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Reader Response Theory for Taylor Swift’s Midnights Album: Sweet Nothings & Bigger than the Whole Sky

6 Nov

I don’t think Taylor intended either of the songs in this way.

I thought I even heard a rumor that Taylor “liked” a Tik-Tok that said she was talking about her boyfriend.

But…

Death of the Author, a very unfortunate name of this theory, says once the artist releases the product into the world their work is no longer just theirs.

I think the interpretations seen by fans are more beautiful than the intention.

Therefore I’m not going to try to find Taylor’s meanings in depth.  In short I think the songs are written respectively about:  A red herring ‘I love the calmness of Joe’ song.  Even though on this very album Taylor says she goes to a house (cold and empty place to sleep) not a home (warm and loving with cherished memories made) alone.  Joe is not in her kitchen.  Joe does not want nothing from Taylor (career connections and a Grammy?!). And I thought Bigger than the Whole Sky is a song grieving the loss of Kaylor, and the loss of the person who Taylor would have been if she chose to come out of the closet and live that life. And break-ups, divorce, closeting–they’re all sad. That’s not to be minimized, I just got a lot out of the fan interpretations.

I’ll describe how listeners perceived the songs.

SWEET NOTHINGS

I spy with my little tired eye

Tiny as a firefly

A pebble that we picked up last July

The pebble is carried as a reminder when the loved one is not physically there (during war, in the following example):

This could be talking about her relationship with Joe, since in another song Taylor sings I go to a house, not a home, alone.  Joe does not live with her.  The pebble could show that Joe is a beard, not physically present unless PR is required.

This could also be a pebble picked up with her mother.  A reminder of good times.  And Taylor will keep it even after Andrea passes, as a sort of happy reminder of better times.

Down deep inside your pocket

We almost forgot it

Does it ever miss Wicklow sometimes?

Intentional call back to Wicklow in Ireland, where Joe filmed his movie, Conversations with Friends.  She does this sometimes to appease her heteronormative-requiring fans/media/public.  For instance in Dress Taylor is obviously singing about a secret relationship with a woman.  But the bridge jump-cuts to a buzz cut to flag–I’m straight everybody, don’t worry about the lyrics in the verses and their gay implications!

I think the pictures speak for themselves and prove my point.  The line could be a red herring like in Dress, or Andrea could have visited Wicklow/Ireland with Taylor, because they have been known to travel together.

Ooh…

They said the end is coming

Everyone’s up to something

I find myself running home to your

Sweet nothings

Outside they’re push and shoving

You’re in the kitchen humming

All that you ever wanted from me was

Sweet nothing

On the way home

I wrote a poem

You say, “what a mind”

This happens all the time

I think the “you” could be fans just for these 3 or so lines.  When I’m perusing social media I always see fans respond to Taylor’s lyrics, videos, outfits, etc, etc… with “her mind” as in awe over her creativity, and calculated planning, and abilities.  Obviously, it could be her #1 fan, her mom also.

Ooh…

‘Cause they said the end is coming

Everyone’s up to something

I find myself running home to your

Sweet nothings

Outside they’re push and shoving

You’re in the kitchen humming

All that you ever wanted from me was

… nothing

Industry disrupters and soul deconstructors

And smooth-talking hucksters

Out glad-handing each other

And the voices that implore

“You should be doing more”

Are the voices fans and critics that say Taylor should use her huge platform to advocate?  People want her to speak out on various issues, and she shies away from most, staying quiet and possibly donating money behind the scenes.

It could also be that industry push to hustle with her career. There’s always more to do as an artist and celebrity.

To you I can admit

That I’m just too soft for all of it

Ooh…

They said the end is coming

Everyone’s up to something

I find myself running home to your

Sweet nothings

Outside they’re push and shoving

You’re in the kitchen humming

Here’s Taylor and her mom in the kitchen.  Also, I just wanted an excuse to watch the banana video again, because it brings me joy!

All that you ever wanted from me was

Sweet nothing

They said the end is coming

Could be end of life, could be the end of Taylor’s fame or career…

Everyone’s up to something

I find myself running home to your

Sweet nothings

Outside they’re push and shoving

You’re in the kitchen humming

All that you ever wanted from me was

Sweet nothing

Next song

***blanket trigger warning: death, miscarriage, loss, grief…***

BIGGER THAN THE WHOLE SKY

No words appear before me in the aftermath

Salt streams out my eyes and into my ears

Every single thing I touch becomes sick with sadness

‘Cause it’s all over now, all out to sea

Firstly, I want to say the subject of miscarriage should not be whispered. It is not stigmatizing. People need to process their feelings and that happens through communication. Also though I didn’t want to open wounds or traumatize anyone, so I am trying to tread very carefully with this subject matter. No harm intended.

I was going to add some medical articles here that substantiate why I think this line is applicable for miscarriage, but after reading them, I thought I better not because readers might be triggered.

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

You were bigger than the whole sky

You were more than just a short time

And I’ve got a lot to pine about

I’ve got a lot to live without

I’m never gonna meet

What could’ve been, would’ve been

What should’ve been you

I think this is a soothing way to sum up feelings after such a loss.

What could’ve been, would’ve been you

Did some bird flap its wings over in Asia?

Not to break the absolute stoic emotions of this song but Taylor has been known to write words that are adjacent to a more viable word for the song.  Here are two examples:

In Call it what You Want I think when the lyrics are sung (rather than read) it sounds like a question to Karlie.  You can definitely pick up some Karlies in that song, especially at the end.

In Closure there is a line that I think is supposed to be “beards” and you can hear it as she sings.  Taylor usually chooses wine and has so many lyrics and pictures regarding wine.  And in closure Taylor is telling Karlie there will be no convenient, amicable friendship after their breakup.  She will remain sad and closeted, bearding for her public image, and no letter that Karlie writes trying to smooth things over, will change that.

Now that you’ve seen the examples, I think flap its wings over Asia, sounds like over an angel.

Did some force take you because I didn’t pray?

Dear John, Enchanted, I’d Lie, Soon You’ll Get Better all contain the word “pray”

Soon You’ll Get Better is a track 12 and Sweet Nothing is a track 12.

Every single thing to come has turned into ashes

‘Cause it’s all over, it’s not meant to be

So I’ll say words I don’t believe

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

You were bigger than the whole sky

You were more than just a short time

And I’ve got a lot to pine about

I’ve got a lot to live without

I’m never gonna meet

What could’ve been, would’ve been

What should’ve been you

What could’ve been, would’ve been

What should’ve been you

In trigger-avoidance I won’t put the contents of the website, but please check it out if this song is personal to you for a reason.

Resources for dealing with grief:

https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support/topics/miscarriage-loss-and-grief

(What could’ve been, would’ve been)

What could’ve been, would’ve been you

(Could’ve been, would’ve been)

(Could’ve been, would’ve been)

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

You were bigger than the whole sky

You were more than just a short time

And I’ve got a lot to pine about

I’ve got a lot to live without

I’m never gonna meet

What could’ve been, would’ve been

What should’ve been you

I just think it’s so meaningful and touching as a song of loss, whatever the loss is interpreted as. This song really hits me in the heart.