Taylor Swift rewrites history with a new version of Midnights

Taylor Swift rewrites history with another edition of Midnights
Taylor Swift rewrites history with another edition of Midnights

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift fans will never be mad about getting more music, but even the Swifties must feel there’s a lot going on at the moment when it comes to their idol. Just three weeks after Swift announced the upcoming release of a new re-recording, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), the star dropped another bombshell: a new version of Midnights was coming, most notably featuring a remix of “Karma” featuring It Girl-rapper Ice Spice.

Midnights the album is less than a year old, but, by this writer’s count, now has five separate editions out in the world:

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  1. Midnights, the 13-track original album available in both digital and physical formats, released at midnight Eastern on October 21, 2022

  2. Midnights (3 AM Edition), the deluxe version of the album with seven additional tracks, available digitally only and released 3 A.M. Eastern on October 21, 2022

  3. Midnights (Target Exclusive), which includes the 13 original tracks plus three bonus songs, including “Hits Different,” available only physically and only at Target, released October 21, 2022

  4. Midnights (Til Dawn Edition), which features all 20 previously released tracks plus two remixes/re-recordings (featuring Ice Spice and Lana Del Rey) and “Hits Different,” available digitally only and released May 26, 2023

  5. Midnights (the “Late Night Tracks” version), which swaps two “3 AM” tracks (“Paris” and “Glitch”) for the new remixes and adds a brand new “From the Vault” track, “You’re Losing Me”, available physically only and only on site at MetLife Stadium, released May 26, 2023

If the nuances of these releases confuse you, you’re certainly not alone. Deluxe editions of albums have been fairly normal business practice in the music industry for decades, but it’s safe to say five different versions that are all available in different formats goes beyond normal practice. It’s frankly a chaotic release strategy for someone of Swift’s stature, especially when the latest Midnights release comes little more than a month before Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). Why would Swift risk over-saturating the market when she’s already established herself as being in the most productive chapter of her career?

The obvious answer is money, and Swift is known for eking out as many dollars as she can from her fans. Upon the original release of Midnights, the artist released four separate versions of the vinyl that could be put together to form a working clock, which encouraged fans to buy multiple copies of the same album. The mastermind move made Midnights the top-selling vinyl of 2022; according to Billboard, about one in every 25 vinyl records sold in the U.S. last year were Taylor Swift albums.

Swift is also savvy at optimizing her streaming numbers. Since the folklore/evermore era, she’s capitalized on digital formats by releasing several remixes of each single (“cardigan - cabin in candlelight version,” “willow [lonely witch version],” etc.) as well as reconfiguring the tracks into playlists that function sort of like EPs (“the escapism chapter,” “the ‘dropped your hand while dancing’ chapter”).

These are sly ways of getting fans to re-purchase and re-stream the music, but it also makes “the album,” as a work of art, a malleable rather than static thing. Even her work from more than a decade ago is not exempt from this kind of pruning. In March, she dropped a handful of re-recorded songs that included “If This Was A Movie (Taylor’s Version),” a track that originally appeared on the original Speak Now deluxe edition. Presumably, this song won’t appear on the Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) tracklist—notably the only song on any version of that album on which Swift had a co-writer.

Which brings us to the second reason for an artist (who is already wealthy enough to last several lifetimes) to be so fanatical about retooling her work in real time: Taylor Swift likes to exert complete control over her own narrative. Removing “If This Was A Movie” means she can accurately call Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) a purely self-written album. The various versions of Midnights serve various narrative purposes, too. The original is a collaboration between herself and Jack Antonoff only, but the 3 AM Edition makes room for another favorite collaborator, Aaron Dessner. The Til Dawn Edition capitulates to a fan complaint by giving them “More Lana Del Rey” (on “Snow On The Beach”) and graciously giving in to the clamor for “Hits Different” on streaming.

Perhaps most intriguingly, the “Late Night Tracks” version omits the two happy love songs from 3 AM and replaces them with a song called “You’re Losing Me.” That’s sure to prompt some speculation in the wake of a much-discussed breakup. (And if you want to get really conspiratorial, adding Ice Spice to the tracklist might be a bit of reputation laundering for Swift’s apparent new relationship with Matty Healy.)

Swift’s valid crusade to own her own stories gives her the right to rewrite those stories as she sees fit. But should it be this easy to manipulate standalone works of art? It’s an issue unique to the streaming era—in the days of physical-only releases, it wouldn’t be so easy to rearrange a tracklisting to suit an artist’s whims after the fact. “The album” as a concept has already suffered from streaming, as fans prefer to cherry-pick tracks for their own playlists rather than listen to an album the way it was released.

Taylor Swift is perhaps one of the few artists who can get fans invested in her albums as a concept, and clearly even she’s not invested in preserving the integrity of the format. The Grammy winner is currently out on her Eras Tour, which celebrates the distinctive epochs of her career. Yet her actions show that she doesn’t consider an era a fixed point, rather something that can be rewritten, repackaged, and resold to suit her purposes. Obviously, the fans are still showing up for it. Given that Swift is arguably the biggest artist in the world, her flexibility about what constitutes an album might forecast an entirely new era for the music industry.

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