Throughout Taylor Swift’s career she has had a wide range of duets with different artists she either associated with at the time or with an artist she is a huge fan of, like Bon Iver and The Nationals. She has had her fair share of flops in quality with the way these tracks turn out, but the vocals – for the most part – don’t falter in mediocrity; however the synchronization of the vocals are another story. This rankings looks at both overall construct of the vocals as they harmonize with each other and how complementary they are to the production.
13. Me! – Taylor Swift & Brendon Urie
This is an interesting duet, partially because it is one of those rare “bad” songs from Taylor Swift, and mostly because the vocal pitches don’t complement or contrast each other well. It’s one of the more poppy/lively productions, despite wrought, that Taylor has sung over, “Shake It Off” notwithstanding (because it just so damn great). Some of the production notes, like the overindulgent piano and synths, leave much to interpretation and questioning as Brendon Urie and Taylor lack vocal chemistry. Though it has lively production, it doesn’t have that same oomph and stylistic authenticity of “Shake It Off.” Though Taylor does her best, vocally, Urie is still as self reliant on putting the octane on the high pitch, more adjunct to his recent radio hit – at the time – “High Hopes,” and together it is way too meh.
12. Evermore – Taylor Swift & Bon Iver
Amongst the songs on Evermore, unfortunately, the title track doesn’t evoke the same oomph that the album had through its many intricate moments. It is unlike their previous duet, “Exile,” which used the strengths of both artists with slight nuance. “Evermore” is boring, for lack of a better term. Bon Iver’s vocals feel like they weren’t much there to grasp from emotionally, leading to moments you just don’t to latch onto.
The piano keys and guitar riffs of “Evermore” don’t have that same haunting atmosphere and it relies on falling into something more similar to standard folk/indie rock, as the broken down instrumental tries hard not to play third fiddle. The harmonization continues to show a trend of it working with fluidity, but that isn’t enough to save the track from the many problems it carries, specifically in the longish runtime.
11. Safe & Sound – Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars
This is another, modest, track coming from Taylor Swift that she curated for The Hunger Games film. It is broken down with a simple string melody and ghostly harmonization from each member of the Civil Wars, individually, on each verse. These harmonizations is the highlight of the track. It’s hard to dislike the nuanced arrangement, but it does teeter around a slow pacing that doesn’t feel fully invested in, particularly in how it is mixed. You’re just there waiting for any type of shift in momentum, but nothing ever comes out of it.
10. Everything Has Changed – Taylor Swift & Ed Sheeran
“Everything Has Changed” is honestly just fine. There isn’t much to it that makes me think that it is anymore than what you hear on a surface level, especially considering Ed Sheeran doesn’t sound fully “there” on it.. It may be one of the overall “good” (not great) tracks off Red, but when you compare it to the other duet on the album it falls beyond sub-par overall execution in both production and vocal melodies. It’s, in a way, a very typical-kind of duet most people could mirror, considering the basic piano keys.
9. I Don’t Wanna Live Forever – Taylor Swift & Zane
What starts as a middling and slow composition, grows into an elegant orchestration of vocal deliveries. They overshadow the very typical somber percussion that takes mood-influence from the film, Fifty Shades Darker, for which it was made for. Zayn and Taylor complement each other surprisingly well, considering the contrasting – base – range that both vocal pitches encompass. Unfortunately the track really only has gravitas when the production transitions between the first chorus and Taylor Swift’s solo vocals as the shifty percussion adds more color to an otherwise simple gothic-pop atmosphere.
8. Coney Island – Taylor Swift & The National
This song has definitely grown on me after some time, mostly because of the way Matt Berninger’s voice contrasts Taylor Swift’s over a beautiful string and piano arrangement. At the time it felt like a very yawn inducing track that fit the mold of Evermore, sonically. Though the production, at times, leads in some slight bland directions, the vocals from both artists boost the complexion on the track about separation. It is the best duet off Evermore, but that isn’t hard to accomplish when the title track featuring Bon Iver loses touch on the elements that made “Exile” so great.
7. You All Over Me – Taylor Swift & Maren Morris
Though some may think there is some recency bias, it should be known by now that most of the duets Taylor Swift has made don’t always have the greatest sequences in the production transitions. The way Taylor and Maren Morris blend their vocals together is reminiscent of the harmonizations that Nathan Chapman would implement to Taylor’s voice amplification and depth. Morris does that for Taylor this time around, while incorporating her own complementary twang – accents in her singing.
Aaron Dressner of The National finds a beautiful way to meet two similar sounds, folk and country, halfway. The country/folk blend in guitar strings and percussion embolden the overall atmosphere more attune to the kind of ballad-like constructs that made Fearless such a momentous debut for Taylor Swift.
6. Lover (Remix) – Taylor Swift & Shawn Mendes
Unlike the unconventionality of Taylor Swift and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver’s vocal synchronization, Taylor and Shawn Mendes have a unique happy medium with the way they harmonize. However, as a song, there are many parts where it goes from being on a high to going down low in execution, like the moments where Shawn free forms – non verbal melodies – which comes off a bit extra. It is a beautifully designed duet that works more than it doesn’t, and particularly because Shawn Mendes complements Taylor Swift, vocally. On the bright side, the production maintains it’s elegant, melancholic guitar and piano-centric combo flowing with ease, but regular version of “Lover” is slightly better.
5. Half Of My Heart – John Mayer & Taylor Swift
The vibrant harmonizations match the simpleness of the melodic/melancholic acoustics, backing the neatly designed pop-rock track from John Mayer. “Half Of My Heart” is a solidly constructed song, from the luscious twang in Taylor’s voice to the verdant foundation of the pop overtones Mayer creates with his producers. “Half Of My Heart” delivers with finely tuned mixing, allowing both vocalists to bring their own bravado in their performances.
4. Breathe – Taylor Swift & Colbie Cailat
This beautiful guitar ballad brings the best of both worlds, as Colbie brings soft and elegant harmonizations to Taylor Swift’s melodies, specifically in the way she elongates the word for emphasis. Colbie Caillat has a voice from the heavens and her quaint summer innocence in her voice adds much to the pop-shy Taylor, who seems to take a lot of notes of the way Colbie creates her melodies, resonate of her work like “Bubbly,” and “Realize.” “Breathe” is part of the small collective of songs that transgress against the underlying quandary we had at the time; is she pop or is she country? This song, instrumentally bridges a gap more parallel to that of folk-pop with the somber guitar strings that conduct the tempo and rhythm of the rest of the production.
3. Two Is Better Than One – Boys Like Girls & Taylor Swift
This beautiful and timely piece of music-pop culture history, where the paradigm shift of emo-rock and pop-punk became more infused with pop rock, that the songwriting didn’t help imply context. It was also one of the few times we saw two genres of the opposite spectrum link and create a song together. This song or ballad is full of vocal decadence with the way they paint the emotional cues, specifically in the chorus. Before this, from Fearless, Taylor balanced pop sonic subtexts in some songs, like “You Belong With Me,” but this is her real first foray into pop without ever feeling derivative of underlying, wrought, emo/punk sub-texts.
2. Exile – Taylor Swift & Bon Iver
The atmospheric nature that loomed over Taylor Swift’s sonic shift on Folklore brought about one of the greatest songs of 2020. And unlike the duet Taylor made with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on the title track of Evermore, the song “Exile,” from Folklore, is a breath of fresh air. It brings varying degrees of lush and haunting-gospel like sonic execution in the production and vocal textures “Exile” works by incorporating all the aspects that usually embolden their vocal textures; specifically Justin Vernon, whose melodic baritone pitch orchestral amplification contrasts Taylor’s honeyed vocals. The focused piano keys adds atmospheric overtones, which allows the reverb to develop the haunting mood of a track more aligned with themes of separation, like Taylor slowly did from the country roots of Nashville and transitioned into pop. The added depth, vocally and thematically, brings this track forth with enough momentum it will leave you shivering.
1. The Last Time – Taylor Swift & Gary Lightbody
Simply put, “The Last Time” is emotionally draining. Though that doesn’t come as a surprise, considering Taylor Swift created this with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody and legendary rock producer Jacknife Lee. In a way, this acts as a precursor to some of the stylistic/sonic overtures of Folklore, specifically in the notes/sonic-influence she takes from the bands she happens to be huge on, aka folk-alternative rock. “The Last Time,” however, takes all these sonic undertones to bridge together the power ballad about a relationship cycle. The moody electric guitar riffs, builds the momentum of the story, while the piano invigorates the atmospheric surface.
Gary Lightbody’s baritone, like Justin Vernon’s, is a beautiful complement to Taylor’s middling soprano range. This allows for Taylor to find her own comfortability parallel to her partner’s delivery and together they created one of the best songs in Taylor’s whole discography.