Midnights in the Morning
At midnight tonight, Taylor Swift’s tenth album, Midnights, will break. At midnight tonight, because I start work at 7am, and because I am thirty-one and a late night doesn’t hit quite like it used to, I’ll be asleep. But first thing tomorrow morning, as I get dressed, as I take the dog out, and as I bike to work in the dark, I’ll be wearing headphones, taking it in.
I did not expect to become a fan of Taylor Swift. As a freshman in college in 2009, I jumped in the air and raised my red cup whenever “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” played at parties, but that was the extent of it. I was not one of those girls, whoever I thought those girls were. I bought a copy of Red in the fall of 2012 and scream-cheered “I don’t know about you” at every birthday for the next year as my friends and I all turned, well, twenty-two. But I generally skipped about half the album, strategically avoiding her duets (sappy) and anything too country.
In the fall of 2014, shortly after I took a part-time job at a pie bakery in Cambridge, I unlocked the magic of listening to Taylor Swift before the sun came up, in the raw and vulnerable parts of the early morning. A few days a week, I worked opening shifts, arriving at six to brew lethal, paint-stripping coffee and stack fresh scones and muffins in the pastry case. One morning on the bus I watched the newly dropped video for “Blank Space,” and reader, in that moment, a fan was born. Even now it’s a blur: the mansion, her wry gaze, the moment she rips the apple in half–I can’t describe it. It had emotional echoes of Rilo Kiley’s “Portions for Foxes,” which had claimed the top played spot in my iTunes for close to a decade; it had the catchiest goddamn hook, not to mention the line “Find out what you want/ be that girl for a month” which cut me to the core–I had rarely felt so seen in a pop song and it felt so supremely smart, self-aware, and self-effacing, but always in control. Three months later, I would go through my first real heartbreak and spend the cold, blizzard-blue winter crying to “Treacherous” and “All Too Well,” then thaw in the spring jogging to “Shake it Off” and “Style.”
I began working in food full time in 2017, right around the release of Reputation, and so began my long-standing tradition of listening to the new albums on my early morning commute. I remember walking to the bagel shop to the dreamy beat of “Delicate” for the first time; two years later, driving on the highway to the English muffin bakery while the sun rose around me, letting out a yelp at the line “she looks so pretty like a devil” in “Cruel Summer;” a year later setting my alarm early so I could get ready listening to Folklore and welling up with tears before the first chorus of “The 1” even hit; doing it all over again five months down the line for Evermore.
There are two ideal settings for listening to Taylor Swift: partying with millennials or blissfully alone. This spring, on a birthday getaway weekend in Northern California, I watched two sisters singing karaoke crush every lyric in all ten minutes of “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version),” and gleefully jumped around to “Love Story” as the night drew on. There are mornings at the bakery where all we listen to is Taylor.
It is ridiculous, but I feel human listening to Taylor Swift, like there’s room for me to geek out and fan girl to a woman in her thirties making music for a lot of people, including many, many folks in their thirties. I was a kid who loved The Eleventh Hour and spent summer days cracking the code at the bottom of the pages of Artemis Fowl; to have a pop star who loves to embed puzzles and clues into her promotional material is a glorious thing. I am team Kaylor, and will always opt for the queer reading of her lyrics. Are there clunkers in her catalog? Sure. Do I ignore the existence of the front half of Reputation? Naturally. But for every “...Ready For It?” there’s a “Betty.”
What I find most gratifying is the solo listen, on the days when I’m feeling a little bit soft–whether it’s raining, or I’m stuck in some memories, or it’s just been a while, there’s a wonderful familiarity to climbing back into a Taylor Swift album. There’s always a line that grabs me by the heel when I least expect it, or a harmony that hangs in the air. I have no idea what Midnights will hold. But I know what I’ll be listening to tomorrow as the sky begins to lighten, October all around me, crisp and cool and free.