Taylor Swift never learns and never forgets. On Midnights, we find the 32-year-old on her second bottle of red wine, ruminating on betrayals big and small until she falls asleep on the couch.
The album is a galaxy of regrets and shortcomings. The only points of light are distant stars—bright, but difficult to see except on clear nights. Love unexpectedly and improbably falls over two people in “Snow on the Beach.” In “Sweet Nothing,” a track Swift is rumored to have cowritten with her boyfriend of six years, actor Joe Alwyn, she writes movingly of love as a retreat from the demands and disappointments of the outside world. And “Bejeweled” is a playful reminder that Swift can go dancing and “make the whole place shimmer” if she feels like it. But at the stroke of midnight, she turns back into a pumpkin. On “Anti-Hero,” she admits, “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby. And I’m a monster on the hill.”
Listening to this album made me think a lot about a TikTok made by creator Jessica McLane, who (reportedly, and briefly) went to high school with Swift. “Something you need to know about Hendersonville High School, when she first started becoming super successful, is that most people hated her,” McLane claims. Swift would eventually switch to homeschooling as the success of her first hit song, “Tim McGraw,” carried her career to new heights. But a few years later, McLane says, she invited the entire senior class to the 2009 CMAs, where she opened the show with a live performance and took home nearly all of the top honors. “Y’all, she invited us to the CMAs to say fuck you,” McLane concludes. “And we deserved it.”
There’s a line in “You’re On Your Own, Kid” where Swift likens herself to the iconic horror protagonist Carrie: a teenage girl with supernatural powers standing “in a blood-soaked gown,” the butt of a cruel joke planned by her peers. The gift of telekinesis renders Carrie a social leper and liability despite her best attempts to be good and fit in. “I hosted parties and starved my body like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss,” Swift recalls. But in that blood-covered moment of utter humiliation, Carrie transforms from victim to villain, channeling her pain into a poetic act of revenge and self-annihilation.
The same could be said of Swift’s songwriting: an otherworldly talent that can be used to close old wounds or reopen them just to drive the knife a little deeper. On “Vigilante Shit” and “Karma,” she lashes out—seemingly at nemeses Scooter Braun, Scott Borchetta, Kanye West, and Karlie Kloss—with razor-sharp lyricism reminiscent of Reputation. (“Draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man” is bound to become TikTok’s favorite audio in the coming weeks, mark my words.) “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” appears to pick up where “Dear John” left off on Speak Now. “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first,” she demands of a “promising grown man” she dated when she was only “a child.” Memorably, singer John Mayer dated Swift when she was 19 and he was 32.