Taylor Swift will cut you, or at least write a song about cutting you. And given her TMZ ubiquity and general intergalactic fame, that's pretty much the same thing. To dismiss her as a mere crap-boyfriend-shamer is to wildly underestimate her songwriting prowess. "I don't like it when headlines read 'Careful, Bro, She'll Write a Song About You,' because it trivializes my work," she told Rolling Stone's own Josh Eels in last month's cover story — but there's no denying that no one's lyrical aim is truer, or deadlier, whether she's taking on a scheming rival or a leering critic or (yeah, OK) a crap boyfriend. Here, in roughly chronological order, are 10 splendid and chilling examples. Listen to this mean-streak playlist on Beats here.
A breakup bromide and bro country diss a half-decade ahead of its time — "I hate that stupid old pickup truck you never let me drive." This is her self-titled debut album's brief but vivid flirtation with pyromania, if not Def Leppard's Pyromania. The goofy video is worth revisiting, if only to remind you that she was once a mere genre standout content with ruling nothing more monolithic than CMT, though she wasn't exactly a benevolent ruler: As she put it, "The storyline of the video is, if you break up with me, my band will ransack your house."
This is the loudest, pissiest song on Taylor Swift by some measure, back when she had to content herself with ethering unfaithful high school boyfriends who are probably stocking shelves at Home Depot as we speak. Taylor used to do it live with the Jonas Brothers, which is hilarious in retrospect; for the American Music Awards performance here she started off in a hoodie, so you know it's serious. Also: She once did a Blender interview while posted up in front of the guy's house. "Was it worth it?" the song demands. "Was it worth this?" Uh, probably not. If you're looking for some rope, pal, it's in aisle five.
Another day, another no-name chump boyfriend to relegate to the rearview mirror. "This ain't Hollywood/This is a small town," the chorus goes, and this is the precise moment where she left the latter for the former, and left Prince Charming "begging for forgiveness/Begging for me." The very next song on second album Fearless is the pop-career-launching "You Belong With Me," which constitutes a meta-burn all by itself. "I'm so sorry," she adds, with something less than total conviction; "Try and catch me now," she concludes, with a whole lot of it.
It's hard now to remember a time when Taylor Swift would even trifle with guys on the order of Joe Jonas, but the fact that the world knows the precise length of his breakup call to Swift — 27 seconds — tells you a lot. This fearsome Fearless jam tells you the rest. Namely, "Was I out of line/Did I say something way too honest/Make you run and hide/Like a scared little boy?" It marked her first real celebrity victim, and, uh, not exactly the last. It's also available as a "piano version" for maximum pathos.
It was fall 2009, with millions of hilarious "I'mma let you finish" jokes still floating through the air like leaves, when Taylor kicked off her gig hosting Saturday Night Live with this sweet little ditty. It does eventually get around to swatting at Kanye, but not before unloading lines like "I like writing songs about douchebags who cheat on me" and "I like writing their names into songs so they're ashamed to go in public." The third verse is addressed directly to poor Joe Jonas, and goes about how you'd expect. ("La la la/Ha ha ha.") She's funnier than you think she is.
Sing along, everybody: "All you are is mean/And a liar/And pathetic/And alone in life/And mean." This was third album Speak Now's big riposte to the haters, or at least one of 'em: It's allegedly about industry gadfly Bob Lefsetz, which, if you don't know who that is, you'll live. Swift seems most sensitive to the charge that she's a lousy singer at award shows, and though the jury's still out there, "Mean" took the 2012 Grammy for Best Country Song, so, y'know, deal with it.
A peppy, raucous pop-punk song that bears a suspicious and delightful resemblance to Paramore, this uncharacteristically blaring and epochally catty Speak Now jam vaporizes a loathsome boyfriend-snatcher — "She's better known for the things that she does on the mattress" — and adds for good measure that "No amount of vintage dresses gives you dignity." (Note: This topic did not come up during her cameo on The New Girl.)
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is the Red-announcing summer-2012 smash wherein Taylor Swift both officially Went Pop and Turned Heel. It's a fizzy team-up with Max Martin and Shellback that sounded like every teenaged girl in America pointing their fingers and laughing at you at once, every titular we rendered as wheeeeeeee. Bon Iver probably still hasn't recovered from her eye-rolling swipe at "some indie record that's much cooler than mine." A solid relationship goal is to avoid an ex ever using Taylor's spoken-word aside "This is exhausting" as your personal ringtone. You are not invited to the video's slumber party.
No one song better exemplifies Swift's insistence on "naming names" than this slow-burning, delicately vicious beast that seethes and roils like an oil tanker of burnsauce capsized in John Mayer's indoor pool. "Don't you think I was too young to be messed with" is a tad disingenuous, but the chorus of friends telling her to "run as fast as you can" certainly rings true. Also, "I'm shining like fireworks over your sad empty town" is a fist-pumping, bird-flipping climax for the ages. Mayer later told Rolling Stone that the tune was "really humiliating" and "cheap songwriting," though the man who coined the term "sexual napalm" has nary a leg to stand on.
Though it somehow manages to distill all the angst of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks into five and a half minutes, this Red highlight (a Jake Gyllenhaal joint, probably) is more wistful than angry — she's too busy talking about her old scarf to get all "Idiot Wind" about it. But it does feature what might be her career-defining line: "You call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest." Plus, it inspired the piano-splintering, head-banging, and frankly terrifying 2014 Grammys performance that somehow triangulated Tori Amos and Flashdance. (Don't miss the Street Fighter remix.) Keep this one in mind if they ever make Carole King: Vampire Hunter; it's also very arguably Swift's best song yet.