On the evening of October 20, I was in a convention center hall behind a table working the penultimate college fair of my travel season. As I talked to eager parents and indifferent teenagers about college and what my institution could offer them, the constant thought kept echoing in my mind: “How on earth am I supposed to concentrate on anything right now, knowing that Taylor Swift will release a new album in just a few short hours?” But alas, I trudged through the conversations and made it to the end of the fair. The hall began to clear out. Tables started to get packed up. Suitcases opening, closing, zipping up, and rolling out of the convention center, mine included. 7:30pm. My hotel was just fifteen minutes away. Once at my hotel, I showered, laid out my clothes for the next morning, and packed the remainder of my belongings so that my exit from the hotel the next morning would be a seamless one. I checked the time: 8:55pm – just five minutes away from the most anticipated album of the year. I grabbed my noise-cancelling headphones, turned off the lights, and got into bed. I impatiently scrolled through TikToks to pass the remaining handful of minutes until – 9:00pm: I eagerly opened Spotify to find “Midnights” waiting for me at the top of Taylor’s Spotify profile. I pressed play and began to listen.
9:45pm. The final notes of the last track of the album, “Mastermind,” faded. I lay in bed, unable to believe that new Taylor Swift material finally finally made its way into the ether, and was now in the hands of fans. Upon my first listen-through of the album, I was flooded by one central emotion: relief. Relief not just that the album was out, but ultimately relief that it was good. Really, really good. I will admit I had my own reservations about any new material that Taylor would release. I was scared that she may have peaked with Folklore and Evermore – two of her best albums to date, not just sonically, but lyrically and creatively.
It’s not lost on me that a lot of her allure the past several years revolved around her public relationships and feuds, and her consequent ability to write such biting lyrics about those who wronged her. Now that she’s been in a stable and happy relationship for over half of a decade, and that any drama she was publicly going through was far more deep and far less petty than what she had previously gone through, I wondered how long she could ride the wave of fictional storytelling she took on with her Folklore and Evermore albums. The last taste that we got of those grating but all-too-relatable lyrics paired with highly catchy melodies and bright and poppy instrumentation came in the form of Lover, which unfortunately, at least to me, fell flat.
When Taylor announced the conceit of the album being thirteen sleepless nights over the course of her life, I knew that this album had to either be really really good or really really bad. Thankfully, it leaned heavily into the really really good end of the spectrum. What I appreciate most about Midnights is the fact that it is perhaps her most cohesive album to date. From the lyrics to the concept to the overall sound, one word that comes to mind to describe it is dreamy. It successfully captures a wide range of emotions you feel when you’re up late at night, whether due to being so profoundly in love or consumed with fiery hot anger. Songs that perfectly capture these feelings are Snow on the Beach, a song that describes that moment when you and the person you love fall in love at the exact same time; Anti-Hero, a song whose distressed lyrics are perfectly mirrored by its frenetic instrumentation; Vigilante Shit, a song that perfectly captures what it’s like to be taken over by the desire to exact revenge on your greatest enemy; Sweet Nothing, a song that juxtaposes the chaos of the outside world with the peace that comes with being with the one person in your life who makes you feel safe; You’re on Your Own, Kid, one of the only songs that serves as a full retrospective of Taylor’s life, from the innocent and naive beginnings of high school love and loss to feeling like your life has taken on an unmanageable size.
At 10:00pm, I checked social media to find a surprise announcement from Taylor – in just a few hours, she would release seven additional bonus tracks, the “3am tracks,” to give fans the full picture of the entire narrative of the Midnights album. I had to be up early the following morning for a flight back to Salt Lake City, and there was no way that I could stay up any longer to catch the release of these songs, especially after just going through the rollercoaster of emotions I just endured. I’ll just listen to them at the airport tomorrow while waiting for my flight, I thought to myself. Big mistake.
The next morning, after grabbing a coffee from a nearby kiosk at the airport terminal, I once again put in my earphones and began listening to the additional tracks. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t as impressed with the new tracks as I was with the standard edition tracks. After my first listen, I felt like Taylor definitely picked the right songs to go on the main album. At first, I was greeted with generic melodies and lyrics. I urged myself to give these songs the same attention I gave to the previous thirteen and through gritted teeth, I simply just waited for the additional songs to finish. And then I reached the final two tracks: Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve and Dear Reader. As I listened to these final two songs, I caught myself clutching my iced coffee so close to my chest with no doubt a look of distress on my face. Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve details the intense regret that you have about a past relationship. Dear Reader, written in the same style as an advice columnist of a newspaper, is one long epitaph of past regrets, mistakes, and missteps, urging the reader (or listener) to stop from making the same ones that she made.
As I’ve had Midnights (both the standard edition and the bonus tracks) on a constant rotation over the past month and a half, I’ve grown to appreciate the album more and more with each listen, bonus tracks included. To round out this already far too comprehensive review, here are my favorite, albeit some heart-wrenching, lyrics from each of the songs:
Lavender Haze: “You don’t ever say too much. You don’t really read into my melancholia.”
Maroon: “The burgundy on my t-shirt when you splashed your wine into me, and how the blood rushed into my cheeks, so scarlet it was maroon.”
Anti-Hero: “When my depression works the graveyard shift, all of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room.”
Snow on the Beach: “Flying in a dream, stars by the pocketful. You wanting me tonight feels impossible. But it’s coming down, no sound, it’s all around, like snow on the beach.”
You’re on Your Own, Kid: “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. You’re on your own, kid. Yeah, you can face this.”
Midnight Rain: “My town was a wasteland, full of cages, full of fences, pageant queens, and big pretenders. But for some it was paradise.”
Question…?: “I don’t remember who I was before you painted all my nights a color I’ve searched for since.”
Vigilante Shit: “You did some bad things, but I’m the worst of them.”
Bejeweled: “Didn’t notice you walking all over my peace of mind in the shoes I gave you as a present.”
Labyrinth: “Breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out. I’ll be getting over you my whole life.”
Karma: “You’re terrified to look down because if you dare, you’ll see the glare of everyone you burned just to get there.”
Sweet Nothing: “The voices that implore ‘you should be doing more,’ to you I can admit that I’m just too soft for all of it.”
Mastermind: “No one wanted to play with me as a little kid, so I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since to make them love me and make it seem effortless. This is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess. I swear I’m only cryptic and machiavellian because I care.”
The Great War: “Maybe it’s the past that’s talking, screaming from the crypt, telling me to punish you for things you never did.”
Bigger Than The Whole Sky: “Salt streams out my eyes and into my ears. Every single thing I touch becomes sick with sadness.”
Paris: “Privacy sign on the door and on my page and on the whole world. Romance is not dead if you keep it just yours.”
High Infidelity: “There’s many different ways that you can kill the one you love. The slowest way is never loving them enough.”
Glitch: “I think there’s been a glitch. Five seconds later, I’m fastening myself to you with a stitch,”
Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve: “Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts. Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first.”
Dear Reader: “My fourth drink in my hand, these desperate prayers of a cursed man spilling out to you for free…no one sees when you lose when you’re playing solitaire.”