Taylor Swift Is Dragging Up All Our Trauma in Midnights
Taylor Swift has done it again. Her 10th album, “Midnights,” has captured how the entire internet is feeling: depressed. But also so much more than that, she’s given permission to trade self-love for self-hate. And honestly, it’s fantastic.
Swift personally introduced her album on Spotify on Oct. 21 with the inside scoop: “The first thing that kept me up at night that helped inspire the ‘Midnights’ album is self-loathing.” Iconic. I mean, aren’t we all tired of feeling like we have to love ourselves constantly? If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that toxic positivity is out. Sometimes I wake up, and I’m not ready to love myself. And sticky notes with “You’ve got this” on my mirror aren’t going to cut it.
Besides self-loathing, Swift says her other reasons for insomnia include fantasizing about revenge, wondering what might’ve been, falling in love, and falling apart. Of course, a Taylor Swift album wouldn’t be complete without songs about revenge and love, and “Midnights” has plenty of them to ruminate over. But where I feel that this album stands out is in its descriptions of the muddier side of humanity — not necessarily true darkness but rather the messy, dirty, raw, human stuff that we all go through but don’t always talk about. Swift’s not just talking about it; she’s inviting us all to revel in it.
As I type this story at a NYC coffee shop, listening to the new album over the speakers (being a basic b*tch, per usual), the barista says the songs remind them of being on “demon time.” Elaborate, please? “You know, when you’re drinking, it’s late, and you’re like ‘f*ck it’ and decide there’s no such thing as mistakes — that’s demon time.” The description is spot on. And to me, “Maroon” is the epitome of demon time: “How’d we end up on the floor, anyway? / You say, ‘Your roommate’s cheap-ass screw-top rosé, / that’s how.'” The lyrics are filled with messy romances, delicious mistakes, and inviting in the worst version of yourself to offer their opinion.
So how would we describe this album? One Twitter user says, “Midnights has the unwavering boppiness of 1989, the depth of folklore and evermore, the heart of Lover, and the middle finger of reputation.” Sure, if you want to get technical about it. But also: “Midnights” is a mental health anthem. As another tweets, “the fun thing about listening to a new taylor swift album with your friends is seeing all the different trauma responses.”
This album is for the “goodie-goods” who grew up listening to “Our Song” and “Fifteen” and 15 years later are on Zoloft, bisexual, and knee-deep in trauma therapy. OK, I might just be describing myself. But Swift, too, has been actively trying to break out of the “good girl” image for years now, and with songs like “Mastermind,” her approach is a little more self-aware than it was in her “Reputation” era: “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.”
If this album is an essay on mental illness, the lead single, “Anti-Hero,” is our thesis, in which she calls herself out on narcissistic behavior — the mental health buzzword of 2022. The chorus somehow perfectly encapsulates an experience so many of us have had: both knowing you’re the problem and also refusing to deal with it. “It’s me / Hi / I’m the problem, it’s me.” The self-analysis feels akin to the TikTok self-diagnosis era we’ve found ourselves in lately, and the candor feels refreshing.
I have this thing where I get older, but just never wiser / Midnights become my afternoons / When my depression works the graveyard shift / All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room
The music video for the song seems to touch on Swift’s history with disordered eating, which she’s spoken about before. The song also contains the strangest lyric I’ve ever related to: “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / And I’m a monster on the hill / Too big to hang out.” I had to replay it twice to ensure I heard it right. But “sexy baby” (possibly a “30 Rock” reference) is a great visual for anyone who feels like they’re “aging out” of pop culture, leaving them surrounded by hypersexualized younger people (me in the Lower East Side on a Friday night). It’s also relatable to anyone who sometimes feels like they take up too much space.
In the 10th track, “Labyrinth,” we get a touch of wellness with, “‘It only hurts this much right now’ / Was what I was thinking the whole time / Breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out.” What guided meditation doesn’t take time to remind us that breathing can get us through a lot of heartache? According to lyrics site Genius, Swift teased this lyric in her commencement speech at New York University before the release of “Midnights,” and the transcript of her talk gives some additional context: “Hard things will happen to us, we will recover, we will learn from it, we will grow more resilient because of it, and as long as we are fortunate enough to be breathing, we will breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, and breathe out.”
In true Swift fashion, “Midnights” leads us on a roller coaster of emotions. And while the pop mastermind makes it clear she just wants to “stay in that lavender haze,” she’s also given us permission to fall apart. Because maybe getting your sh*t together is overrated.