I have a half-baked, easily-debunked (but please go with it) theory that the last song on a Taylor Swift album is occasionally a clue for her next album. For instance, the triumphant “Change” from Fearless is a preview of the crossover pop-success of Speak Now, while Reputation, an otherwise heavily produced and moody album, ends with the lovely piano-and-acoustic guitar ballad “New Year’s Day,” previewing better days (and nights) to come for Swift on Lover. The last song on the deluxe edition of Evermore, her most recent non-Taylor’s Version album? “It’s Time to Go,” emphasis on the word time.
Midnights, which comes out this Friday, is Swift’s 10th studio album and first without a pre-release single. Little is known about what it sounds like, other than it’s inspired by “13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life,” Swift said. (It always comes back to 13.) Time has been a recurring theme throughout Swift’s discography, from middle-of-the-night dances ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light in “All Too Well” to the haters takin’ shots at her like it’s Patrón at 7 a.m. on “You Need to Calm Down,” and it’s at the forefront of the discourse about the new album. But like a dry, hungry mogwai who wants to turn into a gremlin, is midnight her favorite time of day?
Let’s begin with every lyric of hers that mentions midnight.
It feels like a perfect night
For breakfast at midnight
To fall in love with strangers
You come and pick me up, no headlights
A long drive
Could end in burning flames or paradise
“You Are in Love” (1989)
No proof, not much, but you saw enough
Small talk, he drives
Coffee at midnight
“New Year’s Day” (Reputation)
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day
“The Last Great American Dynasty” (Folklore)
They say she was seen on occasion
Pacing the rocks, staring out at the midnight sea
And in a feud with her neighbor
She stole his dog and dyed it key lime green
In our history, across our great divide
There is a glorious sunrise
Dappled with the flickers of light
From the dress I wore at midnight, leave it all behind
And there is happiness
If you extend “midnight”/”midnights” to “middle of the night,” there are even more options, but it’s unclear whether, say, Taylor is wishing her former-lover was a better man at 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. or 3 a.m. (Matchbox Twenty O’Clock). No other time appears in Swift’s catalog as much as midnight, but there’s another hour that makes multiple appearances.
“Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” (Taylor Swift)
Take me back to the creek beds we turned up
2 a.m. riding in your truck
And all I need is you next to me
It’s 2 a.m., feeling like I just lost a friend
Hope you know it’s not easy, easy for me
“Enchanted” (Speak Now)
The lingering question kept me up
2 a.m., who do you love?
I wonder ’til I’m wide awake
“I Wish You Would” (1989)
It’s 2 a.m. in your car
Windows down, you pass my street, the memories start
There’s also the 2 a.m. adjacent, “And I remember that fight, 2:30 a.m. / As everything was slipping right out of our hands” from “Mine” and, “I still remember the look on your face / Lit through the darkness at 1:58 / The words that you whispered for just us to know / You told me you loved me / So why did you go away?” from “Last Kiss.”
Other specific times to get a shout-out in Swift songs include 3 a.m. (“3 a.m. and I’m still awake, I’ll bet you’re just fine” from “I Bet You Think About Me”), 4 a.m. (“I wish it wasn’t 4 a.m., standing in the mirror” from “Better Man”), and 5 a.m. (“I call, just checking up on him / He’s up, 5 a.m., wasted” from “Forever Winter”). Interestingly, I believe there is not a single song of hers set during the p.m., at least not one with “p.m.” in the lyrics.
Swift has always prided herself on making personal experiences feel universal — it’s arguably the reason for her chart-topping success more than anything else. The a.m. over p.m. preference is an example of this. I can’t remember what I did yesterday at the boring hour 4 p.m. But I can recall a month ago, which was the last time I was awake until 1:30 a.m. It wasn’t pretty. But it was memorable.
As for Swift, it’s clear she has a lyrical preoccupation with midnight and 2 a.m. The difference between them is that she sees midnight as a time for romantic affection, for eating pancakes with friends, for dimly-lit drives filled with possibilities. 2 a.m. only brings sadness. It’s an hour of regret, reflection, and questions asked alone in the dark. Or as Future Ted astutely once noted on How I Met Your Mother, “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” If Midnights is “a journey through terrors and sweet dreams,” as Swift wrote in the album announcement, midnight is the sweet dreams; 2 a.m. is the terrors.
Further proof that Swift prefers midnight to 2 a.m.: it’s when Midnights comes out.