Taylor Swift’s Midnights speaks to the souls still sleepless with the past

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 12: Taylor Swift attends the "All Too Well" New York Premiere on November 12, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 12: Taylor Swift attends the "All Too Well" New York Premiere on November 12, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images) /

After listening to Midnights — an already record-breaking album from Taylor Swift, who may have done this whole songwriting and performing thing once or twice before — you may immediately feel inclined to compare it to albums and songs of Swiftdom past.

There are much more interesting ways to reflect on new music from the person who has brought us, as artists do, a fair share of hits and misses over the years. Which is hard to do, I know, considering so much of Midnights relies on acknowledging what has come before — though maybe not in the way you expected.

The era of Swift we have entered accomplishes two things simultaneously: The artist calling out herself, but also calling out the listener. You. The deeper you submerge yourself in this music the more you ultimately begin to think about who you left behind, who you’ve been thinking about. Your regrets. Your secret wishes for revenge.

Isn’t the point of absorbing a story — a song, a poem, any form at all — to find and extract the elements that speak to you personally?

(Not that it isn’t fun for a certain segment of Swifties to speculate about the significance of every other word, you know who you are.)

I’ve said before that Swift’s music has this particular way of speaking to me in moments I need my own thoughts mirrored back to me, and Midnights is no exception. In its sound, it’s quite unlike most of what Swift has released before — but in its words, it’s the level of depth and honesty we’ve come to expect from her, though perhaps a notch or two up in its intensity.

And it’s that unapologetic vulnerability that makes it relatable.

The lyrics say a lot of things, yet so pointedly point at someone like me specifically to say, “Hi, you’re not broken because you think about your past, what could have been but never was, everyone does it, embrace it.”

Because even though most of us will never write songs about the dumb choices we made when we were younger or the people who hurt us or the people we hurt more (and also, the selves we wounded along the way), Swift’s words are universal whether you want to admit it or not.

Perhaps the sound won’t vibe with you, maybe you’re tired of hearing her lyrics through the lens of the famous and rich, but it’s possible you’re also forgetting that these songs were written by a real person who has felt real pain just like you have.

The difference between you and her, us and them, is that one party doesn’t have millions of eyes on their emotions and the other always will.

If Midnights is an ode to the things that never were, used to be, aren’t anymore, or are different now, then what we must take away from the album itself and the additional tracks released to accompany it isn’t that the past is bad, but instead that our futures depend on reflection.

Whether that soul-searching happens at noon or at midnight, it is the key to unlocking who we might become.

Who we were is nothing but a step toward growing into who we want to be. Not overnight, but over a lifetime.

When you listen to this album, think about what was, if only to better understand where you are.

Then decide what’s next, and pursue it.