“Midnights”: A Music Review

By Kayleigh Cook

 Taylor Swift recently released her tenth studio album, Midnights, on October 21. She announced the album on August 28 during her acceptance speech for “Video of the Year” at the 2022 VMAS. These songs have exceeded the expectations of most and they even took up the top 13 spots on the Billboard Hot 100. Behind each masterpiece of a song, there is a genius set of lyrics revolving around different sleepless nights throughout the songwriter’s life. Many people have attempted to decode the song’s cryptic lyrics and figure out the bigger meaning behind them. In this article, I will share with you my interpretation of each song.

The first track “Lavender Haze” is a perfect introduction and sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s an upbeat, electro-hip-hop-inflected electro-pop song that Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone describes as a 1990s R&B track and Chris Willman from Variety called an “emo-erotic” song that leans towards modern R&B. Lavender haze was a term coined in the 1950s that Swift picked up from the show Mad Men and it referred to the feeling of being in love. The song describes the magnetic field of love her current boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, pulled her into and how it makes her lose interest in the rumors the tabloids spread. This song is the personal favorite of former seventh-grade teacher Ms. Sariyan!

The second song is a poetic portrayal of a love story that’s reminiscent of previous songs like ‘Clean” and “Red” called “Maroon”. “Maroon” describes a failing romance that was once a whirlwind through different shades of red. Swift names complex colors like burgundy, wine, blood, scarlet, rust, and, of course, maroon to paint the image. However, during all three minutes and forty-three seconds of this song, she never says it was red. This move did not go unnoticed by listeners, and many speculated it was her way of saying that love is not always as simple as red. It’s still that, but it’s more specific and poetic than just red. This also plays into the ongoing color theory throughout her songs. For example “Daylight” from Lover, where all her previous relationships are “burning red” because that’s what love was. But with Alwyn, it’s “Golden like daylight.” 

“Anti-Hero” is a song about taking responsibility—or, really not taking any. With lines like “I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror,” it touches on how people, especially those who seem to crave more and more from pop stars, often look outwardly but rarely internally at themselves. Personal development, Swift seems to say, is as important (if not more so) than examining the lives and careers of others. The “Anti-Hero” music video, which was written and directed by the singer, is meant to portray Swift’s “nightmare scenarios and intrusive thoughts,” according to her Instagram. This track is a favorite for eighth grader Addie!

The fourth song is actually a collaboration between Swift and Lana Del Rey, another singer-songwriter who is also adored by the majority of Gen-Z (anyone born between 1997 and 2012), titled “Snow on the Beach”. Swift uses the term snow on the beach to describe the surreal feeling you get when you realize someone you like likes you back. Ahead of the album’s release, she put a video out on her Instagram detailing the idea behind snow on the beach. In the video, she said, “The song is about falling in love with someone at the same time as they’re falling in love with you, in this sort of in this cataclysmic, faded moment where you realize someone feels exactly the same way that you feel, at the same moment.”  With Lana Del Rey’s vocals and Swift’s poetic lyrical choices, this angelic track is unsurprisingly favored by many, including eighth-grader Michelle Juarez Sanchez! 

“You’re On Your Own Kid” is the next track and keeps the streak she’s held since “Lover” of the fifth track tugging on your heart the most. Throughout the verses, she sings about a younger version of herself who longs to be loved. However, as she matures and as the song comes to an end, she realizes she’s suddenly all on her own. The song itself is an emotional rollercoaster, but the bridge is truly heartbreaking and is the most talked-about part of the song. It starts the same as the pre-chorus but breaks off into a personal lament about how everything she’s worked so hard for has been taken away, but now that she’s learned, no one can take her music from her again. After that, she spends the rest of the song telling the listeners to, “Make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste, you’ve got no reason to be afraid” and letting them know that they can face this.

The next song, “Midnight Rain”, is about two opposites, midnight rain and sunshine. Each wants different things out of their relationship and has different expectations. Her ex-boyfriend (sunshine) grew up rich and wanted to marry her so they can both live comfortably. However, Swift (midnight rain) grew up in a “wasteland” that she worked hard to get out of and wants to continue to work hard for herself. With the song exerting a light pop rhythm with a mix of some synth sounds, “Midnight Rain” finds Swift singing about ending a relationship to focus on her career more. She states, “He wanted a bride/ I was making my own name.” It then ends, with their relationship being forgotten, as if it never happened. According to Swift, “I never think of him, except on midnights like this.”

The seventh track is “Question…?”. With its autotuned spoken intro and pop beat, this song is the perfect side B opener. The track opens with an interpolation from “Out of the Woods” from Swift’s 1989 album. Like “Question…?” OOTW is a song looking back on the memories of a now-dead relationship. However, OOTW is more of anxious repetition, and questions giving a false sense of hope, while “Question…?” tells the tale of Swift practically interrogating her former lover to see if their newer romantic experiences compare to the time that they spent together. She is trying to find out if they also feel similarly unable to move on from their relationship. 

“Vigilante Sh*t” was a surprise to the people when it was announced just because of the name. While it’s not the first Swift song to curse in the lyrics – in fact most songs on this album have one or two in the chorus, so I’d suggest listening to the clean version – it is the first one ever to have a swear in the title. This song tells the tale of a woman seeking revenge against a man who wronged her. She achieves it by getting even rather than being upset. She then helps the wife of that man successfully divorce him and reports him to the authorities. The themes of this song heavily parallel Swift’s 2020’s track “no body, no crime”, which also sees her involved in vigilantism and killing her best friend’s cheating husband (fiction ofc).

When Swift walks into the room with a new pop song, she makes the whole place shimmer, and that is exactly what she did with “Bejeweled.” The song symbolizes her return to pop after two alternative/indie albums. It also describes the narrator’s frustration with her lover, who does not value her as she deserves. In retaliation, she goes out for a night on the town. Despite her lover no longer being enchanted by her, she knows darn well that she can dazzle any room that she steps into. When talking about the song, Swift said, “The song ‘Bejeweled’ is a song that I think it’s really about finding confidence when you feel that it’s been taken away, for whatever reason. You know, you’re feeling insecure, you’re feeling taken for granted… One of the things we love to do at night, cause we love to go dancing, we love to put on an outfit that makes us feel good, and we love to feel like we’re still bejeweled.”

Welcome to “Labyrinth”, except there aren’t any puppets or rockstars down here, just the hard path to accepting you are in love. This song is one of the sadder ones on this mainly pop album. In “Labyrinth”, Swift finds herself falling in love, hard, for someone not long after a traumatic event. Initially convinced that she will never recover from her pain, she marvels at how she finds comfort in a new person. All the songs are personal, but this song hits you with all the emotions and layers from the get-go. Specifically in the chorus. “Uh-oh, I’m falling in love. Oh no, I’m falling in love again. Oh, I’m falling in love.” Isn’t it cool that just adding one or two syllables changes the whole meaning of the phrase? The first three sentences took us through all the stages of falling in love from fear to acceptance using only about seven words. The next part of the chorus, “I thought the plane was going down, how’d you turn it right around?” Her rapid emotional turnaround—from “goin’ down” to back “right around”—is a frightening yet exhilarating freefall.

Karma is something Swift has had on the back burner for 6 years! That’s longer than some of the first graders have been alive! It was intended to be released during the Autumn of 2016 through Big Machine Records as her sixth studio album, however, it was scrapped, because she went into hiding due to the media. She then instead released reputation on November 10th, 2017. Since then, she has been teasing it through music videos, this part of The Man MV, and lyrics, “The world moves on, another day another drama, drama. But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma.” (From “Look What You Made Me Do” on reputation). For those who don’t know, karma in Sanskrit means an action, work, or deed, and its effect or consequences. So whatever you put into the world eventually comes back to you. In this song, Swift confronts people from her past, warning them about the consequences of their actions. Considering the way they acted towards her previously, Swift is relieved that karma will do her justice and may not be so kind with them. The combo of drums, guitar, and synth allows Swift to list all the ways fate will be in her favor when it comes back around. 

I spy with my little tired eye the next song on Midnights. “Sweet Nothing” is a slow, soft love song that seems to reflect the concept of soft words exchanged between lovers that are often called “sweet nothings”. Swift’s poetic lyrics describe her gratitude towards her current lover, Joe Alwyn, for only being kind to her and expecting nothing of her, unlike the rest of the world. The song is so beautiful and personal to Swift, it was shocking for me when I saw she had an accomplice. This second writer was no other than William Bowery, Joe Alwyn’s pseudonym. This isn’t the first time Bowery has made an appearance in Swift’s music. Since they started dating, he has co-written six songs: “Betty” and “exile” from folklore, “champagne problems,” “coney island” (featuring The National), and the title track “evermore,” featuring Bon Iver on evermore, and this song. Their relationship is so soft, and this song portrays that perfectly. Midnights ends on its thirteenth (Swift’s lucky number!) track, “Mastermind”. “Mastermind” was the first song Swift announced in “Midnight’s Mayhem With Me” and is my personal favorite. In the song, Swift sings about how she thinks she and Joe are made for each other and that she knew from the moment they met. She then explains that she didn’t want to let him slip past so she “masterminded” a plan that would ensure she had the checkmate. “I couldn’t lose”. The song flows through her mind as she schemes and explains that she’s had to do this since she was little because she felt it was the only way to get people to love her. In the last chorus of the song, she confesses to Alwyn about her plan and how ‘none of it was accidental’. In response, he simply smirked which let Swift know that he knew about her plan the entire time.


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