Embark on the journey of self-hatred, revenge fantasies, “wondering what might have been”, falling in love, and “falling apart” that is Taylor Swift’s Midnights.
By Giulia Leo / Matthew staff || Edited by Amber Alexander
When the clock struck midnight on Oct. 21, Taylor Swift released her much awaited 10th studio album. To the surprise of her fans, Swift announced the release of Midnights during the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards, just a month before its due date. The album features 13 songs, but they become 20 in the deluxe “3am edition,” released during the same “sleepless” night, once again, as a surprise. As a veteran Swiftie whose greatest life achievement was writing my undergraduate capstone project on none other than Dr. Swift, I take it upon myself to take you through the journey of self-hatred, revenge fantasies, “wondering what might have been,” falling in love, and “falling apart” that is Midnights.
Midnights tells “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [Swift’s] life,” as the artist shares with her fans on Instagram. We all know Swift likes to go back to past lyrics and themes, tying each song and album to one another. Well, Midnights is the self-referential album par excellence; it is a perfect synthesis of all Swift’s past work. There is a Midnights song that resonates with each “Taylor era.” If you are a fan of the twin albums folklore (2020) and evermore (2020), then “Snow on the Beach” featuring Lana Del Rey (!!!) is the song for you. If Reputation (2017) soundtracks your revenge fantasies, you will definitely add “Vigilante Shit” and “Karma” to your playlist titled “hot girl revenge arc,” yes, written in lower case letters. If you, like me, turned 1989 (2014) into your whole personality, and, if you have a tendency to self-loathing and narcissistic irony, you’ve probably been humming to the most iconic lyrics from “Anti-Hero” since Oct. 21.
Sometimes, I feel like everybody is a sexy babyTaylor Swift, “Anti-Hero”
And I’m a monster on the hill
Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favorite city
Pierced through the heart, but never killed
Oh, and you’ve totally been doing the “Bejeweled” dance.
But let’s proceed in order. The first track on the album has been described as a disco-inflected, rhythmic pop song with an intricate, irresistible groove. The synth-dominated track is titled after the phrase “lavender haze,” which Swift first heard in an episode of Mad Men. The term was commonly used in the 50s to refer to the confusing, exciting, and all-consuming feeling of being in love. Swift sings she “just wanna stay in that lavender haze,” away from social judgement and all the misogynistic expectations set up for women in relationships.
All they keep asking meTaylor Swift, “Lavender Haze”
Is if I’m gonna be your bride
The only kinda girl they see
Is a one-night or a wife
Ultimately, “Lavender Haze” deals with the way fame affected Swift’s life and her relationships. Now, everything she does “goes viral;” whenever she gets a new boyfriend, Swift says tabloids bring up her history, painting her as a femme fatale and a maneater. Yet, her partner “handles it beautifully” and keeps her in the lavender haze, encouraging her not to “give a damn what people say.”
Another song where the themes of fame and relationships intertwine is “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know that Swift is notorious for her devastatingly intimate and tear-jerking track 5’s. Simply think about the emotional intensity of songs like “Dear John” (Speak Now, 2010), “All Too Well,” (Red, 2012) or “The Archer,” (Lover, 2019), just to mention a few. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” is probably the most heart-wrenching of them all. It tells the story of Swift’s disillusionment with love and relationships, culminating in the realization that “you’re on your own, kid, you always have been.” Here, Swift purposefully alludes to the lyrics of many of her past songs, including “Cruel Summer” (2019), and “August” (2020), — think of the repeated theme of summer coming to an end—, as well as “Getaway Car” (2017). “I see the great escape” is reminiscent of the lyrics “It was the great escape, the prison break” from the Reputation song.
However, the clearest example of Swift’s use of self-referentiality in the album has to be Midnights‘ track two, “Maroon.” From the very first listen, I interpreted this song as an evolution of “Red,” which also happens to be track two on the homonymous 2012 album, recently re-recorded and released as Red (Taylor’s Version). In the 2012 track, Swift describes love as a bittersweet feeling, so intense and passionate it resembles a burning fire, but so painful it can break you. “Maroon,” on the other hand, compares love to a deeper, darker shade of red. A maroon-colored love is made of small things, like “cleaning incense off vinyl shelf,” and losing track of time while drinking cheap wine on the floor; this theme will become central to “Sweet Nothing,” co-authored by Joe Alwyn, Swift’s partner. Contrary to what you may think, a maroon love does not lose the passion and excitement that characterize a “burning red” love. In fact, it is a perfect mix of gloomier and brighter shades. As Swift sings, the maroon-colored love is a legacy, a sign of the times — the Harry Styles reference is 100% intentional — it stands as a symbol of every challenge, every victory, and every loss that shaped the relationship and allowed the couple to grow.
The burgundy on my t-shirtTaylor Swift, “Maroon”
When you splashed your wine into me
And how the blood rushed into my cheeks
So scarlet, it was maroon
The mark they saw on my collarbone
The rust that grew between telephones
The lips I used to call home
One of Swift’s greatest strengths is how relatable she is. But that is also the greatest paradox about her. Obviously, none of us can relate to her experience as a multi-millionaire international pop star. Yet, her lyrics allow her listeners to empathize with her as a human being who also experiences anxiety, love, heartbreak, anger, and joy. We don’t actually know the “real Taylor,” we are only ever confronted with her star-image, her public persona. However, “on Midnights like this” we get the feeling we do. I particularly feel this way with three Midnights songs: “Labyrinth,” “Anti-Hero,” and “Mastermind.” All tracks somehow deal with the aftermath of being an anxious perfectionist. They talk about the constant fear of failure, the obsession with scheming, and the haunting thought that we are not the hero, but the villain. These songs are reminders that, when you’re lost in the labyrinth of your mind, all you have to do is:
Breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe outTaylor Swift, “Labyrinth”