Instead of dropping another re-recording of one of her previous albums, Taylor Swift shocked fans on Sunday by announcing her next release will in fact be her tenth original record. As she wrote on Twitter, Midnights is a concept album featuring “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.”
“We lie awake in love and in fear, in turmoil and in tears. We stare at walls and drink until they speak back. We twist in our self-made cages and pray that we aren’t—right this minute—about to make some fateful life-altering mistake,” reads the album announcement. “This is a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams. The floors we pace and the demons we face. For all of us who have tossed and turned and decided to keep the lanterns lit and go searching—hoping that just maybe, when the clock strikes twelve…we’ll meet ourselves.”
There are few concepts more central to Swiftian lore than a sleepless night filled with longing. In fact, “midnight” specifically has been mentioned on five of her nine albums so far, in some of her biggest singles. (The only time to come close to rivaling midnight in Swiftology is 2 A.M.)
On Red, it’s reserved for her happy, free, confused, and lonely friends, the quirky we’re-so-bad playfulness of “22”: “It feels like a perfect night/For breakfast at midnight.” But this is Taylor Swift we’re talking about, so midnight inevitably turns romantic. The time is at turns sexy, like the bold declaration at the beginning of 1989’s smash “Style”: “Midnight, you come and pick me up, no headlights.” It can also be achingly tender, like the coffee shared at midnight in “You Are In Love” or the vulnerable confession that “I want your midnights” on Reputation’s closing track “New Year’s Day.”
Swift’s most recent midnights have been more tumultuous and haunted: the widowed protagonist of “The Last Great American Dynasty” on folklore “was seen on occasion/pacing the rocks, staring out at the midnight sea,” or the bittersweet memory of “the dress I wore at midnight” on evermore’s relationship post-mortem “happiness.”
If you expand the definition to “the middle of the night,” there are even more examples: reputation’s “...Ready For It?,” (“In the middle of the night, in my dreams, you should see the things we do, baby”) Fearless’ “You Belong With Me,” (“Oh, I remember you driving to my house in the middle of the night”) the Red “From The Vault” tracks “Better Man” (“Sometimes in the middle of the night I can feel you again”) and “Nothing New,” (“I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can feel time moving”) and of course, on the seminal hit “All Too Well” (“’Cause there we are again in the middle of the night, we’re dancing around the kitchen in the refrigerator light”).
On the outro of 2019’s Lover, Swift declares: “I wanna be defined by the things that I love. Not the things I hate… Or the things that haunt me in the middle of the night.” Given that she’s now releasing an entire album on the latter, this manifesto no longer rings precisely true.
But Swift is not only one of our greatest living songwriters, she’s also a canny businessperson, so it’s entirely unsurprising to see her expand an artistic motif into a full-blown album and, consequently, a marketing opportunity—see: the clock visuals deployed as promotion for the new album on social media and Spotify. (For the Easter egg collectors, the Spotify animations not only highlight “midnight” lyrics, but also other consequential Swiftian nights from “I Almost Do,” “Treacherous,” “The Archer,” “my tears ricochet,” and “hoax.”) The concept album also slots in nicely with the ongoing re-recording project: since the tracks are all about midnights “scattered throughout [her] life,” Swift can use this record to nod to her previous “eras,” for which there are a handful more records to re-sell (and plenty of merchandise to hawk).
Just add “midnight” to the list of concepts that Swift can claim cultural ownership of, alongside red scarves, the month of August, not being able to come to the phone right now (why? ’Cause she’s dead), the age 22, New Year’s Day, the number 13, and the entire season of autumn, which has seen seven (and one re-record) of her album releases, including the upcoming Midnights. (“Midnight” will presumably be harder to copyright than “this sick beat.”) Specifically, the new album comes out on October 21, 2022. Start polishing the Grammys (or at least the VMAs) now!