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Emily’s Earbuds: Which “Avatar: The Last Airbender” element would each Taylor Swift album be?

Image courtesy of Taylor Swift on Facebook

I only just finished watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender” for the first time a few weeks ago. (Before you ask, I am on season two of “Legend of Korra,” and am planning to watch the live action TV show when I’ve finished it.) My sister had been bugging me about ATLA for years, and finally my wonderful roommate Sophie and some friends we made on our floor of Leonard Hall talked me into weekly “movie nights” where we have mini ATLA marathons. There was consensus that as a Gen Z queer person, it was unacceptable for me to go any longer without seeing ATLA.

Now Emily, you ask, what does all this have to do with Taylor Swift? Well, originally, I had been planning to write a fun, silly article sorting TS albums into Hogwarts Houses, but because of my firm belief that one cannot separate the art from the artist, I decided to not give she-who-must-not-be-named any more platform than she already has. Thus, elements rather than houses. Plus, ATLA is far more generationally relevant and less cheugy than a certain wizarding franchise.

Debut – Water Tribe

Image courtesy of iTunes

the moon like a spotlight on the lake

Taylor’s self-titled debut album has so much water imagery, it was an easy association to make. From “The water’s high, you’re jumping into it” to “leaves you out like a penny in the rain” it was clear that water was the element most closely associated with the first album. In addition to the blue in the album cover, simply the fact that as a debut album, it is inherently about change, the defining nature of the element of water.


Fearless – Earth Kingdom 

tossing rocks at your window

Iroh, in his lesson to Zuko about lightning bending, discussed the ways in which the four elements are all one. In addition to pointing out that water is adaptability and change, he says that earth is stability and strength. “Fearless” has elements of a bildungsroman but is also very much about learning to rely on one’s inner strength. It also has numerous instances of “throwing pebbles” imagery, and “those walls they put to hold us back will fall down,” which felt to me very much like Toph effortlessly crumbling any barriers in her way.


Speak Now – Fire Nation 

like a firework show

This was a no brainer for me. It was harder to pick which line of fire imagery to pick for this article than which element. “Speak Now” is very much a powerful, volatile album (just give “Better Than Revenge” a listen) and has so many references to “burned in the back of your mind,” and “your wildfire lies” and “sparks flew instantly.” Even the line in “Long Live” about fighting dragons is relevant to the fire nation. 


Red – Air Nomads

wind in my hair, I was there

This album was a little harder, and I worry my pick may be controversial. The color red is so fire nation, and the song “Red” has lots of “burning red” imagery. But as much as this is a scorched-earth breakup album, it also has a freedom and limitless feeling that, from my perspective, is inarguably airbender. The lines “the air was cold” and “faster than the wind” help my case some, but not as much as “The Lucky One” story about retreating and protecting your privacy, and “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” which has the nostalgic, heartbroken energy of Aang walking through an air temple that’s been empty for a hundred years.


1989 – Water Tribe 

rain came pouring down / when I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe

This was another tough one for me. Water being associated with adaptability, that’s what I settled on, reinforced by the extended metaphor of water in “Clean,” the song which is the indisputable heart of “1989.” In addition, and I hesitate to admit my mind went there, I think an argument could be made for “Bad Blood” being about a certain puppet master.


reputation – Fire Nation

Screenshot from “Look What You Made Me Do” music video

I can feel the flames on my skin

“reputation” has so many fire references, from the burning of witches in “I Did Something Bad” to the explosions in the “Look What You Made Me Do” music video to the lyrics “I struck a match / and blew your mind” in “Getaway Car,” it was clear that there was only one choice for rep. Lyrics from “swaying as the room burned down,” and “if I get burned, at least we were electrified” were the icing on the cake. Plus, I feel like “reputation” really embodies the defining characteristics of the Fire Nation. It was Taylor’s “villain era” but beyond the propaganda and lies the Fire lord fed his people; just like Taylor, there was something flourishing underneath. 

Lover – Air Nomads

windows flung right open, Autumn air

Another tough one! “Lover” didn’t have as much elemental metaphor as many of the previous albums. I never realized quite how literal this album is until I began hunting through the lyrics to determine its elemental association. Ultimately, I chose air because to me, this album is very much about wisdom. When I listen to “Daylight” I hear Taylor admitting that she has learned a lot, which feels very much like a raised-by-monks attitude. Also, it is totally heresy to point this out, but the worship/altar lines in “False God” (even though I know it’s a steamy song) still evoke the spiritual ideas that the monks who raised Aang instilled in him. 

folklore – Water Tribe

the battle ships will sink beneath the waves

I really considered air for this one. The quiet wisdom and “high in the sky” feeling of “folklore” almost convinced me, but I ended up choosing water because of the frequent water imagery, and since this album was another genre-pivot for Taylor, it too is a big change. “Staring out at the midnight sea,” and “if your cascade ocean wave blues come” and the entire song “the lakes” were enough to outweigh my consideration of air.

evermore – Earth Kingdom

Image courtesy of iTunes

my house of stone, your ivy grows

I knew “evermore” was earth kingdom without really thinking about it. The earthy colors of the album cover, the grounded feeling of the whole album, and the lyrics evoking stone imagery were overwhelming. “Ivy” has “the old widow goes to the stone every day,” and “evermore” has “I replay my footsteps on each stepping stone.” This choice, to me, was no contest.

Midnights – Fire Nation 

Image courtesy of Apple Music


diesel is desire, you were playing with fire

Come on people, there is a lighter, aflame, on the album cover. You really can’t argue with me on this one. “From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes,” and “burn all the files” and “pages turned and the bridges burned” and “always remember (uh-huh) the burning embers” and “put on your headphones and burn my city” easily sealed the deal for me. “Midnights,” although we didn’t know it when it first came out, was either a breakup album or the product of a dying relationship. Either way, it is a fiery, powerful album, embodying the energy of the fire element. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Taylor has so much range and an immense skill for evocative imagery, which made her such a fun artist to write this article about. Obviously, you could pick an album and make an argument for any of the four elements, and many of them have a strong connection to more than one (I argued on the phone with my sister about a few of them!) but I stand by the verdicts I settled on. If you disagree with me, leave a comment with what you think I should have picked. Should I sort the tracks of Noah Kahan’s “Stick Season” next? Let me know!

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