(October 23, 2022). I was recently told by a very close friend that I was too old to be a Swiftie… very recently in fact.
It was last Thursday as the world was anticipating the release of Taylor Swift’s new album Midnights, which, to no one with a pulse’s surprise, was released at midnight as Thursday turned to Friday (October 21).
I was told this after I had mentioned that I, too, was looking forward to the album’s release, for I had planned to cover Midnights in an article just as I had done many of Taylor’s previous projects over the blog’s nearly eight-year history (she may in fact be this blogger’s most written-about artist, if readers were to conduct a search).
Thursday, coincidentally, was the same night that legendary NFL football commentator Al Michaels (now with Amazon’s Prime Video) stuck his foot in his mouth during a telecast of the New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals game for implying—no, emphatically stating—that only teenage girls dig Taylor’s music and that his colleague Kirk Herbstreit’s four young sons wouldn’t get it.
Twitter, of course, wasn’t having that and swiftly (see what I did there) let Mr. Michaels know it. Swifties from every walk of life—namely different ages and genders—reminded Mr. Michaels just how patriarchal and rife with toxic masculinity his statement was and that Swifties can come in all colors, shapes, sizes, sexualities, ages and genders.
As a 56-year-old Black man, I certainly fall outside of the demographic one would normally associate with being a Swiftie, and, despite accusations to the contrary, you won’t likely see me donning a Taylor Swift t-shirt or screaming wildly at one of her concerts (or screaming at anyone’s for that matter).
But you will find me streaming her albums, especially a brand new one like Midnights—and often on repeat—as I seek to understand just what it is that connects her to so many millions of people, perhaps unlike any other artist before her or since.
Exactly what is a Swiftie?
Now, for those in my peer group (and the blog’s readership demo) who may not know, a “Swiftie” is a devoted Taylor Swift fan—or as millennials might say, “Stan,”—who not only buy and stream her music indiscriminately, but who hang on her every word, defend her at all costs, and according to whom she can do no wrong.
Swifties came to Taylor’s defense (actually much of the world did), for example, when she was interrupted on stage at the 2009 MTV VMAs by Ye (the rapper formerly known as Kanye West). They defended her again when she was outed by Ye’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian for having purportedly given Ye permission to make a lewd reference to her in his song “Famous,” and most recently when she sparred with her nemesis Scooter Braun after he secured ownership rights to her first six albums, which she later rectified by vowing to her fans that she would re-record all of them (she’s done two so far).
Swifties often side with Taylor when she pines over ex-boyfriends and bad behaving men in general. They’re likely pleased that their pop princess went all aggressive on Braun in the new Midnights song “Vigilante Shit” (“don’t get sad, get even”).
Swifties even understood when their heroine turned “villainess” on her 2017 album Reputation, written by Taylor partially in response to her beefs with celebrities and which was introduced by the unusually aggressive No. 1 single “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Indeed, Swifties judge Taylor not by comparing her music with that of other artists, but by comparing her work to her own. Her albums define her “eras” and only they shall be judged against one another, for she is in a stratosphere where only she orbits, and no one else dares enter.
For instance, when her 2019 album “Lover” underperformed (by Taylor’s standards, of course), Swifties responded that there were no bangers on the album and that she needed to return to her 1989 era of straight-up bops. (Taylor, who often doesn’t follow even her own fans’ mandates, promptly responded with further left turns on the introspective, alternative-pop albums Folklore and Evermore, followed by two re-recorded versions of oldies Fearless and Red under the parenthetical titles Taylor’s Version).
Swift appeals mostly to millennials and Gen Z’ers—regardless of gender or sexuality—who grew up with her music and who appreciate that she can tell their stories of angst and woe through her songs—often in ways that they themselves cannot express. Swift does this with a trademark storytelling ability that people of a certain age—like mine—can truly appreciate because it was the kind of lyricism that we cut our teeth on in music decades ago, when artists were far more introspective and creative.
As a 56-year-old (but still young) man, I get her fans’ rabid obsession with their leader.
It’s the kind of fanboy stuff we did back in the 1980s whenever Michael Jackson or Prince released a new album. As 16- and 17-year-olds, my closest friends and I wore Michael Jackson or Prince pins on our jackets, which occasionally (and scarily) mimicked those Jackson or Prince wore in their videos. We pledged our allegiance to one or the other artist—but rarely both—and few, if any, other artists’ names could even enter the conversation.
It was silly, yet fun, the kind of thing young fans who lack a broader, more jaded perspective do. Today, in retrospect, many MJ diehards have come to better appreciate Prince and vice versa. It’s what maturity does.
It’s also no secret to djrobblog readers that I—as a music blogger—look forward to major music releases by today’s artists, like Taylor and Beyoncé, so I can write about them and hopefully get millions of clicks (but I end up settling for hundreds or, if I’m lucky, thousands).
It’s what bloggers do.
But when a new Taylor Swift album comes out, it presents opportunities unlike any other (well, besides the Isley Brothers on this blog for some odd reason, but that’s another story altogether).
In a league of her own?
Let’s face it, there’s not another artist today who can cause as much of a stir on the occasion of a new album release as Taylor Swift does.
Not Drake, not Beyoncé, not Adele, not any one. Well, maybe Adele, but her last album 30 fell off quicker than you can guess her actual age when she released it.
Taylor’s megastar status is something she’s attained through nearly two decades of consistent hit-making—first as a country chanteuse and later as pop’s reigning princess—with one blockbuster album after another.
While the other artists named above have attained comparable levels of success during the Swift era—based on their equally impressive chart numbers—Swift’s albums are often on a level of their own (none of the aforementioned acts would dare issue a new album on the same day as Taylor).
None of them have had four consecutive albums début with first-week sales of a million-plus units (Taylor has: Speak Now, Red, 1989, and Reputation).
So I do get a little giddy when news of a new Taylor Swift album hits the streets. Not giddy like the fanboy I was forty years ago, or like the Swifties of today are, but giddy nonetheless.
My excitement is more strategic now.
I’m admittedly thinking that, if Taylor sells a million units of Midnights, which she likely will in the first week, that fan interest will somehow translate into at least a few hundred clicks of an article analyzing the album, despite the fact that there are probably hundreds of other bloggers and news writers out there who’ve already done the same thing.
Which is astonishing because, with Taylor, there’s really nothing new under the sun.
You almost always know exactly what you’re gonna get, both musically and lyrically…and she rarely deviates (or disappoints, depending on your Swiftie status).
Midnights is not unlike other Taylor albums
Musically, Midnights does experiment with some different instrumentation, sound effects, and various tweaks to Taylor’s vocal cadence—much to many critics’ delight—but she sticks to the basics when it comes to chord structure.
Taylor has never met a three- or four-chord song progression she didn’t like, which, in her case, makes most of her songs distinguishable only by which chords she decides to string together in her textbook, millennial pop fashion (British pop superstars Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran are guilty of this as well).
Exceptions to this standard chord setup are “You’re On Your Own Kid,” “Vigilante Shit” (the album’s best track, btw), and, to a lesser degree, bonus track “High Infidelity” (was that title inspired by the old 1981 REO Speedwagon album that people in my age group remember all too well?).
Closing bonus track “Dear Reader” also pleasantly doesn’t follow the standard four-chord formula, instead delivering an advice-column-like set of lyrics over a series of chilled-out, electronic pop beats and a faint, subtle, synth-driven melody.
Otherwise, Taylor’s formula is proven, if not well worn—again depending on your fan status—rife with deeply personal storytelling, her sometimes multi-layered and occasionally slight vocals rarely deviating from the familiar soft tone her Swifties have come to know and love, and those ironic, metaphor-filled lyrics that make her seem clever and deep (I do believe there isn’t another contemporary pop artist out there that can hold a candle to her writing, at least lyrically speaking).
It’s that talent that she has been able to market so effectively, both to her traditional Swifties and to anyone else intrigued enough to come along for the latest ride.
Prior to the album’s release, for example, she announced on her social media that Midnights was going to be a “journey through terrors and sweet dreams” inspired by “13 sleepless nights” of her life; then she later declared in the trailer accompanying the album’s release that it was inspired more specifically by five things that kept her up at night: self-loathing, fantasizing about revenge, wondering what might have been, falling in love, and falling apart.
While Midnights certainly explores all those themes as Taylor apparently has a lot to pine (and curse) about, it’s just as likely that the album’s title was chosen by nothing more than simply Taylor’s expectation that millions of her devoted fans would be up at “midnight” as Thursday turned to Friday, awaiting the album’s arrival on streaming platforms.
This admittedly skeptical, anti-Swiftie-like theory (revoke my card for thinking it, fans) was given legs just a few hours later when Taylor released the “3 am edition” deluxe version of Midnights, with seven additional tracks, immediately rendering the original 13-song edition useless and seemingly refuting the “stories of (just) 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout (her) life” that the original album’s premise was hyped as being.
Therein lies the difference…
Perhaps, that’s where I and your average Swiftie separate ourselves. The 26-year-old version of me would’ve eaten up all that hype about this album being her most personal yet. The more cynical current version of me recognizes that there hasn’t been an artist anywhere who has ever said that their latest release isn’t their best, most personal album to date.
You also won’t find me pondering the many highly publicized, yet somehow deeply intimate feelings Taylor reveals in songs like “Anti-Hero,” the album’s first official single, or in “Vigilante Shit,” hopefully the album’s second, where she apparently puts a cap on her beef with Scooter Braun, similar to how she ended the Kimye feud on Reputation five years ago. (Midnights does feature a more raw Taylor caving to the recent musical trend of inserting more expletives than necessary in her lyrics, with several f-bombs on this album—followed by “shits” and “goddamns” running second and third.)
I’m not the Swiftie you’ll find trying to figure out whether she’s really finally in love (with her current boyfriend), or whether she was complicit in the demise of any of the previous relationships she sings so much about.
The younger Swifties sleuths can continue solving all the Taylor mysteries hidden in her “Easter Eggs” as album release dates approach. The only mystery I’m currently contemplating is what I’ll be doing post-retirement (from my day job, not the blog).
But you will find me listening to her new music with high interest, judging it on what I perceive to be its merits and trying to understand the common threads that weave through her songs in this latest Midnights era, as compared to those of her younger years.
As a lover of history, I’ll also marvel over the fact that she sold more than 400,000 copies of the album’s vinyl edition on its first day of release—making it the fastest selling vinyl album in over 31 years—and that it broke one-day streaming records on all the major streaming platforms.
Those numbers will guarantee Midnights a No. 1 placement in Billboard next week, making it her record eleventh chart topper (out of 12 eligible tries) and placing her in a tie with Barbra Streisand for most among women, and third overall behind only the Beatles and Jay-Z with 19 and 14, respectively.
With those kinds of credentials backing an artist, it’s easy to be unadventurous or not deviate from a proven formula—or stay in the safe lane as Taylor often does, in my humble opinion of course.
She seems to follow the old proverb of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But she still knows how to weave a great tale lyrically and gives singer/songwriters of the past someone to be proud of in this era where lyrical originality is hard to come by and artists have to credit gang-loads of songwriters just to get clearance for a new song’s release.
As long as Taylor continues homing her craft, this 56-year-old blogger will keep coming back, eating up her new music and giving her a fair shake.
Otherwise, I’ll keep reminiscing about the days when this kind of songwriting was more the norm than the exception.
Closet Swiftie DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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