Taylor Swift is not an artist made for sex playlists. That’s fine! Not everybody needs to be. Heartbroken? “Teardrops on My Guitar” is your girl. Feeling a little flirty? You can’t do better than “I Think He Knows.” And if you’re angry over a breakup, please listen to “Dear John.” But horny? That’s not really her bag. That’s partly because her songwriting, at its best, tends toward an emotional acuity that isn’t quite right for sexiness. There’s also the issue of her voice, which is a light, pleasant, occasionally slight instrument that has trouble conveying the oomph needed for a true sex jam.
Still, Taylor’s human. Although horny may not be her thing, that doesn’t mean it can’t affect her songwriting in some ways. Yes, horniness is well documented within the Taylor Swift Musical Universe, and while she doesn’t normally address it head on, her horniest songs share some symbols she clearly sees as valuable. In order to understand Swift’s career path, we thought it could be valuable to isolate some of her lustiest moments to see how she’s developed as a songwriter and when she felt comfortable giving in to her inner hormone monster.
“The Way I Loved You” — Fearless
Skipping right past the innocence of her debut, self-titled album, I would argue that the first truly horny Swift song appears on Fearless. “The Way I Loved You” starts by describing some nice guy Swift is dating, which is pretty par for the course, before descending into a description of her sizzling relationship with her previous boyfriend, which was way hotter. “I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain / And it’s 2 a.m., and I’m cursing your name” she sings on the chorus. “It’s a roller-coaster kind of rush / And I never knew I could feel that much / And that’s the way I loved you.” Swift is giving full-on lust in this one. It’s also probably the only Swift song from this era that could be handed over to the Pussycat Dolls without too many lyrical changes. It sets the tone for a lot of her horniest work, which is less about being in the sexual moment than it is about remembering the heat of the moment.
“Red” — Red
Here’s one that takes on a different color (heyo) in the wake of Midnights. In Swift’s pre-Reputation period, the horniness is mostly told through the lens of regret: “The Way I Loved You” and “Red” are prime examples. “Red” may not seem like a super-horny song at first, but it’s a lot lustier than a first glance would indicate. She doesn’t portray the love they had as a “masterpiece,” like on “All Too Well,” but as “red” hot. “But moving on from him is impossible / When I still see it all in my head / In burning red”? Burning red cannot be construed as a lustless descriptor. Again, she manages the feat of bringing horniness into her music without going full lust by looking at the torrid relationship in the past. “Loving you was red” (emphasis mine) allows her to keep a certain tempered image of her sexuality while acknowledging the extent of her previous feelings.
“Style” — 1989
Ooh, baby. This is really the first song Swift put out that is a full-on turn into sex. In “Style,” the icons of attraction change from old Taylor’s fantastical princes into movie stars with leather. When she describes how he’s “taking off his coat,” you can feel the sexual energy. It’s hot! The song is about being entranced by someone not because of who they are but because of how you look together. She sets the stage: “Midnight / You come and pick me up, no headlights.” The secrecy implied is clearly a turn on, and that will recur as she delves further into her sexuality in future eras. While her next album, Reputation, marks her first period with an outward shift toward sex, Swift’s iconography changed with “Style” and 1989, allowing that shift to feel natural. She’s no longer fantasizing about true love; she’s fantasizing about short skirts and glamour.
“Dress” — Reputation
This is the big one. It’s about the tension when you can’t touch someone yet before exploding into the release of a steamy connection. “All of this silence and patience, pining in anticipation,” she says in the pre-chorus before revealing, “Only bought this dress so you could take it off.” That’s still the most sexually explicit Swift lyric we’ve gotten in her career. Yet it’s notable that she uses the same markers of sexuality she established in “Style.” With Swift, it’s all about sexuality told through longing and sensuous friction, and the establishing symbols are clothing and Hollywood glamour. On “Dress,” she introduces another of her favorite sexy symbols: being wine-drunk. “I’m spilling wine in the bathtub, you kiss my face and we’re both drunk.”
“Gorgeous” — Reputation
While “Dress” is Reputation’s crown jewel of horniness, it’s not the only horny song on there. In fact, “Gorgeous,” one of her most underratedly risky songs, is entirely driven by lust. “Gorgeous” is about cheating on your boyfriend (gasp) because the other guy is too hot not too. She’s so in lust that she simply must betray her (older) partner. In this way, “Gorgeous” fits in with the rest of Reputation in that Swift is finally allowing herself to play the villain. Still, though, she tempers it with instrumentation — it’s all major chords and little dings. Her symbols of sexuality are mostly gone, too. There’s no wine, no red, no Hollywood. There’s tension in the lyrics, but the melody mostly cuts through that. She doesn’t fully commit to being the seductive villainess in the way someone like Lorde does on a song like “Magnets.” Shockingly horny in lyrical content, shockingly unhorny musically.
“Cruel Summer” — Lover
Lover is, in terms of horniness, a post-“Dress” album. Swift allows herself to be horny whenever she wants to be — it’s a part of being in love! The peak horniness, though, is on “Cruel Summer.” Other songs, including “False God” and “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” certainly have horny content, but “Summer” really captures the tension and release. She employs some images she’s used previously (the lack of headlights returns) and repositions her man as a “bad, bad boy” in a way that marks this song as distinctly not fantastical. But the horniest moment is, for once, in her vocal performance. The crack in her voice when she sings, “He looks up grinning like a devil,” is just about the biggest sexual release Swift’s ever brought out of herself vocally. I imagine him as the grinning-devil emoji, and that means she’s done her job.
“Maroon” — Midnights
Now skipping right past Swift’s NPR-core era (I’ve had people argue with me that “August” is horny, but sorry, that’s just wistful; things can mention sex without being horny), “Maroon” is one of Swift’s horniest songs. She uses a lot of her previous references, too: The song is set at the end of a wine night, for one. She again uses red as the lens through which she sees her own lust, singing, “The burgundy on my T-shirt / When you splashed your wine into me / And how the blood rushed into my cheeks / So scarlet, it was.” She’s back to contrasting romantic fantasy with the reality of lust, bringing up images of “carnations you had thought were roses, that’s us.” She breaks new horny ground in the chorus: “The mark they saw on my collarbone,” which means that adult Taylor still gets hickeys (love). But perhaps the horniest lyric of all is on the bridge: “I wake with your memory over me / That’s a real fucking legacy to leave.” Swift’s version of horniness is all about that tension: It’s the sensual impact he’s left on her, observed after the fact, played out in red, remembered wine nights.