The 100 Best Deep Cuts by 21st Century Pop Stars: Critics' Picks
52. Taylor Swift, “State of Grace” (Red, 2012)
Stadium rock has rarely been Taylor Swift’s delivery system of choice for her pop mission statements, but she opted to open 2012 transition album Red with the echoing guitars and chest-beating chorus of “State of Grace.” An inspired choice: The instrumental and emotional swell of “Grace” – which already starts at like a 7 or 8 – gives it a wallop quite unlike anything in Swift’s catalog, particularly on the chorus (“And I never saw you coming/ And I’ll never be the same”), which says everything it needs to say in so few syllables, it stretches out a couple longer anyway just to fill time. – A.U.
18. Taylor Swift, “Dear John” (Speak Now, 2010)
On 2010’s Speak Now, a Taylor Swift album full of rich deep cuts, “Dear John” is the one that towers over all of them, a searing takedown of a certain older singer-songwriter named John that demonstrated the depth of Swift’s ability. Few artists can craft a six-minute song with this much clarity and urgency; each bruised syllable is essential, every seething accusation methodically rolled out, like Taylor is presenting a legal case against an ex. But “Dear John” is not detached – it’s surgical, but full of the betrayal that anyone past a first crush can understand. It’s a perfect song to scream along to with friends, or cry along with in solitude. – J. Lipshutz
3. Taylor Swift, “All You Had to Do Was Stay” (1989, 2014)
Obviously, there’s no shame in not being picked as a single off an album with five top 10 hits. A prime 1989 deep cut is most pop artists’ lead single, and besides, “Wildest Dreams” and “Out of the Woods” have nothing on this pristine synth-pop nugget. The breakup song is certainly well-mined territory for Swift, though that simple “Stay!“ – in all its pitch-upped glory – captures the manic desperation of a sudden split like few four-letter cries could. There’s no less than 25 stays for everyone in the stadium or the karaoke room to shout out, and the way the chorus sprawls out and lets its hook run wild – those “had me in the palm of your hand” parts – drives home the true lesson of "Stay”: Don’t let go of a good thing, and once you’ve got it, call up Max Martin. – C.P.