Taylor Swift’s “Midnights” is a Glittering After-Hours Memoir

Taylor Swift’s newly released album, “Midnights,” is a distinctive exploration of impactful experiences that she recalls in the depths of night, while combining various elements from her previous albums.

Zahra Parsons, Print Co Editor-in-Chief

Standing atop a tiered, backlit stage set, then-21 year old Taylor Swift proclaimed a blissful vengeance against her cynics in “Mean,”  the third single from her country-pop/rock amalgam Speak Now, the electric twang of her banjo reverberating through the audience.  In her third of what would become seven Grammy Awards performances, Swift took charge of the stage in a beige, flowered dress, captivating the audience with her young, piercing country charm.  Unbeknownst to the room, Swift would take the same stage a mere nine years later with a conglomeration of “cardigan,” “august” and “willow,” from her indie folk sister albums folklore and evermore, interluded by a near tripling of her discography, throughout which she shifted musical genres, portrayed her personal relationship experiences and ventured into nuanced third-person storytelling.

Through each of her compositions, Swift unceasingly shows the capacity to synthesize pure, raw heartache coupled with melancholy sorrow, and transform it into a substance of powerful healing and (sometimes) subtle retaliation. Her most recent exposition of this lies within the release of her tenth studio album, Midnights.  Co-produced by Swift and Jack Antonoff, the album is her first complete set of new songs since the release of evermore in 2020.  As described in her habitually cryptic idiolect, Midnights is “a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams. The floors we pace and the demons we face … hoping that just maybe, when the clock strikes twelve…we’ll meet ourselves.”

The opening track, “Lavender Haze” was one of the few that Swift foreshadowed with an exposition via Instagram, explaining that she encountered the phrase in the 2007 drama series “Mad Men.” “I guess, theoretically, when you’re in the ‘lavender haze,’ you’ll do anything to stay there, and not let people bring you down off of that cloud,” she said in the video, before referencing the public probing into her six-year relationship with actor Joe Alwyn.

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In the song, she alludes to a frank disdain of rigid restraints on relationship status.  “All they keep asking me / Is if I’m gonna be your bride / The only kinda girl they see / Is a one-night or a wife.” The song is backed with pitched-up vocals and drum reverb, putting potential despondency on the back-burner in favor of an exotic contemporary glamor. It, and its subsequent track “Maroon,” share a moody-pop, R&B tinged intonation that parallels tracks from 1989. “Midnight Rain” draws from these elements as well, opening with Swift’s own melodically alluring vocals pitched-down and morphed. “Question…?” begins with a short yet immediately distinguishable lyrical sampling from “Out of the Woods,” another allusion to the 2014 album. 

The album’s lead single, “Anti-Hero,” elucidates Swift’s return to autobiographical writing, as she described the song to be her most extensive exploration of her own insecurities. “I just struggle with the idea of not feeling like a person,” she said in an Instagram reel explaining the song. “This song is a real guided tour throughout all of the things I tend to hate about myself.” She capitalizes on the bet that fans can relate to “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem it’s me,” and analyzes her own facetious persona parallel to that of a politician, and the consequences of fractured sense of self: “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism / Like some kind of Congressman / I wake up screaming from dreaming / One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving / And life will lose all its meaning / For the last time.” The song’s eccentrically profound visual accompaniment was released eight hours after the album, and features actress Mary Elizabeth Ellis and comedians Mike Birbiglia and John Early

Taylor Swift

“Snow on the Beach” features one of indie rock’s most illustrious artists, Lana Del Rey. In her typical collaborative style, Del Rey provides airy, piercing background vocals as opposed to her own specific verse, as she and Swift harmonize to explore the metaphorical idiosyncrasy of experiencing snowfall on a beach.  

Swift is infamously known for emotionally devastating fifth tracks in each of her albums, including “Dear John,” “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version),” “tolerate it” and “White Horse (Taylor’s Version).”  Not only does “You’re On Your Own Kid” expose the grammatical ineptitude of Twitter users, but it continues this tradition with aching melancholy “‘Cause there were pages turned with the bridges burned / Everything you lose is a step you take / So make the friendship bracelets / Take the moment and taste it / You’ve got no reason to be afraid,” and starkly vivid self-destruction “From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes / I gave my blood, sweat and tears for this / I hosted parties and starved my body / Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss.”

“Bejeweled” and “Karma,” though lyrical night and day, reinforce Swift’s firm roots in upbeat pop production. The music video for the former is a dazzling take on the Cinderella story, featuring performer Dita Von Teese and actress Laura Dern, as well as Swift’s frequent musical confidants, the Haim sisters. More widely noted among fans, however, were the multitudes of easter eggs present in the video pointing to the potential release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) in the coming months. 

Amidst the album rollout, she prophesied a “special chaotic surprise” following the release of the album, an unveiling of the “3 AM Edition,” an additional seven deluxe songs, which she described as developments on her “journey” to the original 13 tracks on the album. Arguably most notable is the sixth additive, “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve,” in which she seems to draw further into the complexities of manipulation described in “Dear John,” her voice sustaining an anguished, youthful glint resembling that of “Speak Now.” The Target-exclusive copy includes another original bonus track entitled “Hits Different,” as well as instrumental remixes of “You’re On Your Own Kid” and “Sweet Nothing.” 

Midnights became the most-streamed album on both Spotify and Apple Music within a single day of its release. It became the fastest album to surpass 500 million streams on Spotify. According to Billboard, the album sold over 800,000 copies in the United States alone within its first day of release, and over a million in total. “Snow on the Beach” broke the record for the biggest single-day streams for an all-female collaboration in Spotify history. “Anti-Hero” has been number one on the global Spotify chart for five days, with 11.556 million streams. Additionally, as of Nov. 5, she occupies all of the top ten spots on the Billboard Hot 100. She is the first artist to do so in just a single week. 

Record-breaking and chart-topping are no new feats for Swift. There are just 18 songs by female artists that have more than 7.7 million streams on Spotify, and 16 of them are from Swift herself. She is now the most streamed female artist in Spotify history (34.9 B). 

Midnights is a deliberate synthesis of the labyrinthine lyricism from folklore and evermore, and the electro-pop vibe of 1989. In combining triumphant reinvention with nostalgic reflection, Swift’s creation of a semi-meta self portrait strikes back at the haters and gratifies the fans that have been here all along.