Midnights by Taylor Swift
November 6, 2022
At this year’s 2022 AMA Awards, globally adored singer/songwriter Taylor Swift announced that she would be releasing a brand-new studio album, taking a break from her two re-recorded album streak from the past couple of years, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” and “Red (Taylor’s Version).” Through social media, she slowly revealed the 13 track names.
On October 21st, at midnight sharp as promised, Swift released her tenth studio album, titled “Midnights,” outlining “the stories of thirteen sleepless nights scattered throughout” the artist’s life, inspired by, in her own words, “self-loathing,” “fantasizing about revenge,” “wondering what might have been,” “falling in love” and “falling apart.” Three hours later, she surprised fans with “Midnights (3am Edition”), featuring seven extra songs, and just days after that, albums appeared on the shelves of Target, among other stores, with one more exclusive song. Here’s everything you need to know about each of the 21 new masterpieces by our favorite mastermind, track-by-track.
A bombshell of a first track, “Lavender Haze” is the perfect way to start “Midnights.” She opens the intro with a phrase fans have heard many times since the dawn of the Midnights Era: meet me at midnight. Listeners were also happy to learn that the track was co-written by Joe Alwyn, Swift’s boyfriend of six years. Together, along with others, the couple wrote a breathy, beautiful, tune about ignoring gender roles and the pressure on women to bend to fit the norm and how she would rather stay in that lavender haze. Lavender haze was a common phrase during the mid 1900s that Taylor came across while watching one of her favorite shows, “Mad Men,” finding that it was a term to describe being in love and decided it was the perfect way to name a love that felt burdened by outdated gender roles and tabloids that seem to weigh down love with expectation.
Track two, “Maroon,” feels like it could be one of two things, if not both. An extension of “Red,” an earlier studio album that Swift recently re-recorded, however, she included “Maroon” on “Midnights” instead of “Red (Taylor’s Version),” in which she included other songs that were new alongside the old re-recorded tracks. This suggests fans’ other theory that “Maroon” symbolizes a new, more mature love, possibly older, wiser and an even deeper love than the one she felt during the Red Era. However, the star meant it. “Maroon” features something different from “Red,” in which she describes the stages of romance in colors; the losing is blue, the missing is dark gray and the loving is red. This theme has been seen in tracks since the release of Red in 2012, such as “Daylight,” released in Swift’s 2019 album “Lover.” In the breathtaking bridge of this track, Swift says she once believed love would be burning red / But it’s golden / Like daylight. On the contrary, “Maroon” creates a world of the shade through lyrics, including the mentioning of rosé, burgundy, wine, scarlet, rust, roses, carnations, rubies, blood and lips.
“Anti-Hero” was arguably the most anticipated track on the album, mostly due to the attention Swift gave it in the weeks and days before it was released, including a brief explanation of the insecurity fans could expect from “Anti-Hero”—the song where Swift introduces herself as the problem. Plus, just eight hours after the original release of the album including the self-loathing track, the “Anti-Hero” music video premiered. Some notable moments include three versions of Swift: Swift as a person, Swift as a fun, seemingly ideal version of herself and a giant Swift, who is quite frankly larger than life. Based on what the singer has said about the song, fans can infer that the hidden meaning behind this towering Taylor Swift is that she has created an unmanageably large life that she feels she cannot handle. Another main point made in both the lyrics and the music video is a description of a dream that she has in which her daughter-in-law kills me for the money / She thinks I left them in the will / The family gathers ’round and reads it / And then someone screams out / “She’s laughing up at us from hell!” Swift directed the scene to represent the chaotic, toxic result of the jealousy that stems from humanity’s hunger for money. Swift also includes what seems to be a cryptic lyric that fans have been trying ruthlessly to figure out since they heard it: Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / And I’m a monster on the hill / Too big to hang out / Slowly lurching toward your favorite city. Fans have seem to come to a conclusion that Swift is describing something similar to what we see from her in “The Lucky One;” the thought that society throws away women when men no longer find them attractive. This lyric also adds to the meaning of the Giant Swift featured in the video, who feels she has grown out of society’s expectations.
Snow On The Beach (Feat. Lana Del Rey)
Spotlighting two of modern music’s favorite gifted girl bosses, “Snow On The Beach” is a song on facing the inevitable discrepancies that arise while being a star falling in love. In the eerie, wistful lyrics, Swift and Del Rey describe the almost odd feeling that each of their relationships have, though for very different reasons, the moment of falling into a requited love feels strange yet beautiful to both of them, similar to seeing snow on the beach. In an Instagram video, Swift revealed that “Snow On The Beach” captures the “cataclysmic, fated moment where you realize someone feels exactly the same way that you feel at the same moment.” The dreamy nature of Swift and Del Rey’s voices promote the theme of the song, of asking if life is truly reality, especially with the relationship being seen by the whole world and not just for the two people in it. In many of Swift and Del Rey’s tracks, they describe the fragility of a public relationship, such as in Swift’s “Delicate” and even “Anti-Hero” from the same album, and Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” and “This is Happiness.”
You’re On Your Own, Kid
Because Swift’s Track Fives have what one might call a big reputation for being heart-wrenching, “You’re On Your Own, Kid” had a lot to live up to. However, fans were confused with the gentle, kind beginnings of the track. Luckly, Swift saved it with heartbreak, as the world knew she would. Throughout her career, Swift has faced no shortage of men critiquing her for the same groundless jab, over and over again. In 2014, the artist responded by saying, “You’re going to have people who are gonna say, ‘Oh you know, like she just writes songs about her ex-boyfriends,’ and I think, frankly, that’s just a very sexist angle to take.”
“No one says that about Ed Sheeran. No one says it about Bruno Mars. They’re all writing about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love life and no one raises a red flag there,” she said.
Frankly, Swift does write about her love interests, and rightfully so. As she would agree, there is pressure on women in the music industry to make themselves interesting besides their love life. Swift has showed us time and time again that her vast intelligence is used for many things other than to think about the people she’s dated, and one example of this, besides feminism, the other obvious choice, is how Swift has spoke on her mental health struggles, mainly concerning her eating disorder. In her 2020 documentary “Miss Americana,” the songwriter said, “…it’s not good for me to see pictures of myself every day. It’s only happened a few times, and I’m not in any way proud of,” she said when describing seeing “a picture of me where I feel like I looked like my tummy was too big, or… someone said that I looked pregnant … and that’ll just trigger me to just starve a little bit — just stop eating.” Swift lived up to the reputation of her deeply pensive and heart-breaking track fives, by saying I search the party of better bodies / Just to learn that you never cared…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…You’re on your own, kid / You always have been.
It’s no doubt that Swift has always prioritized her career, even when it causes her own pain. In the sixth track Swift dives into her intense need to have a partner who is just as intelligent and deep as she is, and how this need has caused her to end relationships out of boredom even if they were perfectly fine. To explain this, Swift says, He wanted it comfortable, I wanted that pain / He wanted a bride / I was making my own name / Chasing that fame, he stayed the same / All of me changed like midnight. The song depicts a lover who never changes and is constant and steadfast, eventually to a fault. On the contrary, Swift sings that she is midnight rain. In response to their never-changing, Swift is ever-changing, sporadic, even mysterious. This song is Swift feeling like she has to make a choice, to stay in a relationship that feels dull in comparison to the vibrancy of her own mind, or to keep working, writing, singing and growing her career until she finds a love that complements her own 12 am downpour.
Track seven features a storytelling line-up of questioning in which Swift sets the scene of what is most likely the first kiss ever or possibly the first in a while between two people in the center of a crowded room of a friend’s house, in which the friends of the person go from making fun of her, and shortly later they are clapping along with the crowd. Swift seems to be talking to a previous lover and relives a past shared experience with them, where she is either the person being kissed or watching. Swift asks the lover if they wish they could relive the experience, and if everything after that feels second-best. She seems to be jealous, trying to catch the person she’s interrogating in a lie. What or whoever she’s talking about, the song feels intimate and introspective, where she tells the listener, after assaulting them with a line of non-stop questioning, the bold line: It’s just a question.
From the time fans heard the title of this dauntless track on September 27th, they knew they were in for something that is no stranger to Swift: revenge. She opens the Draw the cat eye, sharp enough to kill a man / You did some bad things / but I’m the worst of them / Sometimes I wonder which one’ll be your last lie / They say looks can kill and I might try / I don’t dress for women / I don’t dress for men / Lately I’ve been dressin’ for revenge. The singer has written like this before: many songs on reputation, as well as songs like “mad woman” from folklore. Swift has always had an instinct to get back at her exes for the situations she put them in. In the second part of the song, the artist switches to a third person point of view, from I to she in her lyrics, as if to be viewing her actions from an outside perspective. As for the bridge, Swift has never wavered on the poignancy of the bridge of this track. A wispy, faraway voice tells the listener, Ladies always rise above / Ladies know what people want / Someone sweet and kind and fun. Like many of the feminist lyrics on Midnights, this bridge seems to mock the voices of people telling her and billions of other to “act like a lady.” As she always does, Swift shoots back a clever retort by the end of the bridge–The lady simply had enough.
With the amount of depressive and retaliative songs on “Midnights,” fans were delighted to hear the sparkly beginnings of track nine, “Bejeweled,” featuring a glittering melody and lyrics to match. While the themes of the album stay the same, with lyrics like, And when I meet the band / They ask, “Do you have a man?” / I could still say, “I don’t remember.” Swift creates a shiny mirror of lyrics, in which she seems unbothered by getting older and being asked if she is single by men she doesn’t know. Swift has talked about this reflective aspect of her life before, in both “All Too Well” on Red and “Mirrorball” from Folklore. However, both of these previous lyrics seem much sadder than the indifference of “Bejeweled.” In “All Too Well,” Swift says, The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you. And in “mirrorball,” I’ll get you out on the floor / Shimmering beautiful / And when I break, it’s in a million pieces. On the contrary, Swift surprises fans with this glistening eighth track, featuring iridescent lyrics such as shining, polish, diamonds, eyes, sapphire tears, sky, moonstone and aura. She mocks the sayings “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and “Girls just wanna have fun” and inverts “Boys will be boys” by saying, What’s a girl gonna do? / A diamond’s gotta shine!
Being a Swiftie comes with the ultimate responsibility of decoding the many Easter Eggs that the singer leaves in what feels like every single interview, outfit and even other songs. Swift told Jimmy Fallon in an interview that, “I think the first time that I started dropping sort of cryptic clues in my music was when I was 14 or 15, putting together my first album.” When describing her debut self-titled album, she says, “I wanted to do something that incentivized fans to read the lyrics because my lyrics are what I’m most proud of out of everything that I do. When I was a kid, I used to read through CD booklets and just read the teeny, tiny print and obsess over it.” Often, though, despite fans’ hardest work, Easter Eggs only become obvious once the tracks and albums drop. Earlier this year, May 18th, Swift delivered an acceptance speech of her NYU honorary doctorate, quoting other lyrics from “1989,” and, as fans have been pleased to hear, a hidden snippet of “Midnights.” She told the crowd, “As long as we are fortunate enough to be breathing, we will breathe through, breathe deep and breathe out. And I am a doctor now, so I know how breathing works.” The same wise words were featured in the 10th track of her recent album, paralleled with Break up / break free / break through / break down in the second verse. “Labyrinth” feels deep and personal, as Swift seems to give her fans a peek of the thoughts while she is Lost in the labyrinth of my mind. The song is calm but the lyrics seem to spiral, as Swift grips onto her existence in her own mind. In response to what the singer is facing on the outside, she shares that she was repeating, “It only hurts this much right now” / Was what I was thinkin’ the whole time. This idea is evidently how the songwriter tells herself the sort of mantra that so many emotional people repeat mentally on a daily basis: this is temporary.
Swifties have been speculating about the phrase “karma” for a while now. Was it a scrapped album? An unreleased track? Was it nothing at all? It would make sense as a scrapped album, as the singer broke her streak of dropping an album every two years with “reputation,” and fans wondered if Swift began writing another album, referred to as “Karma” by the fandom, and there has been no shortage of hypothesizing about the term. All of this speculation is probably why the singer laughed when she announced the title of this track, and luckily, it did not disappoint. The idea of karma has always been something that comforted Swift, and she confirmed via a Zane Lowe interview on Apple Music’s New Music Daily the meaning of the song by telling fans, “And ‘Karma’ is written from a perspective of feeling, like, really happy, really proud of the way your life is, feeling like this must be a reward for doing stuff right. It’s a song that I really love because I think we all need some of those moments. You know, we can’t just be beating ourselves up all the time.”
“You have to have these moments where you’re like, ‘You know what, karma is my boyfriend and that’s it.’”
Collectively, “Karma” is Swift taking inventory of all of the things karma is to her–a boyfriend, a god, breeze in her hair, a relaxing thought, a cat that loves her and something that she vibes with. Based on the controversies that Swift has faced with the public embarrassment she took from a famous rapper at a very young age, fans can infer that “Karma” has a similar motive to songs like “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” in which she laughs in the face of her doubters. “Karma,” the newest track on Swift’s fantasies about revenge, is an upbeat, comfortable tune in which the artist seems happy, content and unperturbed from the thought that she can get back at everyone who has wronged her.
Track 12, “Sweet Nothing,” begins with cute, gentle piano notes and the sweet lyrics, I spy with my little tired eye / Tiny as a firefly, a pebble / That we picked up last July / Down deep inside your pocket / We almost forgot it / Does it ever miss Wicklow sometimes? The song elicits the domestic tranquility that seems new to Swift with her recent, stable relationship with partner Joe Alwyn. In fact, the line about Wicklow is a reference to an Irish seaside town that Alwyn filmed a scene for his recent series titled “Conversations With Friends.” “Sweet Nothing” creates the image of the safe home that the two of them have created together, warm and kinder than the outside world. She says, They said the end is coming / Everyone’s up to something / I found myself a-running home to your sweet nothings / Outside they’re push and shoving / You’re in the kitchen hummin’ / All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothing. Swift seems to be able to ignore the happenings of the outside world with her lover, who she feels safe around, and as if he expects nothing from her, which must be a relief for someone who is always in the spotlight, let alone who expects so much from herself.
“Mastermind” is the 13th track, the end to the original line-up of music. In the track, the lyrics beg Swift’s lover to tell her what he would say if she told him that she planned their love. She begins the track with a celestial tune and lyrics, forcing listeners to think about the vast idea of soulmates, and fate. She contradicts this by admitting that she stacked the deck of destiny. What if I told you none of it was accidental? / And the first night that you saw me / I knew I wanted your body / I laid the groundwork, and then / Just like clockwork / The dominoes cascaded in a line / What if I told you I’m a mastermind? / And now you’re mine / It was all my design / ‘Cause I’m a mastermind. As the song progresses, Swift explains that people were uninterested in playing with her as a kid, and that led her to trick people into loving her, but only because she cares and needs and wants to be loved and give love in return. She excuses the thought of manipulation with themes of women being pawns in their partner’s games and needing to do it this way out of necessity, as well as countermoves, equations and assessing odds. Checkmate, she tells her lover, with a proud tone, I couldn’t lose.
The Great War
To kick off the seven additional tracks, Swift chose “The Great War.” It seemed important to Swift that she chose a beautiful and haunting first lyric, and she did not disappoint, beginning with My knuckles were bruised like violets. This lyric seems to parallel a lyric from “exile” off of “folklore,” sung with Swift’s friend Bon Iver, who just happens to also have a stunning voice that compliments her own tone, a better pairing than wine and cheese. Iver says, I can see you starin’, honey / Like he’s just your understudy / Like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me. The rest of “The Great War” creates equidistance between love and war, and how they are not opposites to Swift, but rather one in the same. As soon as Swift begins to sing, the listener can hear the exhaustion in her voice, being drained from fighting for a broken love. By the second verse of the song, Swift’s lover is ready to surrender, but she is stubborn. You drew up some good faith treaties / I drew curtains closed, drank my poison all alone / You said I have to trust more freely / But diesel is desire, you were playing with fire. However, by the bridge, she is waving her own white flag. She sees her partner as a soldier, broken and blue, and called off her troops. In the third verse, Swift and her lover experience peace and love after both surviving the war, whether she and her beloved fought against or beside each other or both is left unsaid. After the great war, Swift shares that she was afraid that she had lost her lover, and promises that she will always be theirs.
Bigger Than The Whole Sky
“Bigger Than The Whole Sky” was a breathtaking and poignant choice for track 15. With its placement on the album, “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” suggests the ending and the aftermath of her great war with her lover, in which both of them are leaving the battlefield bruised and bloodied, loveless. In the track, Swift says farewell to a person she wanted to love but that never was. She tells the person that she will never forget them and says that she has a lot to think about, for an unnamed reason beyond the expanse of the song. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye / You were bigger than the whole sky / You were more than just a short time / And I’ve got a lot to pine about / I’ve got a lot to live without / I’m never gonna meet / What could’ve been, would’ve been / What should’ve been you. However, many fans believe that Swift could have been writing about the loss of something else, another, familial relationship, similar to the themes to “Soon You’ll Get Better.” The track may concern a love that Swift had felt for a very short period of time before the one she loved was lost, and the idea of dealing with the amount of pain caused from the loss, while knowing that it only lasted a short time.
While Swift seems to never run out of things to say about the Big Apple, she has yet to take us to the City of Lights until track 16 of this album. Even though most of the tracks on the albums have cryptic double meanings, it just takes one listen to the song to know that it outlines a time when Swift was deeply, deeply in love. She uses a similar lyric to the meaning of “Mastermind”–I wanna brainwash you into loving me forever. This sort of need to control others into loving her, all while making it seem natural, seems to stem from insecurity, that can only be lessened when she is in this deep of love with someone she genuinely loves and understands. Another fan-favorite lyric from this song is Cheap wine, make believe it’s champagne. While the immediate reaction is to see a parallel to “Paper Rings,” in which Swift explains that even though she appreciates expensive items, she would be more than willing to marry her lover with paper rings. Lyrics like these express the amount of love Swift feels for her partner, beyond the lines of money and materialistic things, she is in love.
The third lyric of this track with themes of cheating is of counting and keeping score in a relationship, a subject matter that she has discussed in two previous eras: “reputation” and “evermore.” In “So It Goes…,” Swift sings, You did a number on me / But, honestly, baby, who’s counting? / Who’s counting? (One, two, three). And later, in 2020, she released “long story short,” including the words, No more keeping score / Now I just keep you warm. Fans were also hungry to decipher the meaning behind her date-dropping of April 29th in the song’s refrain. The truth is, fans have found two meanings: April 29th of 2016 was three days before that year’s Met Gala, where Swift was seen dancing with a person who she was not publicly in a relationship with yet, but who she was shortly thereafter. The issue with this was that Swift had a current public relationship at that time, who was not the same person she was seen dancing with. Fans have speculated that April 29th 2016 was the date of her breakup with that previous lover, however, they have not found any evidence that this was due to infidelity, which doesn’t support the theme of the song. Another theory is that the night of April 28th of the same year was most likely when Swift met Joe Alwyn, her current partner, at Gigi Hadid’s 21st birthday party, a mutual friend of theirs. Though the party did start the night before, it’s likely that the celebration lasted until the early hours of the next morning–the morning of April 29th, 2016. This theory is supported by the lyrics of “Dress” from “reputation,” Flashback when you met me, your buzzcut and my hair bleached / Even in my worst times, you could see the best in me. On the contrary, this hypothesis by itself may not fit the theme of “High Infidelity” either, but when fans took bits of each of them, they created the most plausible story behind the song.
Track 18 of “Midnights” highlights a sticky, vinyl sound in the back track that complements the low voice and sultry tones featured in the track. Based on the lyrics, fans have decided that “Glitch” is about a love that wasn’t supposed to happen, a sort of “Glitch in the matrix” that has become a joke since “The Matrix,” a movie released in 1999. The second verse is arguably the most packed with metaphors. To begin, Swift sings, I was supposed to sweat you out, referring to a saying many people say to help get over a fever, however, the method is not actually effective, and will not cure a fever. The next lyric says, In search of glorious happenings of happenstance on someone else’s playground. This lyric reminded fans of “Better Than Revenge” on Swift’s 2010 album, “Speak Now.” She says, Soon, she’s gonna find stealing other people’s toys / On the playground won’t make you many friends, suggesting the other person in the relationship is childlike or finds her immature, and that Swift is tired of feeling like she is in a relationship with a person with the emotional intelligence and maturity of a child, rather than a fellow grown adult. The last part of the verse solidifies who the track is about when Swift sings, But it’s been two-thousand one-hundred ninety days of our love blackout. 2,190 days is equivalent to six years, the length of Swift and Joe’s relationship. This buttresses the idea, along with the entirety of “Snow On The Beach” that Swift feels like there has been a glitch in the universe that caused her to meet her lover and fall deeply, madly, in love and that she blacked out when she realized that their love was real.
Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve
If you would’ve blinked, then I would’ve / Looked away at the first glance / If you tasted poison, you could’ve / Spit me out at the first chance / And if I was some paint, did it splatter / On a promising grown man? / And if I was a child, did it matter / If you got to wash your hands? In this song, Swift describes the feeling of being young and in love, feeling as if her emotions are too messy and that she is burdening her partner, while also feeling like your youth is slipping away within the grasp of your partner. Swift’s lyrics in the past have reflected these same feelings and thought patterns, such as the feeling of being looked down upon by a significant other in other songs and eras, like the heart-shattering lyrics from “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Swift’s Version) (From The Vault).” In the track, similar to “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve,” Swift explains to listeners the doomed fate when a partner treats her as someone less than themselves, and the power imbalance and gaslighting that comes as a result of that.
Swift ends the 3am Edition by talking to her fans and to her younger self. This track is reminiscent of the poem associated with her “reputation” era, “If You’re Anything Like Me,” in which Swift gives advice to people like herself. An ode to advice columns, the song feels like Swift is listing things she wished she would’ve known when she was younger. Fans have been trying to decode the meaning behind the beeping of life support in the back track of the song. It seems that Swift is trying to hint that some aspect of the lyrics are more serious than listeners may think. During the bridge of the song, Swift paints an image of So I wander through these nights / I prefer hiding in plain sight / My fourth drink in my hand / These desperate prayers of a cursed man / Spilling out to you for free / But darling, darling, please / You wouldn’t take my word for it if you knew who was talking / If you knew where I was walking / To a house, not a home, all alone ’cause nobody’s there. These suggest that Swift feels like she doesn’t have the grounds to give advice to others because she can’t get ahold of herself, let alone help others find their way. Other fans have theorized that Swift is communicating that she constantly feels like the “agony aunt” in this stage of her life, always giving advice when there’s no one listening.
“Hits Different” was a gift from Swift to the fans that bought the exclusive version of “Midnights.” While there is still a lack of what is known about the meaning of the song, we know that it is a seemingly sad song with a happy melody in which she talks about the sadness of needing to leave a love while wanting to stay, and what Swift’s friends tell her to try and make her feel better, but she ignores them because love hits differently when it’s this lover. She says, Oh my, love is a lie / [____] my friends say to get me by / It hits different, it hits different this time / Catastrophic blues / Moving on was always easy for me to do /It hits different, it hits different ’cause it’s you. The lyrics suggest that Swift usually finds leaving a lover simple, but this one has challenged her ease, and therefore, even her friends cannot pull her out of her thought patterns long enough to convince her to leave.
Swift has never failed to present gutting, poetic masterpieces and “Midnights,” the brilliant singer’s latest studio album, is no exception. As she said on an Instagram story, “This is a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams.” Taylor Swift has truly done it again: gifted the world with another collection of the ingenious lyrics in her mind, set to dreamy, heartbreaking and up-beat melodies, and laced with breathtakingly beautiful misery.