Music

Taylor Swift’s Midnights and Psalm 139

Joylanda Jamison

How often have issues of the heart kept us awake at night? Tossing and turning in bed, groaning with frustration as time slips into the midnight hours? But how many of us will admit that the one we're struggling to love is ourselves? On Taylor Swift's Midnights, she grapples with loving a seemingly fragmented self.

The opening track, “Lavender Haze,” slowly pulls listeners into this semiconscious state, as warbled background noises contrast with higher toned, synthesized voices. Listeners are brought into an auditory ebb and flow–the hazy state of unconsciousness and the jarringly sharp questions that keep us awake at night. This is the tone Swift sets for the entire album: the background noise of outsiders’ opinions competing with her own voice, which cries out for autonomy. While she seems to gain solace from the fact that her lover is unphased by public critiques of her character, Swift still laments on “Lavender Haze,” “I find it dizzying (yeah, oh yeah) / they're bringing up my history (yeah, oh yeah).” Her resounding resolve is blasted clearly in the chorus: "I'll be d***ed if I do give a d*** what people say.”

On “Anti-Hero,” Swift continues being flippant about her public perception while playing into a divided persona. She sarcastically sings in the chorus, "It's me / Hi / I'm the problem, it's me,” then later goes on to characterize herself as a monster compared to other people. By labeling herself the antihero, Swift makes a plea for her own humanity by discounting the idea that she's perfect. (Doesn’t everyone have less than heroic tendencies?) But she also snarkily pushes back at the critics. Swift allows her vocal range to slide from high, upbeat notes to low, gravelly admissions throughout the song. When she says, “It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero,” it sounds like a false apology for letting people down.

On “Question . . . ?,” Swift also hints at the disappointment she's caused past lovers. This track is drastically paired down, as there is a single, steady beat that guides the tempo. Swift once again uses her full vocal range to bring more intrigue to the piece, offering honest questions about whether her former lover remembers how the relationship went wrong. Although dertractors have tried to portray Swift as a foolish romantic, she later notes in “Sweet Nothing” that she isn't some mindless girl chasing love. A playful, nursery rhyme-style piano chord progression evokes tones of simplicity and childlike innocence, yet Swift focuses on having found someone who matches her maturity. He doesn’t make unrealistic demands of her, but provides a safe haven for her most intimate confessions.

Likewise, “Maroon” is a mature reworking of “Red,” from her 2012 album of the same name. Where “Red” focuses on the emotional high of young love, “Maroon” features a wiser Swift, who notes that the highs and lows make relationships sweet and memorable. “Snow on the Beach” is another hopeful love song that uses the faint chime of Christmas bells to compare the magic of falling in love to the whimsical feeling of "snow on the beach.” And “Bejeweled” is a techno-infused reminder that being in a relationship does not discount the fact that “when (she) walk(s) in the room / (she) can still make the whole place shimmer.” Swift reminds her lover, “Don’t put me in the basement” when she deserves priority in his heart.

On Midnights, Taylor Swift grapples with loving a seemingly fragmented self.

Swift’s search for affirmation from romantic relationships and society at large reminds me of Psalm 139, where we hear David’s testimony of God’s affirmation of us. Swift’s pleas that she is worthy of being prioritized are echoed in the first three verses of the psalm, which note that we are so worthy of love that the God of the universe takes the time to learn all of the characteristics that make us unique. Swift pines to be known by others—lovers and the public—but God is the one person who knows us completely. God not only completes our sentences “before a word is on my tongue,” the Lord knows our thoughts completely.

Unfortunately, Swift has seemingly allowed unsuccessful relationships and the pressure of public opinion to cause her to make peace with qualities that God promises to redeem. On the upbeat “Karma,” Swift haughtily asserts that “karma is a god,” then pridefully revels in the fact that “it’s coming back around” for those who live a malicious lifestyle. While it is true that the actions we sow will cause us to reap an equivalent harvest, Psalm 139 recognizes that God should be the one to enact justice. This is in contrast to another song on Midnights, “Vigilante S**t,” where Swift takes justice into her own hands and again revels in the demise of a wrongdoer. “You’re on Your Own, Kid” does have the positive message of taking chances on one’s dreams and enjoying life, but the melancholy track also makes the claim that people can only depend on themselves. Psalm 139 offers another perspective: the assurance that no matter where we find ourselves in life, God will be there, for “even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

In the twists and turns of our emotions, then, God is present. On “Labyrinth,” Swift struggles to navigate her thoughts on love and overcoming criticism: "It only feels this raw right now / trapped in the labyrinth of my mind." Again, she uses conflicting sounds to push a sense of disorientation—an ethereal ambiance overlayed with techno blips and vocal echoes. While Swift seems resolved to embrace both her best and worst qualities, Christians are urged to go further than simply ruminating on such late-night reflections.

Near the end of Psalm 139, David cries, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." This is a plea both for guidance and refinement. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul encourages us to reflect Christ in every aspect of our lives, so that we may be “transformed by the renewing of (our) minds.” This cannot happen apart from accepting God's loving guidance.

Finding affirmation in Christ reminds us that we are indeed children of God. As his children, we should long to reflect his character and allow him to redeem those thought patterns and characteristics that conflict with his standard of living. Unlike the world’s standard of perfection—which Taylor Swift has been unfairly held to, more than most—God’s standard is tempered by grace and mercy, given to us through Jesus Christ. We can rest peacefully knowing that God stands ready to reaffirm his love for us and silence all anxious thoughts of doubt, even in our midnights.

Topics: Music