Well, here I am again, not knowing what to write for a Staff Rant. So many things swirling in my brain, but trying to grab just one of them is as fruitless as trying to grab a wisp of a cloud. They just flit away, mocking me intensely. If you’re thinking this introduction is a tad bit dramatic, you would be entirely correct, because I’ve been burning the new Taylor Swift album, Midnights, into my brain ever since the release on October 21 at MIDNIGHT (I was asleep, please don’t revoke my Swiftie card). And I have a lot of feelings about it, and then just in general. Let’s dive in.
I have been a Taylor Swift fan since I was 11 years old, fighting with my sister over who got to keep the first Taylor Swift CD (remember those?) in our rooms—my mom had only bought one copy and told us to share, welp. I’ve been with her through her country days, her pop-country, her straight up pop, through all the evolutions of her. In my opinion she is a god-tier lyricist, on par with Carole King and Joni Mitchell. So why then does society at large seem to discount her talent and songwriting prowess simply because either a) she’s stuck in everyone’s minds as a curly-haired teenager despite being in her thirties now, or b) she’s stuck in everyone’s minds as “she only writes about her relationships and boys and not “Real” problems.” Or both??
I feel like there’s been a definite shift since Folklore and Evermore were released, but nevertheless, the thought persists. There was a Vulture conversation posted on October 21 between journalist and podcaster Sam Sanders and NPR music critic Ann Powers that I initially saw excerpts for on Twitter, and then it absolutely stuck in my brain (I can’t stop thinking about the conversation) so I had to read the full interview. Specifically what was stuck in my brain was the part where Sanders and Powers talked about how this image of Taylor crystallized as a young teenager, and didn’t allow her, in the eyes of the public, to grow into the 30-something year old woman that she is now. Powers had a really interesting point which was that society at large may not think of Taylor as an adult woman because she is childless. As a single, childless 20-something myself who has been watching her peers get married and have babies, this really struck a chord with me. Full quote from Ann Powers:
Taylor doesn’t have a child. And in our patriarchal society, when does a woman change? When she becomes a mother. All the women you mentioned became mothers, and maybe one of the main reasons why we don’t accept Taylor as an adult is because the childless woman remains a strange figure in our society. We don’t know how to accept childless women as adults. I’m gonna thank you, Taylor, for not having kids yet because we really need more childless women out there showing their path.
I’m just going to let us take a beat to digest that. As I wrote about in my previous rant last year, societal expectations can be the worst, and we are steeped in them from birth. Adults can look at a little boy or girl and practically plot out their life for them, and if you don’t meet these expectations, you’re somehow seen as less of a person. It can sometimes feel like death by a thousand cuts (you’re welcome for that Lover album reference, by the way.) There are so many great pieces of analysis dissecting the new album, but I’m just going to leave you with this one from British GQ—8 brutal moments of self-loathing on Taylor Swift’s Midnights. Stars, they’re really just like us. I think what’s hitting me most deeply about this album is that the COVID pandemic has exposed cracks, and all out failings, in our society, and now more than ever, people feel like they have tacit permission to simply say “I am not okay.” To be sure, this was going on well before the pandemic, but the pandemic seems to have almost busted the last bit of restraint. I know I am one of thousands of people who sought out therapy during the (still-ongoing) pandemic, and I’ve worked really hard on my mental health over the last year. I’m definitely in a better place than I was in November 2021, but that’s not to say that songs full of self-loathing don’t just hit differently sometimes. And it’s okay to feel those feelings and unlearn the “have to be happy and pleasant and cheery all the time,” which is especially insidious in girls. We are steeped in people-pleasing from birth, constantly trying to make ourselves physically smaller, to take up less space, to be pleasant and kind and not let our actual feelings show because gasp, they could be unpleasant, and who wants to see that? But I digress.
My point in all of this, I suppose, is that this new album is full of self-loathing and feelings (as always), but something feels different here. I’ve always felt like Taylor Swift writes intensely-relatable-to-me songs, but this album might be the most relatable, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. The new album has remnants of all of her previous works in it, but definitely is more reminiscent of Reputation and 1989 with a bit of Lover thrown in for good measure, in my opinion. If I haven’t convinced you to listen by now, I am so sorry—revoke my Swiftie card, for real.
Girl Museum Inc.