sometimes want to go back to the simpler days of childhood, playing in the backyard and creating crayon masterpieces? I love that this line encourages us to appreciate the moment we’re in. Life will always change (even when it doesn’t seem like it), and treasuring each season is a joyful practice. It’s easy to think that life will be perfect after we’ve served a mission, gotten married, or finally been released from teaching Sunday School. But odds are, there are aspects of your life now that you’ll miss one day. If you want to brush up a little more on this idea, I’d suggest reading Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk “Of Regrets and Resolutions.”
15. “Long live all the mountains we moved / I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you.”
Did any other loyal fans feel like Taylor was singing this song directly to you? “Long Live” is the kind of anthem you’d want to play after any hard-won accomplishment. If you need a reminder to keep trying to move the mountains in your life or fight all those dragons, this song will give you the energy you need. And a few bars of this song played softly during a Sunday School class probably wouldn’t hurt anybody, right?
16. “Don't know how long it’s gonna take to feel OK / But I know I had the best day with you today.”
“The Best Day” is another sentimental, family-centered song that’s high on my list of tearjerkers. But I also love the message of ministering in this line. Our job isn’t to heal people’s wounds but to be with them on their journey. I know that in my life, quality time with a good friend who cares about me always makes my burdens feel more manageable. (Read one of my favorite experiences with true ministering here: “Why I believe in a God that gives us flowers.”)
17. “Because these things will change / Can you feel it now? / These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down.”
And for my final pick, I had to jump back to 2008 to the song “Change.” The message in these lines (and the whole song) has to be one of the most hopeful there is: change is possible! The problems, insecurities, and mistakes that hold us back will one day be a thing of the past. As Latter-day Saints, we know that true change is possible because of the Savior, and that is something to be excited about. I love how much you can feel Sister Becky Craven’s excitement for change in her October 2020 general conference talk. She said, “I occasionally run into friends whom I haven’t seen for many years. Sometimes they say, ‘You haven’t changed at all!’ Each time I hear that I cringe a little because I hope I have changed over the years. I hope I have changed since yesterday! I hope I am a little kinder, less judgmental, and more compassionate. I hope I am quicker to respond to the needs of others, and I hope I am just a little bit more patient.”
I planned to stop this list at 13 (for obvious Taylor-related reasons), but I had to squeeze in a few more lines. If haters are hating at this point, I’ll just have to shake it off.
I hope some of these lines have inspired you to be a little more fearless. So fellow Swifties, What lyrics would you add to this list and why?