midnights

This is What it’s Like to Listen to a Taylor Swift Album for the First Time

In August of 2017, my sister and I leaned into one another, a headphone in each of our ears.

We were sitting in a high section of the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA, waiting for Dierks Bentley to go on stage. The room was echoing with people going to and from their seats.

The clock hit 9:00pm. It was a Thursday. Spotify unveiled their new releases of the week. But we only cared about one.

It had been almost three years since Taylor Swift released 1989, and we were desperate for new music. And now, the first single off of the upcoming reputation had finally been released.

“Look What You Made Me Do” came in firing. We bounced our feet around, listening to every word. We gasped, we shrieked, we opened our eyes wide and let out an “OH MY GOSH.”

A few months later, at 9:00pm (midnight for the east coast) on another Thursday, we sat in our favorite chairs in the living room and streamed the entire album.

Unable to fully understand each lyric the first time it hit us, we listened to the attitude, we bobbed to the beat, we sighed, we laughed, we clapped, we screamed.

In a matter of weeks, we knew the whole album by heart.

For some reason, this is the first Taylor Swift album I remember listening to for the first time. Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red and 1989 all had their first listens, and I now know every word to every song, but for some reason it’s the reputation release that sticks out. Maybe it’s because it’s the first album she released after my sister and I moved out of our parents’ house and into a place of our own. It was the first album we could play at full volume and stay up late talking about without having to worry about keeping anyone else up.

After reputation, it became our tradition to listen to the albums together. To experience them for the first time, together. 

In August of 2019, we heard Lover for the first time.

In July of 2020, as “stay at home” orders remained in effect, folklore became our biggest and brightest calendar event. And in December of 2020, evermore sent similar shockwaves throughout our very abnormal world.

In April and November of 2021, we sat in a new living room in a new apartment, listening to the new recording of the Fearless and Red albums, singing along to songs we already knew and learning the ones we didn’t.

On this past Thursday, my cousin Taryn and I stood in the audience of a concert in West Hollywood. My sister, now married and living with her husband, was unfortunately home with the flu. The concert started an hour late. By the end, even though the show had been great and the artist even more talented than we thought, we were tapping our toes, anxious to get out of the venue, into the car, and into the world of Midnights.

It was 10:30pm. We were an hour and a half behind the rest of the world who had stayed up to listen. We still had no idea what to expect. For half of our drive downtown we had theorized. Had tried to pick our favorite songs based solely on their names. We tried to know the album before it introduced itself, because we were desperate for the familiarity it would bring once it did.

Once I got on the freeway, we hit play. It was pitch black outside, with only spurts of traffic to brighten the road. “Lavender Haze” started playing through the speakers.

We swayed and then we flung our hands around. I smacked the steering wheel over and over, my excitement needing to escape somewhere.  We drove home, listening to the album in sequential order, one after the other, making only occasional comments, often just sounds. When we got back to my apartment, we hustled in and took our spots on the couch and recliner, and then played the rest of the album.

All 20 songs.

I listened the way I always do, in the same shape. I melted into the couch, my legs tucked under me, and I sat still. I listened, still. I let the album pour over the top of my head like water, absorbing each song in its entirety.

At the end, I couldn’t pick a favorite, couldn’t say much of anything. I was just shocked, quiet, and contemplative.

It felt like the day after Christmas. The end of a book or a movie.

The tension and anticipation, that thing that pulled you through each waiting day, the moment you had been waiting for, had passed. But it was not over. Because now it was time to look.

The first listen of the album lays down the pieces of the puzzle, and in every listen after you search for yourself. For the words that make things make sense. Because that’s why you’re here, that’s why you showed up. To see if she wrote a song that gives you language you didn’t have before. To see if she found a way to speak a feeling you’d only been able to hold.  

It might not be a feeling unique to a Taylor Swift album. I think it’s more a feeling consistent with art. But over the years, for those who listen, Taylor Swift’s music has become a reliable source of discovery. Of validation. Of the truth. And not just the capital “tea” truth that allegedly spills the secrets of this celebrity or that, but the truth about the feelings we all carry around with us. The truths about life we don’t always have the ability to talk about.

When I listen to a Taylor Swift album, I find, more often than anywhere else, the urge to point and say, “that. I feel like that.” And she makes talking about those feelings feel good, feel normal, feel uniting where it was previously isolating.

After I listen to a new Taylor Swift album, I often lie awake wondering if I could do that. Create. Be honest. Write something that makes people say, “that!” And knowing I’m not the only one that feels that way, listening to a new Taylor Swift album gives me hope that there are people all around the world starting the projects that will make it better.

So you’ll always find me on that couch, on a Thursday, at 9:00pm or quickly after. I will always show up to listen to a new album, because I always have more to say. And Taylor helps me say it.