Friday gave us the MOMENT Swifties have been waiting for. Singlehandedly and promptly breaking Spotify, Taylor’s Midnights finally dropped – and it’s her darkest, most self-reflective art to date. A deep dive into the small hours, Midnights is a crushing, introspective album that’s both cryptic and confessional in its messaging. It’s a view into Taylor’s mind that we haven’t seen the depth of before. It is a complex unpacking of insecurities across the tracks that speaks to universal experiences in splendid musical form.
Admittedly, I wrote a piece a few weeks ago titled ‘What we Know about Midnights‘ – dissecting what fans thought would materialize upon release, sprinkled with some of the most prominent internet theories. Admittedly, now I realize almost all of it was *wrong* but is it that surprising that Taylor would give us something so unexpected? We DID get a dominantly pop, sparkly, yet heartbreaking TWENTY songs. It’s an album that critics are already saying will go far to concrete further her legacy in history moving forward.
Midnights opens with ‘Lavender Haze’ – a steamy, dark-dream opener in which Swift laments the advantages and struggles of being in a relationship with another famous individual – in this case, Joe Alwyn, her longtime partner and recently-turned writing collaborator. Named after an episode of Mad Men, it’s a meditation on how her past could, and perhaps did, impact her current relationship. She alludes to the media attention they both receive, the consequence of which is having to navigate public perceptions of her and Joe constantly. She laments tabloid questioning of her history and simultaneously wishes for peace in her relationship without all the noise. It’s the first we hear of her relationship with Joe, but it’s far from the last – much to the delight of Swiftie romantics.
Track 2, named ‘Maroon,’ is one of the catchiest tracks on the whole album. Eagle-minded fans will be acutely aware that maroon is only a few shades from red on a colour scale – and we know Taylor loves red. The song references various levels – from scarlet to crimson to heavy rust. Previously addressed by Taylor as red being the most intense, powerful relationship type in her mind, it’s not altogether surprising that she’s back with a similar symbolism now. However, since this is maroon, a darker version, it could indicate a matured, grown-up version of what we encountered on the Red album – and notably, it’s not golden, the colour that she describes as ‘real’ love on Lover. There’s also a flashback to Red’s ‘Come Back, Be Here’ with the notes of the long-distance theme and New York City. Overall, ‘Maroon’ is a flashback to many past works and a great way to address Swift’s changing perspective on relationships as she’s grown.
Track 3, titled ‘Anti-Hero,’ is arguably one of the album’s most vulnerable. It’s a direct call out to insecurity. In classic Taylor fashion, she’s intrinsically aware that everyone else around her (according to her insecurities) not only knows but agrees with this fact. ‘Anti-Hero’ also slips in one of her cleverest pop culture references, with the comparison to ‘sexy baby’ to ‘monster on the hill’ a quote from season five of the famed show 30 Rock. Taylor calls ‘Anti-Hero’ one of her favourite tracks she’s ever created, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s exposing, raw, and bouncy but similarly emotionally turbulent, and with the subject matter, it serves as a dark sister to Lover’s ruminative ‘The Archer.’
Following ‘Anti-Hero,’ listeners get the slightly more uplifting ‘Snow on the Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey).’ Tackling the topic of falling in love unexpectedly, it’s easy to say that it’s another ode to Joe. With the burningly metaphoric title, Swift and Rey explore the feeling of impossible euphoria that arises when you meet someone that feels like your person at the most surprising time. While Lana doesn’t have her own verse, her backing vocals add warmth and intense sensitivity to the song – their voices are an effortless blend that leaves us wondering why they haven’t done this before. Described by Swift as her version of that “cataclysmic, fated” moment, ‘Snow on the Beach’ gives us a warm, romanticist vibe like Lover’s title track – and we love it.
Next up, we get to track 5 – a notoriously important one for Swift. Midnight’s track five is titled ‘You’re on your own, Kid’, and it’s a stark view by Taylor on her youth, a powerful evoking of imagery with lyrics including ‘blood-soaked gown’ and ‘hosted parties and starved my body.’ It’s painfully relatable; an agonizing ponder of being young and realizing your aloneness ultimately, despite being in crowded rooms. Slashing apart aspirations of teenage, fairy-tale wishes, listeners sense that the individual in question will be okay in the end. The process of getting there, though, is a painstakingly sad journey before the light at the end of the tunnel is finally reached.
‘Midnight Rain’ is a sharp vibe switch, bringing Swift’s voice down to an almost unrecognizable timbre. The effect, sampled from Lorde’s Melodrama, lands a soulful smoulder while familiar motifs are once again explored – ‘he wanted a bride / I was making my own name.’ Swift reminisces on a relationship that, at its core, seems good. She explains that she “broke his heart cause he was nice,” but the foundational differences in personality and priority ultimately tear the lovers apart. To Swift’s “midnight rain,” the other party is a summery sun.
Track 7 serves us ‘Question..?’ Taylor paints a picture of her past, describing herself as the good girl to the sad boy in a big city, making questionable choices and tackling her curiosities. Depicting a drunk, curiosity-driven conversation, the lyrics both speed up and rhythm and lose their rhyme at once. The structure of 1989’s ‘Blank Space’ is also referenced. ‘Question..?’ is frank about the psychic and erotic confusion that can linger for years after a relationship ends, but in an honestly wondering and unjudgmental fashion that tinges on touching. With the references to ‘Out of the Woods’ ‘, I remember’, ‘Question..?’ feels like a shorthand technique to consider how past experiences can create a sense of both nostalgia and distance.
‘Vigilante S**t’ serves listeners the first taste of vengeful motifs on Midnights. From the opening line – ‘draw a cat eye sharp enough to kill a man’ – the mood is set from the get-go. A fitting prelude to ‘Karma,’ which is incoming later in the album – ‘VS’ is an ode to revenge and the revenge dress. Providing a taste of Taylor’s more perhaps vindictive side, it’s minimal and calm, giving listeners a thin sliver of bass with a side dish of anger-served-cold. It sounds like something Billie Eilish might have written on her debut, and Swift owns the theme. Additionally, it also feels like an extension of the bad-girl persona from 2017’s Reputation – it’s sexy, conniving, and the whole tune feels like whoever wrongs Taylor will consequently find themselves walking a dangerous tightrope.
A self-reclaiming, self-confident anthem appears after with ‘Bejeweled.’ The story of a woman who has been cheated on by a lover, the lyrics show that despite the circumstances, the individual in question continues to know and flaunt their worth. With slight allusions to ‘Mirrorball’ – from the title to ‘I can still make the whole place shimmer,’ it’s almost like the following antithesis of the tune. ‘Mirrorball’s’ subject has found her zest for life again and is seizing it with both hands, dazzling everyone who crosses her path with her glittery essence.
Moving onto ‘Labyrinth,’ we get a celebration of overcoming heartbreak and claiming new love after the healing process of pain. While it initially presents as a track that comes across as sceptical and unsure about finding someone new, it ends on an optimistic, soft note, having overcome that fear in the process of the song’s continuation. Taylor notes how scared she is of elevators and compares this to the feeling of fast, sharply intense love appearing in her life. ‘Labyrinth’ comes across as an attractive, almost paradoxical track to the earlier ‘Snow on the Beach’ – in which she realises how pleasurable and exciting that experience can indeed be.
‘Karma,’ the ideal follow-up to ‘Vigilante S**t,’ is best described as shimmeringly vengeful. Allegedly taking aim at music executive Scooter Braun, it’s an intricately weaved series of metaphors, a description of what she views as her cosmic advantage against her enemies. From her boyfriend to a god to a breeze in her hair on the weekend, it’s chock full of imagery, yet despite the title, it’s poppy, upbeat, and cheerful. During an Apple Music “New Music Daily” segment, Swift described ‘Karma’ as a song written from a “perspective of being really happy with the way your life is – feeling you have good karma as a reward for doing stuff right.” However, it’s also definitely an address – with an ominous message in the lyrics that those who have crossed her will receive the opposite in time. ‘Karma’ has been one of the most talked about tracks on Midnights pre-release, given that she mentioned in an interview that she initially had a 2016 album called Karma, which was later mysteriously never released. Fans come away from the track with the feeling that despite all the guitar string scars, karma is a friend to Swift and one she welcomes with open arms.
‘Sweet Nothing’ gives many Swifties what they’ve been most excited about since folklore – a collaborated track of Joe-Alwyn, otherwise known as William Bowery. Since ‘Betty,’ we knew Joe was a stellar songwriter in his own right, and the romantic duo are back to prove it. The chorus is a sweet, almost domestic piece, the lyrics warm and inviting. A glimpse into the sweet acceptance of the type of all-consuming love where your whole being is accepted, ‘Sweet Nothing’ is a melodic track showing insight into Taylor and Joe’s happiness. The woven words about running home to your person and leaning on them when you need support – the track is peak Lover energy.
Number 13, Taylor’s lucky number, is ‘Mastermind.’ An aptly rhymed chorus is the highlight, the title coupled with the phrase ‘now you’re mine.’ While it comes across on first listen as a predominantly romantic opener, it’s also a stunning ode to Taylor’s unusual and brilliant career that’s taken her from a teenage country star to one of the world’s most prominent musicians both historically and in the present.
The bonus tracks
8PM brought us 7 fresh tracks, an added excitement to an already hysterical fandom called the ‘Midnights (3AM edition). Read on for some thoughts from us on the extras…
The first vault-style track is ‘The Great War’. Detailing the hardships of a relationship through strongly enforced battle metaphors, from ‘banners’ to ‘taking the battle underground’ and ‘crimson clover bloodshed’, TGW is a vivid picture of a love that has taken a violent turn during its course. Taylor notes that her ‘sweet dream’, her original fairy-tale, has ended, and the experience is becoming a fight she can’t win. Personally, I’m reminded of the unreleased track ‘Battle’ – the motifs and lyrics are eerily similar, with many of them shared in great detail. I want that one on Speak Now TV, but if this is what we get along those lines, I will be dancing to it for days anyway. ‘The Great War’ ends on a hopeful note, showing that the pair made it through the fire and trials but experienced an excruciating journey to get there. They come out the other side stronger than ever, though, and that’s where it differs from ‘Battle.’ ‘The Great War’ is another example of other song references, and it’s a profound, relatable one for those fans who have been through difficult periods in their romantic lives.
‘Bigger Than the Whole Sky’ is a particularly touching track, as far as the album goes. While multiple interpretations are circling the internet in Swiftie-land, there is no doubt that it’s one that goes straight to the hearts and emotional core of listeners, as it seems to dive deep into the theme of grief. For those who have experienced any type of loss, it comes across as mournful and contemplative, a wish for circumstances to change and for loved ones to reappear. I can’t say this one didn’t bring a tear or two.
‘Paris’ is yet another romantic-centred moment, an explorative reference to the famed City of Love. She aptly sings in the chorus, ‘so in love that I might stop breathing / drew a map on your bedroom ceiling / like we were in Paris.’ Listeners get the feeling that Taylor is so in love, and we love to hear it – and she doesn’t care who knows. It’s a happy track at its core, a nice contrast to some of the songs, and comes across as if she and her Lover have retreated into their own world away from the societal noise. Her relationship with Joe is also notoriously private. The lyrics reflect this, indicating privacy signs on bedroom doors and keeping it just theirs while hinting that she sees it as a forever thing. It’s almost like you can hear her smiling in the audio. Taylor also held a concert in the city after the release of Lover, and it clearly has a deep significance for her personally – the only other song title with a city is currently 2018’s ‘London Boy.’
The significance of ‘High Infidelity’ does not seem to have been lost on fans. No ex appears to have been spared, with the date of April 29 being the famous one on which Taylor met her succeeding partner after DJ Calvin Harris, actor Tom Hiddleston. She asks the audience, ‘do you really want to know where I was on April 29?’ The lyrics seem to confirm the rumours, particularly when combined with the title. The song is bold, hinting at potential interpersonal jealousy with ‘your picket fences sharp as knives / I was dancing around, dancing around it.’ Whatever the song’s true meaning, Taylor indicates that it was an important date and one that was a pivotal personal experience.
‘Glitch’ feels like one of the more straightforward tracks Midnights has to offer. Singing about a ‘brief malfunction, a slight interruption’, the rhymes are charming and effortless. Encapsulating the moments when questionable choices are made that you regret later, it’s not a particularly deep track compared to some on the album, but the way Taylor’s vocals hook smoothly and seductively during the chorus still makes it enjoyable.
As far as the bonus tracks go, the most talked about online is ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.’ Fans have been quick to identify John Mayer as the most likely subject – mainly as Swift was 19 at the time of their relationship, and we get the track serving as number 19 on Midnights. It gives us a similar vibe to the original ‘Dear John’, with Swift directly addressing her youth and girlhood. The most piercing lyric is ‘give me back my girlhood – it was mine first.’ Bringing back her teenage self in the lyrics, it’s painful to listen to, and some say John Mayer has officially dethroned Jake Gyllenhaal’s Red reputation. It’s a continuation of what many women songwriters have done lately, the most recent to call out an exploitative age gap in a relationship where power dynamics are critically unbalanced – from Billie Eilish’s ‘Your Power,’ to Demi Lovato’s’ 29.’ All we’re saying after this is we can’t wait for Speak Now TV.
Midnights ends its rounds with ‘Dear Reader.’ Essentially serving as an ode to advice columns, it’s nonetheless a serious track, hinting at her 2017 Reputation reinvention and its ongoing importance. This is clearly assisted by the noise of a life support machine chiming in the background at one moment of the song, indicating a reincarnation of sorts. While Swift urges her fans to “never take advice from someone who is falling apart” and implores they should consider finding “another guiding light”, there is no doubt in this melancholy track that many Swifties will find comfort in these closing words. I know I did.