An Analysis of Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’ Tracks, Theories, and Inspirations


A new Taylor Swift album isn’t just something to listen to; it’s a piece of work to discuss, analyze, and dissect. With its numerous Easter eggs, it’s ripe for examination, but with relatable, memorable lyrics, it’s also a vehicle for self-reflection. In other words, a new Swift original doesn’t just stay between you and your headphones; it must be pored over with others, posted about in excess, and in some extreme cases, embedded into your entire personality. With the arrival of Midnights, Swift’s 10th studio album, all of this was turned into high gear. The 13 tracks (and seven bonus songs) are all new work written about nights throughout her career, meaning the influences of past eras and even relationships seep through its melodies. It’s a lot to take in.

To help make sense of it all, we partnered with our friends at Cosmopolitan and gathered four Taylor Swift-loving editors to break down the new album in detail: Madison Feller, ELLE.com Senior Writer/Editor; Samuel Maude, ELLE Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief; Emma Baty, Cosmopolitan Entertainment Editor; and Tamara Fuentes, Cosmopolitan Associate Entertainment Editor.

Below, they talk through Midnights best tracks and hidden messages, as well as Swift’s growth as an artist and how she subverts the public’s perception of her, all with a refreshing sense of humor. Listen to the full conversation here.

 

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First Impressions

Emma Baty: I really enjoyed the album. I think it’s a really nice continuation of what she did with Folklore and Evermore, and kind of blends a lot of what we love her for, what she’s done in the past. I get flashes of every one of her albums up until this point.

Tamara Fuentes: It does feel like it’s a little bit [reminiscent] of past iterations, which I think is part of the point. She did note that she wrote this throughout different 13 nights throughout her career. And so we’re seeing glimpses of those moments. For me in particular, it feels a little too repetitive from things that we’ve seen before. Maybe I also had certain expectations like other listeners, where it might be more of a grungy indie vibe. It’s not my favorite album, I’ll definitely say that, but I think I had just different expectations and so I’m still kind of figuring that out as a listener.

Sam Maude: I love it, actually. I really enjoyed it. I agree with the fact that it feels a little repetitive in some places. I was taking notes as I was listening last night. The amount of times I was like, “Oh, this song reminds me of this other song in Taylor’s Swift discography,” or “This song reminds me of this Jack Antonoff song” was quite a lot. And I will say, this is such a Jack album to me, and by album I’m talking about the first 13 tracks we got, not the other seven that were released at 3 A.M. But it’s very Jack Antonoff’s style of a Taylor Swift song. I think this album shows how—in my opinion—wonderful the collaboration between the two of them is. I think it takes the best of Jack Antonoff and the best of Taylor Swift and really melds it together into this fabulous Taylor Swift album that I’m really kind of obsessed with. But I do think it can get repetitive to other Taylor Swift songs in the past.

Feller: Sam and I are on the same page. I’m obsessed. From first listen, I was like, “Oh, I think this could potentially be one of my favorite albums.” To me it’s like 1989, Reputation, and Folklore had a child all together. I feel like I’m still parsing through. I should tell everybody that I am reporting from Spain. This came out at 6 A.M. my time, so I’ve been listening for almost 12 hours straight. But I haven’t dived as deep into the extra seven. But of the core 13, to me this is potentially a no-skips album, which is maybe controversial.

The Surprise Extra Songs

Baty: Who am I to question Taylor Swift’s release strategies? But I almost do wish she had let the album breathe as its own entity before releasing the extra seven songs. Because I woke up this morning and went straight to the album and was kind of parsing through that, figuring out how I felt about it. I wanted to listen to it multiple times front to back, and then I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have these seven other songs I need to also get through.” I wish she had kind of spaced it out a little bit more. I don’t know how you guys feel about that.

Fuentes: I completely agree. I think I wanted to kind of see how it is on its own a little bit before jumping into the bonus tracks. Though I will say this: I think the “3 A.M.” version kind of changed my opinion of it with some of the tracks. So maybe it was just a different way to try to get some listeners who were a little hesitant to see what else she was working with. But I’ve never seen somebody do something like this, so it’s definitely very interesting.

Maude: Yeah, I think this “3 A.M.” moment felt a little too soon. I wanted to sit a little more in it. And it also is a little weird to me that Aaron Dessner [who collaborated with Swift on Folklore and Evermore] was relegated to these seven tracks and wasn’t on the 13 at all. I like the seven extra tracks, but again, I haven’t spent as much time with them and I agree with what everyone’s said there.

Favorite Tracks

Baty: If I’m looking at the track list, in order the first three songs, “Lavender Haze,” “Maroon,” and “Anti-Hero” really work for me. And then I feel like I get a portion of the album that I’m a little bit more neutral on. And then when I get back down into “Labyrinth,” “Karma,” and closing out with “Mastermind,” that really also works for me. I think it’s weird how my favorite songs are grouped at the top and the bottom of the album.

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Fuentes: For me, I would say my top three are “Lavender Haze,” “Snow on the Beach,” and “Karma,” which are in some ways very vastly different from each other, which is kind of interesting.

Maude: I am definitely a fan of “Karma.” I actually love this track 5, “You’re on Your Own, Kid” and it’s been a bit on repeat for me this morning. And then I think “Anti-Hero” is a great first music video. I don’t know if it’s being branded as the lead single, but I think it’s a great choice.

Feller: I also love “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” My first listen through, “Mastermind” was my standout. That’s what I put on repeat immediately after I listened straight through. And I will say that “Sweet Nothing” really did something to me. I don’t think I really caught everything when I listened through the first time, but when I went back, I feel like it captures a very specific feeling that I relate to extremely hard, even though she’s kind of talking about it from her perspective of being a celebrity, which that part I can’t relate to. But even still, I think she really communicates a feeling in a very effective way that I’ve never really heard before. And I’ll admit that one made me cry. So I feel like that has to be in my top three. But in terms of the other seven, I feel like “The Great War” and “Paris” are very fun. And then I really need to dive lyrically into “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” which, I don’t know if we want to speculate, but we think it is about John Mayer, right?

Fuentes: That seems to be the general take. Yes.

Feller: Are there any other standouts from the seven for y’all?

Fuentes: “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” was a really big standout for me. I actually liked the seven more, I think, than most of the original 13. Like “Bigger Than the Whole Sky,” “High infidelity,” [and] “Dear Reader.” I just really loved those tracks and, you know what? I’m kind of glad she took it out a little bit earlier just so I can get to experience them as well.

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Maude: I’m on the “Great War” and “Paris” train for the last seven. But I will also say “Glitch” is an interesting song to me, and only because the Spotify background is the glitch of “Wildest Dreams.” Like that weird glitch people were speculating about and had this Easter egg, she put it as the background to “Glitch” on Spotify. This was such an “oh my goodness” moment.

Easter Eggs

Feller: I feel like on that note, we should talk about some of the Easter eggs, which, LOL that she put one in her NYU speech. That is so funny to me. And she put one in her first “Midnights Mayhem” TikTok, right? She did the “it’s me, hi.” Are there any other big ones that you feel like you’ve spotted or seen people talk about?

Baty: I don’t know if I would classify this as an Easter egg, but somebody pointed this out on Twitter, so I cannot claim this. But I love that when she used to write all these songs about the previous men she had dated, and there were obviously all these people who were being snarky and being like, “Well she should write a song called ‘I’m The Problem’” or whatever. And she basically subverted that for “Anti-Hero,” and I just love that she does stuff like that and she just messes with people. I don’t know if I would classify that as an Easter egg, but it’s a subtle or not-so-subtle clap back of sorts. And I really, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Maude: I mean that teaser trailer for all the visuals was just flooded with Easter eggs in my opinion. Like her being in the Reputation stadium tour outfit, her being in other outfits from her career, and that was like an “oh my gosh, what is going to be happening throughout this era of Taylor?” To me, in some ways, this album feels like a service to her fans, really capitalizing on the Easter eggs she’s had for so long and really just kind of leaning into her lore and her career. I think it’s really an interesting album in terms of how much her fans are—myself included—obsessing over it and going nuts.

Fuentes: I agree it’s very much a retrospective album. It just astounded me how quickly the fans were able to pick everything up. And I think that’s just a true testament to how much Taylor means a lot to them and also just how much fun she has with them and they play along as well.

Baty: I think she sees her fans as like collaborators in a way that other artists definitely don’t.

The “Anti-Hero” Music Video

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Taylor Swift – Anti-Hero (Official Music Video)

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Baty: I thought it was fun. I liked it. I would like to see more videos and also videos that work as a cohesive creative vision. I’m not saying they need to really directly play off one another, but I’m interested to see if she’s gonna go really hard with music videos for this album, and after hearing her speak about wanting to work even more in the visual medium of her work, I’m excited to see what she comes up with and the big picture of it all.

Maude: I saw reports that this was a visual album, which I don’t think has been confirmed, but I would love. I really loved the music video. I thought it was fun. I thought it was actually interesting commentary. I thought it was relatable in a lot of ways. Also, why did she make her children actively horrible in that music video? I thought that was funny. It was giving very Knives Out in that sense, kind of like “you’re not getting the money,” and I really enjoyed it.

Swift’s Self-Reflection

Feller: I also thought [the “Anti-Hero” video] was really fun and funny. I actually think the album as a whole is fairly funny, and I kind of love that about Taylor in her thirties. I just feel like she’s much more open to make fun of herself and be self-referential, but also own the things about herself than maybe she wouldn’t have talked about before. Like in “Mastermind,” where she says that she’s confessing about how much she really does create and plan and that that is rooted in these deep insecurities for her. But then parts of the song are also funny. I just feel like, as she’s gotten older, she’s done a really great job of being able to talk about the things that all the fans talk about and the media talks about in a way…she’s not putting herself down, but she’s still copping to things that we kind of all know be true about her.

Baty: I think it’s a way for her to reclaim those narratives about herself. To me it feels very, very like, “Oh, I know what everybody says about me, and guess what? In some ways you’re not wrong and I’m just gonna own up to it and, like, this is who I am.” And I do feel that with this album as well. It seems like her really looking at what the conversation is or what her public persona is and commenting very intentionally on that. And I think it really works.

Fuentes: I think “Dear Reader” stood out to me a little bit more maybe because it’s more emotional. But it also kind of reminded me a lot of Paramore’s “Idle Worship,” where the idea of how we kind of put artists on pedestals, where we look to them to help us and with these types of needs, but they’re also still very much human. Her speaking about that, I think, is one of the most honest moments we’ve seen from Taylor in a very long time, which I’m very happy to see.

The Lana Del Rey Collab, “Snow on the Beach”

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Feller: I feel like I’ve seen a lot on Twitter that people are upset that [Lana] didn’t get a verse, which obviously I also would’ve wanted her to have a verse, but when she came in on the chorus, I audibly gasped and I’m kind of obsessed with how it sounds. But were you all disappointed that there wasn’t more?

Baty: Yeah, I am a little bit disappointed. I like the song, I just wish Lana had a little bit more to do so it felt more like a true collaboration between the two of them. Kind of like when Haim did a feature with Taylor Swift, that felt a lot more like two parties coming together to create something cool, that felt a little bit more 50/50. That being said, I still like the song but I wish it had a little bit more of Lana’s essence in it.

Fuentes: I think part of it has to do with the fact that, you know, you have a certain expectation when you see “featuring” on a track name, right? And so you kind of expect more of, maybe they’ll have their own verse or something or really work on vocals together and they also have their own shining moment. But that’s more of a conversation in terms of how royalties work and different things in the streaming age, but I will say I’m not entirely too disappointed. We do hear Lana’s vocals and they do sound really, really amazing. And just the fact that we even got a collab between the two of them I think is just something I never would’ve predicted years ago. I hope this opens up some more doors, maybe in Lana’s future project and Taylor making more of an appearance there and seeing what they can do together.

Maude: I really liked the song, I’ll start by saying that. But, I don’t know, Taylor kind of has this history of when she features a man, they tend to get a full verse, and then when she features a woman, they often are backing vocals. And I think the one exception literally in her discography to that is Phoebe Bridgers. But when she’s featured like The Chicks or Maren Morris or Colbie Caillat, all of them are background vocals. To me, I definitely wanted a verse from Lana Del Ray here. And I think after getting that wonderful verse with Phoebe Bridgers on “Nothing New” on Red (Taylor’s Version), I was really like, “Okay, we’re gonna have more verses from women in the future.” And then when it didn’t happen here, I guess I was a little like [sigh], “back to what it’s been.” I just think it’s a common occurrence in her discography. I don’t know, it’s just a little interesting to me.

Feller: Yeah, I also wished that she gave women kind of more to do on her songs, but I think the reason that this one in particular didn’t bother me was because when Lana comes in on the chorus, I suddenly felt like I was in a Lana Del Rey song and it really worked for me.

Tear-Jerker Tracks

Feller: In terms of songs that were more emotional, for me, it’s really “You’re on Your Own, Kid,” “Sweet Nothing,” even “Labyrinth.” Then, when we get into the extra seven, “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.”

Baty: “Maroon” got me a right off the top. Literally, I think within the first 30 seconds I was teary-eyed, and I can’t quite pin down why, but that song really got me. So I hope I’m not alone.

Maude: I’m in agreement on “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” Songs that have always had an impact for me are coming-of-age songs or songs that feel like they’re addressing insecurities in your teenage years. I have this very vivid memory in my life of driving in Des Moines, Iowa with the windows rolled down listening to Troye Sivan’s “Youth,” and songs that embrace nostalgia. To me, “You’re on Your Own, Kid” really did that. I think that’s why I’m kind of obsessed with this album, because it really feels like this coming-of-age album that’s really examining Taylor coming to terms with a bunch of things that have happened in her past.

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Feller: Something that’s so interesting to me about “You’re on Your Own, Kid” is, to me, it ends on a hopeful note, even though it is really emotional and nostalgic. By the end, you’re kind of rooting for yourself, which I feel like is a rare take for a track 5 on a Taylor Swift album. I also want to go back to “Maroon,” Emma. To me, when we’re talking about “self-referential,” that is such a good example. You know, the “grown up red.” On first listen I was like, “Oh, it’s about Jake [Gyllenhaal].” But do we think it’s about Jake?

Baty: I think you could definitely make the case. It mentions New York, like it feels very, very similar to what we’ve heard about him via her songs. I think that’s a fun theory. I like the song regardless, honestly.

Feller: To me, it is like the big sister to “Red,” and what a difficult thing to do and do well, especially so many years later.

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Standouts and Takeaways

Fuentes: For me, a standout track is “Hits Different,” but that’s on the Target edition, so I don’t know how many people have heard it, but I love it and I hope other people check it out because it’s actually really, really wonderful.

Baty: Yeah, it seems unfortunate that that one didn’t make it on the main album. But I was just gonna say that I will be drinking screw-top rosé all day in honor of Ms. Taylor Swift and her mysterious roommate [as referenced in “Maroon”].

Maude: I read an article about this album that was like, “This is an album for the people who [liked], I think they listed, ‘Wildest Dreams,’ ‘False God,’ ‘Delicate,’” kind of the more subdued pop that Taylor has. I read that before I listened and I was just kind of like, oh no, ‘cause it named every single one of my favorite Taylor Swift songs. And I was like, “This is going to be bad for me.” And I do feel like it is in that vein. I’m gonna call it Wildest Dreams-core, which I’m kind of obsessed with. I’m not gonna rank this album in my Taylor albums, but I do have a feeling it’s going to be high up there.

Baty: Wildest Dreams-core is very spot-on, Sam. I think you’re right.

Feller: That’s funny, because I’m obsessed with this album, but I cannot tell you the last time I listened to “False God,” and “Delicate” is also fine to me. But these 13 really “hit different,” if we’re gonna quote Taylor. So that’s so interesting. Maybe I need to go back and do some more self-reflection.

Maude: I have a tattoo that is inspired by “Delicate” and I will say it. So this album was I feel like kind of tailored to me.

Feller: Pun intended.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.