Billboard asked five writers to argue for one of Taylor's first five studio albums as her best. First, Jonathan Bradley makes
the case for "Taylor Swift", her 2006 self-titled debut.
To best understand that Taylor Swift, look to the album that has her name on it. Her 2006 self-titled debut, released a few weeks before her seventeenth birthday, is Swift’s foundational
document; the ur-text that contains inscribed in its eleven tracks everything encompassed by the pop colossus she would ultimately evolve into. In 2017, Swift is a knot of contradiction: a
country singer who does not make country music, a girl-next-door with an A-list of exes, a lovestruck naïf who slices her enemies with samurai precision. In "Taylor Swift", these strands resolve
and are made comprehensible.
“I don’t know what I want, so don’t ask me,” is how she begins “A Place in This World,” a light-footed and mid-tempo ballad that flutters with picked banjo and adolescent uncertainty. It is one
of a number of songs that evince, even within the album’s Nashville professionalism, an unhewn quality that collapses the distinction between the kind of song an authentic teen would try to write
and the teenage voice an expert author would attempt to replicate. It has that same searching naivety, expressed with unexpected proficiency, that made Swift’s friend (and arguable successor)
Lorde so striking on first listen - though where Lorde shrugged with outsider indifference (“Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk?”), Swift had dreamy ambition. “I’m still trying to figure
it out,” she sings.
The songs on "Taylor Swift" are the enactment of that figuring-out process. This is an interior album; its small town setting extends only from high school halls to front porches and rural back
roads, but it takes place within the even smaller confines of Swift’s mind. One of her favored narrative techniques is to bind her tales in memory or dialogue or - in an even more deliberate nod
to the inherent artificiality of storytelling - within the explicit language of film. In wielding authorship, Swift claims the power to grasp the excesses of feeling and emotion surging through
day-to-day life and settle them within the coherent space of her own thoughts, so as to be re-examined and reinterpreted at quieter, contemplative remove.