Taylor Swift begins her new album, Midnights, in a lavender haze. She's in love — and inspired by the Mad Men episode where that phrase appeared — but the rigors of fame, expectation, and "the 1950s shit they want from me" threaten to evaporate the entire feeling. Despite the forces against her, Swift is determined to hold onto it, everyone else be damned.
At the risk of being overly reductive or sentimental, the whole affair is a bit like listening to a new album for the very first time, especially one as highly anticipated as Midnights. As a fan, you bring your hopes and desires to the table, and when you press play, the discoveries you make are entirely yours. The lyrical turns that gut you. The melodies you can't get out of your head. The spiritual stakes. And then the discourse enters, and your thoughts become only some of a few million swirling around the larger global event of a blockbuster album release. They're seemingly not just yours anymore.
Swift must know this, which is why she teased an album full of "the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life" when she announced it. These are her stories, just like the lavender haze of your own listening experience is entirely yours.
In order to try to hold onto that initial feeling — the one you might've relished in at midnight in the minutes right before you tapped play — MTV News enlisted writers from all over the globe to share their first-take, notebook-style initial impressions of Swift's Midnights as they listened in real time. Their experiences span countries, time zones, and emotions. Get to know their stories below.
Los Angeles, California
Midnight, Los Angeles. I lie in Hannah’s bed listening to Midnights — the most recent compendium of Taylor Swift’s love and spite — while she tries to cool down in the shower.
Two years ago, I had the great inconvenience of falling in love with someone who lives 5,000 miles from me (like the Vanessa Carlton song times five!). It was the kind of love that ransacks you, that brings you to inner whirlwinds, tantrums, and tears before it gives you the grace of life-altering radiance and clarity. The kind of love that forces you to face the terrifying resolution of something in life as certain as death. The kind of love that makes you fly out several times a year from London to Los Angeles, a city where the midnights feel parboiled; the heat thick and dull, like it’s dunking you in a vat of leftover oil from a diner.
In her bed, I can only focus on the love songs. Taylor’s love lives in a wash of lavender and lilac. Ours lives in this hot drowsiness.
Two years in love has been long enough to develop our own dictionary, form our own foundation of knowledge, have our own linguistic ticks; a growing inventory of arbitrary and absurd ways to bridge our separate universes.
As the album ends, I text her to come out of the shower. Hannah opens the door before I even have the chance to send it. —Emma Madden
New York, New York
It was a chill 53 degrees when the clock struck 12:01 in Manhattan, in the city that never sleeps — and one that’s become synonymous with Taylor Swift. It only took four minutes into Midnights for Swift to name-drop the Big Apple, recalling “the one I was dancing with in New York,” shrouded in the synths and beat drops of “Maroon.” As I sat on my East Village fire escape, crowds of twentysomethings below dragged their bodies between bars, and I almost stopped them and called out, “Don’t you know who just dropped an album?”
A slow breeze rolled through during “Snow on the Beach,” reminding me that we’re squarely in autumn weather, equidistant between summer’s indiscretions and winter’s dreary reflections, a feeling that “You’re on Your Own, Kid” made even more sobering. Though the windows across the street changed hue and cars buzzed by, I never left my perch. I remained resolutely static, already envisioning my life to these songs: hangovers nursed by “Anti-Hero,” Webster Hall make-outs à la “Question…?,” or strutting into the club to “Vigilante Shit.”
Like the city in which I reside and the chilly air that took its time washing over me, Midnights is understated until it’s not. Its trappy, electro-pop production blended in with the ambiance of the metropolis, though its pops, glitches, and cutting lyrics reminded me that despite the noise of life, it’s still there, and so am I. I won’t be the only one in the city turning to this collection to soundtrack my late-night hours. —Carson Mlnarik
I’m not ready to leave Folklore and Evermore behind, but that era is over. We’re out of the woods and back in the city. It’s 7 a.m. over here when Midnights comes out, and I’m laughing as I listen because it’s so obviously a nighttime album. It conjures images of cityscapes and bright lights and the feeling of riding in a taxi in the dark. All the while, I’m staring at trees. It’s not too bright yet, but the sun peeks out briefly during “Midnight Rain.”
I’m excited to find a clear parallel to Evermore in “Vigilante Shit,” which calls back to “No Body, No Crime” in both subject and structure, but in a different style and setting. With all the internet chatter about entering a “Reputation era” or Midnights being Taylor Swift’s “villain era,” this album doesn’t quite embrace the dark side. Instead, it blurs the lines between villains and heroes, starting with song titles like “Anti-Hero” and “Vigilante Shit” — even the name “Mastermind” reveals no moral affiliation. And though the album and its place in Swift’s discography prompt oppositions between night and day, urban and rural, and good and evil, it feels very much transitional, an in-between state, not one or the other, both the before and the after.
When “Mastermind” ends, the sun is fully and confidently shining. I can hear the construction across from where I live starting up, and I’m reminded that I’m not really in the woods either. —Aliya Chaudhry
I hit play on Midnights in the morning, as I was buttering toast and pouring orange juice. I took my breakfast back to bed as I listened. The view from the window next to me is autumn trees and sun hitting the red-brick terraces opposite.
Last night, my girlfriend and I saw a movie, got dinner, then wandered down the lit-up city street and ate ice cream. We talked about what we thought Midnights might sound like. Before we started dating, when we were just friends and it was only a matter of time, I would play Red in the car on every drive from my place to hers and back (my car only had a CD player and I didn’t have a lot of other CDs).
As an objective critic, I consider myself a Taylor Swift skeptic. But when I’m not an objective critic, I’m a fan, and some of the most fun moments of my entire life have been set to and actively catalyzed by a Taylor Swift song. So many of the relationships in my life — old friends, new friends, romances, passing acquaintances — have formed or deepened over Taylor Swift’s music. For the record, critic brain on, I like Midnights; it feels like a genuine and mature next step for her. But more important to me is that I’m going to be having conversations about this album — analytical, excited, or just silly — with a lot of people that I care about over the next few weeks. That’s what pop music is all about! —Mia Hughes
6 a.m. and Paris is quiet; the sun won’t rise for hours. It’s fall, daylight slipping away like little chunks of memory on a drunken night. I lie on the couch still half asleep in my living room, listening to Midnights.
I’ve had a heavy week, a week of waiting — sure, for Midnights — but also for a lot of other things. Big dreams, life things, grown-up shit. Wondering if a book I wrote will ever get published, if I’ll ever have something to show for what I’ve been working on for years.
My husband and dog are asleep in the bedroom. I’m too tired to move. A rare instance where I’m listening to music and not walking or driving or cooking or singing and all I can think of is Swift’s writing, the way she just will not stop, the way she insists with every album that writing is always worth doing, that putting feelings into words is one of the most beautiful things you can do with this life.
It’s started to rain. I poke my head out the window — the boulangers are walking in the dark, the streets are still quiet. Friends text from the States, listening at the same time. I fall back asleep after “Mastermind” fades out and when I wake back up a few hours later, Taylor’s dropped seven more songs. One’s called “Paris” (are you kidding me with this shit, Taylor?) — and once again I’m reminded of Swift’s pull. That wildly specific lyricism that makes you feel like she wrote this song, this line, this album, just for you — even though everyone everywhere is listening along and thinking the same thing. When the day gets going, I turn on the 3 a.m. version and start crying almost immediately during “Paris.” It’s not you, Taylor — I’m the problem, it’s me.
A friend listening in the U.S. said she's enjoying the album but felt like she was waiting on a build that never comes. I said that felt like an entire metaphor for being in your thirties — waiting on things, not always sure what they are, building a life towards what, exactly?
I take the dog out for a walk. He tugs me onto Rue de Cotte, sidewalks still slick from rain, the Bastille looming behind low clouds as Swift rhymes Paris with somewhere else and reminds me how much fucking magic there is in putting words onto a page — over and over and over and over again. —Liz Riggs
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The New Mexico desert is probably the furthest point from the Long Pond Studio or Cornelia Street, the settings I usually associate with Taylor Swift, but the empty and quiet landscape is where I find myself in the hours leading up to the drop of Midnights. Looking up at the night sky, I see what Taylor would describe later in “Snow on the Beach”: “stars by the pocketful.” I keep my eyes peeled for the promised meteors that never appeared, or that I somehow missed.
The desert drive was just a detour after attending Music for the Eyes, an immersive exhibit of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works, where paintings of hers like Ram's Head, White Hollyhock-Hills and Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico come alive in front of you as funky new age jazz hums in the background. The moody, deep blues of O’Keeffe’s pieces reminded me of Swift’s melancholy album art. Even songs like “Lavender Haze” and “Midnight Rain” sound like they could be the titles of the famed artist’s paintings. Later that night, as I listen to “Maroon,” the second track on the album, Swift paints a picture of a past romance using colorful imagery in the lyrics: burgundy wine-stained T-shirts, and “the lips I used to call home, so scarlet, it was maroon.” It turns out Midnights is also music for the eyes. —Chris Rudolph
Sayreville, New Jersey
Let me bring you to a quiet New Jersey suburban street, where the only things awake are the streetlights and me — bracing myself for Taylor Swift’s “darkest album yet.” The crisp October air is creeping through my cracked windows just enough to remind me that it’s fall, and nothing harnesses more power than a Taylor Swift album released in autumn.
New Jersey may not be as romanticized as New York in the Taylor Swift universe, but here, we’re only 45 minutes away from the city of cultivating dreams and dive-bar love affairs. It’s the ultimate safe haven for a quiet exploration into Swift’s 13 sleepless nights.
The beginning of the album catapults me into both the future and the past. The melodies feel inventive, but I hear instant waves of 1989 and Lover. She has the confident attitude of Reputation and the lyrical growth and expertise of Folklore. It’s been three years since we’ve heard what pop Taylor Swift is capable of, and it’s just as infectious as I remember except this time, it’s layered with the soul and grit of her indie woodland past.
I feel like I’m floating through the album, except for when early favorites like “Anti-Hero,” “Lavender Haze,” and “Mastermind” grab hold of me. The lyrics are sharp and intentional — we expected this — but she’s as honest as ever. There is a lot being said, and we are all listening.
After taking time to hear the album as clearly as I can, Swift strikes with seven more bonus tracks at 3 a.m. They are as detailed as ever. I realize I will need a lot more time to dissect the complex stories behind tracks like “The Great War” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” and time is not on my side. I play “Sweet Nothing'' again in hopes it will cradle me to sleep because it’s warm and comforting, and it’s truly been a roller coaster of a release week. But that’s what we expected, right? Or maybe, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” —Alissa Godwin