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Let’s Break Down the Easter Eggs and Influences of Taylor Swift’s Midnights

9 minute read

When Taylor Swift announced the release of her highly anticipated tenth album, Midnights, in August, she called it the story of “13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” The songs, written during those wee hours in the night when Swift should have been asleep, resulted in a collection that she says is “a journey through terrors and sweet dreams.” For the past month, she has hinted that her latest record—her fourth in as many years—would be her most self-reflective. Midnights, she promised, would delve deep into her insecurities, guilt, shame, and revenge fantasies, the kinds of things that would keep anyone up way past their bedtime. Unlike most of us though, Swift turned those scary hours into something rather beautiful—and a little chaotic.

Shortly before her new album dropped at midnight, Swift revealed that Midnights is actually a visual album. She reteamed with “All Too Well: The Short Film” cinematographer Rina Yang for “music movies” that feature Laura Dern, HAIM, Search Party’s John Early, comedian Mike Birbiglia, and burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and are meant to help fans explore “the world of this record.” Three hours after her new album’s midnight release, she surprised fans again by announcing that she was going to release even more music. “I think of Midnights as a complete concept album, with those 13 songs forming a full picture of the intensities of that mystifying, mad hour. However!” she wrote on Instagram. “There were other songs we wrote on our journey to find that magic 13. I’m calling them 3 a.m. tracks.” Thank insomnia for this embarrassment of riches.

For those that need a little help keeping everything straight, here are six takeaways from Swift’s latest album.

Taylor Swift at her most vulnerable

The old Taylor is alive and well on Midnights, which marks her return to first-person storytelling after her back-to-back surprise pandemic albums, Folklore and Evermore, that told the stories of Betty, James, Inez, and Rebekah Harkness. While Swift has never been afraid of getting confessional with her lyrics, she’s more unguarded than ever on Midnights (Hello, track 5 “You’re On Your Own, Kid”). Swift’s foray into bedroom pop offers her most ardent fans a chance to understand who she is when the spotlight dims.

Her Midnights collaborators

The record was produced by Swift’s longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff, who she first worked with in 2013. Last year, Antonoff produced several tracks for Swift’s re-recording of her 2012 album, Red, including the 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” But Midnights marks the first time the pair worked “just the two of us as main collaborators,” Swift wrote on Instagram. Antonoff co-write 11 out of the record’s 13 songs, which is why Swift considers him her “co-pilot on this adventure.”

The most notable cameo on Midnights has to be Lana Del Rey, who is featured (perhaps not enough for some fans) on the heavenly love song (or accidental Christmas song?) “Snow on the Beach,” which she co-wrote with Swift and Antonoff. Swift’s friend and former LOLAWOLF singer Zoë Kravitz also pops up as a co-writer and background singer on album opener “Lavender Haze.” But Kravitz, who is recording a solo album with Antonoff, is not the only Hollywood star to show up on that track. Dylan O’Brien, who starred in “All Too Well: The Short Film,” plays drums on track one. His clapping skills were put to use as well on “Question…?” which also features Antonoff, Antonoff’s sister, Rachel, and Swift’s brother, Austin, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Swifites will be happy to know William Bowery (a.k.a. Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn) earns another credit on this album. After penning songs for Folklore and Evermore, Alwyn, under the now famous pseudonym, co-wrote the sweet piano ditty “Sweet Nothing.”

A chaotic 3 a.m. surprise

As the clock struck 3 a.m. on the east coast, Swift released seven additional songs that didn’t make the cut for Midnights, but were just too good to lock away in the vault. Midnights (3am Edition) includes three songs co-written by her Folklore and Evermore collaborator Aaron Dessner: “The Great War,” “High Infidelity,” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” all of which have a more melancholy feel than anything on Midnights proper.

The expanded edition of Midnights also features outtakes of her recording sessions with Antonoff including the Mazzy Star-soundalike “Bigger Than the Whole Sky,” the synth-heavy “Paris,” the slinky “Glitch,” and electropop closer “Dear Reader.”

The most Swiftian lyrics

Whether she’s singing about Karma cats (“Karma”) or her Machiavellian ways (“Mastermind”), Swift sure knows how to turn a phrase. Some of her most repeatable (and memeable) lines pop up on “Anti-Hero,” which she called one of her favorite songs that she’s ever written. The track delves into her deepest insecurities. “It’s me, hi I’m the problem, it’s me,” she sings on the chorus, before admitting, “I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror.” The best line might be the (probably) Liz Lemon-inspired: “Sometimes, I feel like everybody is a sexy baby/ And I’m a monster on the hill.”

Throughout Midnights, Swift appears to be taking stock of things, talking more openly than ever about her struggles with distorted body image, which she first revealed in the 2020 Miss Americana documentary. “From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes/ I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this/ I hosted parties and starved my body/ Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss,” she sings on “You’re On Your Own, Kid.”

Not all of her best lines on the album are so devastating, but it’s safe to say they’re more explicit. Midnights is Taylor Swift after dark in which she’s unafraid to share her most impure thoughts and drop a few F-bombs. On “Vigilante Sh-t,” she sings, “I don’t dress for women / I don’t dress for men / Lately I’ve been dressing for revenge.”

The Joe Alwyn effect

It wouldn’t sound far-fetched to say that Alwyn was Swift’s Midnights muse. After the album dropped, Swift explained that the album “actually really coalesced and flowed out of [Antonoff and I] when our partners (both actors) did a film together in Panama.” If Alwyn hadn’t filmed the movie Stars at Noon with Antonoff’s fiancée Margaret Qualley, Midnights might have never happened. Someone needs to send director Claire Denis an Edible Arrangement or something.

That time apart made Swift’s heart grow fonder since Midnights is full of unabashed and slightly unhinged love songs. The Mad Men-inspired album opener “Lavender Haze” is about being in the honeymoon phase and doing anything to stay there. Unfortunately, thanks to social media or, in Swift’s case, the paparazzi, it’s hard for anyone to keep their relationship out of the public eye. “We’ve had to dodge weird rumors, tabloid stuff,” she said on Instagram of her six-year relationship with Alwyn. “And we just ignore it.” This song, she explained, is about the “act of ignoring that stuff to protect the real stuff.”

On “Sweet Nothing,” Swift celebrates her bond with Alwyn, who is one of the few people not asking for something from her. “Everyone’s up to something / I found myself running home to your sweet nothings,” she sings. “I’ll take their pushin’, shovin’ / You’re in the kitchen humming / All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothing.” By closer “Mastermind,” she admits that all her scheming brought Alwyn to her, but that he might have been on her plan all along. “I laid the groundwork and then, saw a wild smirk /On your face, you knew the entire time,” she sings. “You knew that I’m a mastermind / And now you’re mine/ Yeah, all you did was smile.” Her power!

Taylor is gonna Taylor

Swift leaves much to the imagination on Midnights, but she also slips in more than a few not-so-veiled references to her previous albums. On “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” she speaks of a high school crush who sounds similar to the boy she’s pining for on Fearless tracks “You Belong With Me” and “Hey Stephen.” Her thirst for revenge on “Karma” shares some similarities with anything on Reputation. While the wine-soaked “Maroon” feels like the coda to Red right down to the color choice. She even samples herself, specifically 1989’s “Out of the Woods,” on “Question…?” (A clue that 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is coming soon?)

Fans have also pointed out that the visual component of Midnights seems to be a walk down memory lane with Swift wearing costumes that are similar to looks she wore in past videos including “Endgame,” “Ready For It,” and “Blank Space.” In the video for “Anti-Hero,” which Swift wrote and directed, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia actress Mary Elizabeth Ellis makes a cameo as Swift’s greedy daughter-in-law, wearing a dress from the 2009 Fearless tour. A fan on Twitter went so far to call this album rollout “The Taylor Swift Multiverse of Madness” for all the callbacks to her earlier work. Swift isn’t the same person who made those albums and Midnights proves how much she’s grown as an artist, but some old habits die hard.

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