On August 28, on the MTV VMAs stage—where else—Taylor Swift surprise-announced her 10th studio album, Midnights, set for release on October 21. Swift later revealed on her social media accounts that the standard-issue album will have 13 tracks which tell “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” On September 21, she began announcing song titles every other night at midnight on TikTok in a series called Midnights Mayhem With Me. These videos have been subsequently analyzed with the fervor and granularity of a government decryption team. (On a related note, there is a theory that Taylor is using her own pauses and punctuation in these videos to send a message in Morse code.) What’s actually going on? Here are 13 questions about the upcoming release, answered by yours truly.
Wait, Midnights?! I’m excited for the album, but I thought she was working on her re-recorded Taylor’s Version albums of her old songs. What’s going on?
Good question. It’s true, the announcement of a 10th studio album came as a surprise. It’s been nearly two years since Swift’s last studio album, Evermore, was released in December 2020, which makes this fall a reasonable time for her to put out new music since she’s often worked on every-other-year album cycles. But it did feel this spring like her team was building up to releasing more Taylor’s Versions—particularly 1989 (Taylor’s Version) and Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)—to join Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version), both of which were released in 2021.
To me, 1989 felt like the one that would come next, because that’s the album for which we know she already has songs in the can. “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)” was teased all the way back in March 2021 in the trailer for the movie Spirit Untamed, and the full version was released last September. In May, “This Love (Taylor’s Version)” was released and featured in the Amazon Prime Video series The Summer I Turned Pretty. In July, “Bad Blood (Taylor’s Version)” was featured in the movie DC League of Super-Pets, though the song has not yet been made available on streaming services. (That last one was announced in a TikTok by Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart, which was sort of weird.) The Speak Now breadcrumbs were mostly traced to a May 6 merchandise collection designed around that album. It was released in conjunction with the re-recorded “This Love,” and alongside a collection of 1989-themed gear. Together, Swift’s team (and website) called the new merch “The Old Taylor Collection.”
My best guess is that the original plan was for us to have 1989 (Taylor’s Version) by now. That’s based only on the fact that we know several of those songs are already re-recorded and ready to go, and the opinion that Swift is too smart to play Lucy with the football with her fans who want to hear the album and always always assume meaning in things like merch drops or promotional singles. She is, of course, more than entitled to create on her own timeline and doesn’t owe her fans content, but getting people’s hopes up and not following through is bad business, and bad business is not something I’d typically associate with Taylor Swift. Also, the reason Swift began re-recording her old stuff is to reclaim her first six albums as assets, since she does not own the master recordings to them and therefore would rather listeners stream the new versions, which she does own, than the originals. The sooner the songs are out the sooner she can start doing that.
Plans change, though, and I think that’s the likeliest case for what happened here. Maybe Midnights was ready earlier than expected. Maybe there was a hold-up with the re-recording process (more on that later). Maybe new music felt like a prerequisite to touring (more on that, too). And though the financial incentive to get the re-recordings out so that fans can stream them instead of the originals is there, the last time Swift re-released an album, she took the time to give Red (Taylor’s Version) a substantial rollout and its own era for fans to consume. That strategy seemed like a conscious shift from the eight-month period from July 2020-April 2021 in which Swift released Folklore, Evermore, and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) in quick succession.
That pace spoiled fans with new music, but having so much of it meant it all had to share one spotlight. Evermore, in particular, seemed to get lost in the shuffle, treated like a B-side to Folklore when it’s musically distinct, and for my money, the more exciting album of the two. But Folklore came first and was complemented by the Disney+ Long Pond Studio Sessions special, while Evermore’s rollout was mostly “Willow” remixes (fine, the ’90s trend one is good). Folklore wound up selling 846,000 units in its first week to Evermore’s 300,000 and also continues to get more play on streaming services.
All of these were wildly successful projects, and Swift has many fans, present company included, who will forever appreciate how much she released during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when so many of us were stuck at home. Going forward, though, I think she’s more likely to try to mimic the success of the Red re-recordings, and avoid flooding the zone quite so much. If 1989 (Taylor’s Version) wasn’t ready to go by last spring, maybe it had to make way for Midnights. In any case, what I believe is that fans were expecting a re-recorded album because, at one point, that’s also what Swift was expecting to do.
Could the “Shake It Off” copyright lawsuit have anything to do with the timeline?
What an informed question-asker you are! Yes, among the reasons Swift could have changed course about her album release plans is pending litigation over 1989’s biggest hit. In 2017, songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who penned 3LW’s “Playas Gon’ Play,” filed a lawsuit against Swift, claiming she lifted their lyrics for the chorus of “Shake It Off.” A judge initially dismissed the suit in 2018, telling the parties that the lyrics were “too brief, unoriginal and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act,” but an appellate court sent it back in 2021 on the basis that a jury should decide on the originality of the lyrics, not the judge. Swift’s camp made a couple long-shot attempts to have the case thrown out but in September, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald denied Swift’s motion to reconsider issuing a summary judgment in her favor and set the case to go to trial beginning January 17, 2023. It’s easy to see Swift wanting to know the legal outcome of that situation before re-releasing a song using the lyrics in question, so it’s possible that’s the holdup on 1989 (Taylor’s Version). There’s red tape with Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) as well, as her request to trademark the name of the album was flagged by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as potentially conflicting with a trademark of the phrase “Speak Now” held by a tech manufacturing company that sells voice-activated televisions, and who should back off because their little gadgets will never carry the emotional weight of “Back to December” or the adolescent joy of “Sparks Fly.” I would guess the benefits of getting a new re-release out there would outweigh the costs of dealing with these issues, but perhaps Swift’s team wants to be cautious, in which case these issues could very well have impacted the timeline for the re-records. The main takeaway here is that the business of being Taylor Swift sounds exhausting.
OK, got it. But since we’re getting Midnights first, what do we know about the album?
The answer is ... not much! There are 13 tracks, split up into Side A (the first six) and Side B (the following seven) plus three bonus tracks on a Target-exclusive edition, two of which are remixes. And we know the names of the songs—Swift announced the full tracklist in the Midnights Mayhem series:
Track 1: “Lavender Haze”
Track 2: “Maroon”
Track 3: “Anti-Hero”
Track 4: “Snow on the Beach” (featuring Lana Del Rey)
Track 5: “You’re on Your Own, Kid”
Track 6: “Midnight Rain”
Track 7: “Question…?”
Track 8: “Vigilante Shit”
Track 9: “Bejeweled”
Track 10: “Labyrinth”
Track 11: “Karma”
Track 12: “Sweet Nothing”
Track 13: “Mastermind”
Mysterious! Any sense of the vibe, or what the genre might be?
It’s giving glam, but a chill, interior kind of glamor as opposed to big popstar glamor. Midnight blue is dominating the color palette and the rust-colored velvet curtain she’s filming the Midnights Mayhem videos in front of is more cozy than glitzy. Some of the photos associated with the collector’s item vinyls look retro, and there’s a lot of … upholstery. Its pre-release page on Apple Music labels Midnights a pop album, for what that’s worth. It definitely seems like a departure from the indie-folk of Folklore, though Evermore really did have its poppy moments.
In her social media post announcing the album, Swift called the album “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 12 … we’ll meet ourselves.”
It’s definitely a little glitzy, but also a little moody. The only feature is from Lana Del Rey, and that’s her vibe, too.
I also don’t think it will be contained to one distinct genre. Swift’s eras do have specific genres attached to them, and the fact that this album is only 13 songs long (Folklore was 16, Evermore was 15 without bonus tracks) could make it seem like an exercise in cohesion. But the story of Swift’s musical life has traversed genres, so it would only make sense for disparate stories from 13 nights spanning all her years to do so, as well. It’s a concept album, so I think she’ll assume she can get away with putting on different musical identities throughout, which she’s rarely shy about anyway.
Will there be cursing? Did she really name a song “Vigilante Shit”?
YES AND YES. Six of the tracks are classified as explicit.
Do we know who she’s collaborating with?
We know she’s working with Jack Antonoff, a frequent collaborator since the 1989 era. Swift posted a making-of-Midnights reel that shows her in-studio with Antonoff; he is the only other person who appears in the reel. That could mean they worked on one song together or they did the whole project in tandem, but I will say that one of the last songs they worked on together for an original album was “Gold Rush,” a glittery-but-pensive pop song from Evermore that, if I had to bet, is the song that previews what the Midnights era will sound like. (Note: I also thought “Paper Rings,” off Lover, meant pop-punk Taylor was coming.)
As far as who else might be involved, I’m more curious if Aaron Dessner will be involved in any live shows than I am to see if he will be featured in the credits of this album. When they made Folklore and Evermore together, they did it by Dessner sending Swift music that she wrote melodies and lyrics to. That happened because of the constraints of writing and recording remotely, but it also created the specific sounds of those records (which seem unlikely to be the sounds of Midnights). The process—Dessner providing Swift with the bones of a song to create on top of—made sense for those albums, which were more about storytelling than introspection. For an album with as intimate a concept as Midnights has, I’d expect Swift to be involved in the songcrafting from start to finish, as she usually has been. The fact that there’s only one feature, and it’s from Del Rey, who did two recent albums—Norman Fucking Rockwell and Chemtrails Over the Country Club—with Antonoff also suggests to me that a tight-knit group worked on this project.
Are these songs from the Vault?
I don’t think so. For the uninitiated, Swift’s first two re-released albums included songs “from the Vault”—songs that she wrote around the time of the album’s original creation, but didn’t make the final cut. The only thing she’s said about Midnights that could indicate that some of the songs are old comes from that one line in her Instagram announcement calling the songs the “stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” But I don’t think that’s meant to indicate that these songs were leftovers from other earlier albums. If there are vault tracks from other eras, like 1989 or Reputation or Speak Now, those would be a major draw for those re-releases, so I figure she’d use them in support of those projects.
Now, there’s room to consider a related question of whether any of the tracks on Midnights will have been created with similar creative energy to some of the vault tracks she released in 2021, since it’s not as though Swift didn’t make any updates to those old songs before putting them out. She worked with Antonoff on the Fearless (Taylor’s Version) vault tracks “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” “That’s When,” “Don’t You,” and “Bye Bye Baby,” and on “Babe,” “Forever Winter,” and the iconic “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” from the Red vault.
If we think of the vault in general as Swift’s most recent creative output, it’ll be interesting to see how Midnights compares. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” is stunning, and there are a few other vault tracks that have stuck with me and stand up against her best cuts. For me, that group is “All Too Well,” “I Bet You Think About Me,” “Nothing New,” and “Bye Bye Baby.” I also listen to “The Very First Night,” and “Message in a Bottle,” way more than I expected to initially. (I’m not counting “Better Man” or “Babe” here because they were initially recorded by other artists.) Still, I do think that the Vault is the Vault for a reason. The collection of vault tracks as a whole doesn’t sound to me like a firing-on-all cylinders Swift album, so I expect (and hope) that Midnights won’t feel like an extension of those projects.
What songs are you most excited for?
The title “Vigilante Shit” got my attention, but the one to pay attention to is Track 3, “Anti-Hero.” In an Instagram video, Swift described it as one of her all-time favorite songs she’s written and said “I don’t think I’ve delved this far into my insecurities in this detail before.” It’s not as if she’s a stranger to confessional songwriting, so that should be interesting. When I posted on Twitter asking for questions about Midnights, a response from @EricaJWilkinson caught my eye; it was a suggestion that Track 2, “Maroon,” could be about the sleepless night Swift had after Red lost the Grammy for Record of the Year in 2014. Swift has talked about how gutting that loss was since she really thought it was her year. That would be interesting, and I like the theory.
Then there’s “Karma.” The title of Track 11 caught the attention of many Swift fans since it shares a name with an album some believe exists but was never released in order to make way for Reputation in 2017. This theory is based on the fact that Swift released albums every other year for the first five album cycles of her career, then broke that pattern with the three-year gap between 2014’s 1989 and Reputation. A segment of Swifties believe that there was an album called Karma set for release in 2016 that was scrapped due to the personal and professional drama Swift was experiencing around that time, largely at the hands of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The idea is that the whole mess led Swift to believe she needed to go into hiding and then release Reputation as a response instead of putting Karma out during that embattled phase of her life. Evidence to prove this theory is scant: “Look What You Made Me Do,” a song that could refer to the decision to forego the “Karma” era in order to clap back, includes the lyric “all I think about is karma.” Several years later, in the music video for “The Man,” Swift, in character as the broiest of bros, urinates inside of a New York City subway station in front of a wall that has all the names of her albums, plus the word “karma,” painted on it in graffiti. The album names are graffitied on the wall in a configuration that makes them look something like numbers around a clock face; clocks have been a major part of the iconography of the Midnights era. I’m not sure whether I believe there’s a fully formed, unreleased album, but I’m certain Swift knows that many of her fans believe that’s the case. Just listen to her giggle at the end after she announces the track.
Episode 8… been excited to announce this one #TSmidnighTS #SwiftTok #MidnightsMayhemWithMe♬ Midnights Mayhem episode 8 - Taylor Swift
Speaking of theories … WHO IS Niceboy Ed?!
Niceboy Ed is the artist behind a song called “Life You Lead,” which soundtracked the making-of-Midnights clip Swift posted to TikTok. However, based on the fact that “Life You Lead,” is Niceboy Ed’s only song and their artist pages on streaming services had just been created when the TikTok featuring him was posted, it seems unlikely that they are an independent entity with no relationship to Swift or Midnights. Swift was credited for her writing on Rihanna’s “This Is What You Came For,” under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg, and her boyfriend, the actor Joe Alwyn, helped pen songs on Folklore and Evermore under the pseudonym William Bowery, so we know this crew likes to use codes. It’s worth noting that Alwyn was one of Niceboy Ed’s first followers on their social media pages. The theory that makes the most sense to me is the simplest one, that Niceboy Ed is Ed Sheeran, the most famous Ed in the Swift orbit, who seems nice enough. The one that makes the least sense to me is that it’s a partial anagram for Beyoncé. As great as that would be, there’s an I and a D leftover, and I just don’t think that avid Scrabble player Taylor Swift would be OK with that kind of imprecision in her Easter-egging.
What is the deal with the upside-down phone?
In every Midnights Mayhem With Me video, Swift picks up a red phone and holds it to her ear before announcing the name of the song. In two of the videos, the ones for “Vigilante Shit” and “Anti-Hero,” the phone is upside down and the cord comes out of the top. In my heart of hearts, I think Swift is just being goofy and they don’t carry meaning beyond that, but it could signify tracks that will have guest features or ones that will be remixed on the deluxe version of the album. The intimate subject matter Swift has told us “Anti-Hero” covers might make it an odd choice to have another artist feature on, but it’s possible. A theory I don’t believe but am deeply glad exists? The cord coming out of the top of the phone is meant to symbolize Ariana Grande’s ponytail. That’s just good interneting.
Is she really speaking in Morse Code?
I’m just going to leave this here.
Basically Taylor swift definitely wrote the life you lead but it could be someone else singing. Maybe it’s someone covering an actual song from midnights @Melissa Stewart #taylorswift #midnights #gaylor #swifttok #niceboyed #ts #ts10 #morsecode #easteregg #cracked #code #greenscreenvideo♬ original sound - SwiftieNina
Why isn’t Taylor performing at the Super Bowl?
The basic answer to this question is that Swift is not headlining the Super Bowl halftime show this year because Rihanna is. The interesting piece of this is why Variety, citing three sources close to the situation, reported that Swift would be doing the show. Shortly after they did, various other outlets reported that was not the case and Rihanna quickly announced that she would take the stage. My best read on that sequence is that both artists were on the shortlist and Swift came close to doing it, but for whatever reason the job wound up going to Rihanna.
The two women are 1A and 1B for the world’s biggest stars who haven’t done a halftime show yet, and odds are they both will at some point. Rihanna is also a client of Jay-Z’s agency Roc Nation, which helps produce the halftime show as part of a partnership with the NFL over entertainment programming and some social-justice initiatives. And, while this may be an unpopular take among Swift fans, Rihanna’s just a bigger get right now when the news of her headlining the show doubles as news that we’ll get to hear her perform music again. Rihanna’s last major stage was at the 2018 Grammys! On Swift’s side, prepping for a blockbuster summer tour while simultaneously creating a halftime show might be too much of a lift—there’s not much overlap between a show that’s good live in-stadium and one that’s good on TV, the latter of which is crucial for a halftime show’s success—so it probably makes sense to wait for another year.
Tour! You said tour. Is that for real?
Yes, signs point to Swift performing live in the near-ish future. “Page Six” reported that she’s planning an “ambitious” tour for the summer of 2023. Financially, given that artists make the majority of their money through live events, it makes all the sense in the world that she’ll get out there soon. If Swift is touring next summer, the logical expectation would be for her to announce so relatively soon, so that fans can budget for tickets and use them as holiday gifts. The most interesting question is what that tour would look like, given the fact that Swift has put out four albums since the Reputation tour in 2018. If she tours stadiums, do Folklore and Evermore get much play in that context? Could she do mini-residencies in cities, a model Harry Styles is currently having success with, but potentially advance the model by using different venues in the same cities to perform different work? There are artistic questions and economic questions at hand. Hearing Folklore and Evermore in a concert hall sounds amazing, but how would Swift handle the demand an event like that would create—demand that, if left up to the market, would likely make the show cost-prohibitive for most fans. Swift had wanted to try a new model for live shows in 2020 with Lover Fest, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’ll be fascinating to see what she’s going to do with material from Lover, Folklore, Evermore, two re-releases with vault tracks and Midnights to work with. The only thing I feel certain about? We’ll be all screaming the bridge to “Cruel Summer” together at some point in 2023.