I was 22, five months out of college and three months into living in New York City, when Taylor Swift released Red in October 2012. The album rocked me through my favorite moments of my early twenties, as well as my absolute worst, most trash-fire, biggest shit-on-the-bottom-of-your-shoes-that-you’ve-now-tracked-all-over-your-apartment moments. 1989 did the same when I was having one of the best years of my life at 25. Reputation came out when I was 27 and on the verge of blowing it all up. Taylor Swift was there when I had my heart broken at 17. I met my current boyfriend the night after Lover came out.
Before it was “cool” to be a fan, people always asked why I loved her. The list is long, but my simplest explanation was: We’re three weeks apart in age, so I feel like we grew up together, and somehow, her albums always match whatever phase of life I’m going through at the time. Now we’re both about to turn 33, and Swift is one of the richest musicians and most famous women in the world, while I am…not. I expected to enjoy Midnights, but I thought there was no way it could deliver the same emotional, fuck-me-up punch that’s connected me to Swift’s music since I was a teenager.
Somehow, it did.
Swift is just a master lyricist and dazzling storyteller. The fact is likely less that we’re in similar life cycles than it is that she’s just so goddamn good at her job of making something universal feel so personal. But the way I started crying when track five, “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” started playing, I might as well have been the 17-year-old crying in my car, screaming the lyrics to the wistful, longing “Stay Beautiful.” The fabled fifth track is a cinematic, coming-of-age tale about a broken heart launching you towards your dreams, which end up also breaking your heart until you learn that you’re all you’ve needed all along—and it lives up to its equally vulnerable, emotional track five predecessors. I don’t know of a better bar to measure the success of a new album than by how fast it made you fucking cry. “I hosted parties and starved my body like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss,” she sings. I’m crying writing this right now.
Similarly, her lyrics about self-loathing (the sentiment that she says inspired the whole album), rejecting the idea that you have to get married (“All they keep asking me is if I’m going to be your bride”), and the general shittiness of being human (“Life is emotionally abusive”) just…feel…like…everything that’s personally kept me up at night since Lover came out—especially as I stare down the barrel of my mid-30s and as we all emerge from these taxing pandemic years.
Swift once said, “I’ll never change, but I’ll never stay the same either,” and that perfectly explains Midnights. The sound is unlike any of her past albums. Think Melodrama meets The XX meets Lana Del Rey, add some chimes and twinkles and whatever crack Jack Antonoff spins into his production (and I guess, help from Zoë Kravitz), and you mostly have Midnights. But it’s still unmistakably Swift: There’s love, loss, longing, revenge, feminist snark, chasing your dreams, chasing someone, falling for someone, saying fuck you to that someone, realizing you’re better off without that someone, etc., etc. She also mentions a cat, describes the color of a sunset, says “fucking,” alludes to lines of coke, and calls karma her boyfriend. Swift said Midnights is a collection of things that have kept her up throughout her life—so it’s not a coincidence that the album feels like a victory lap and an homage to her entire career thus far.
But I will say, I think the first half of the album is stronger than the second (except for the final track). I hate how she opens the album saying, “Meet me at midnight,” at the beginning of “Lavender Haze”—we get it, Taylor. She also nearly ruins that song with the lyric, “talking talking, go viral,” the same way she kind of ruined “The Lakes” with “no one around to tweet it.” And I don’t know if there’s a single skip on this album but if I had to pick one, it would probably be “Vigilante Shit.” With that said, if someone offered me $10 million to never listen to Midnights again, I would say thank you but I’ll keep trying my luck at the lottery.
The album ends with “Mastermind,” and apart from potentially singlehandedly destroying the astrology industry, Taylor seems to finally own everything she’s done to get herself to this point. The song, maybe my second favorite track of the album, is a love song that also feels like a direct fuck you to anyone who ever called her conniving or calculated—but also a thank you and a wink to the fans that have stood by her through it all. (You’re welcome, Taylor<3333)
Everything aside, Midnights felt like Swift standing right next to me saying, “I get it. I see you. Let’s go drink.” What more could you ask of someone who’s been the soundtrack to your life?