Happy Midnights Day

Today, at midnight sharp EST, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album titled Midnights. It is a collection of 13 (duh!) songs written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams.

To know me, whether intimately or from social media, is to know that I am definitely maybe the biggest Swiftie this side of the Sahara. I have a deep, abounding, unconditional love for Taylor Alison Swift that started when I heard Love Story on Rick Dees circa 2008, grew Mine with released on my birthday in 2010, and by the time Red came out in 2012 I was a bona fide Swiftie. I have been asked many, many, many times why I love Taylor so damn much, but I have never been able to articulate my reasons. My answer is always something along the lines of, “gosh! Where do I even start?” I think the main reason I fumble is because TS is the Grand Maester of words, so much so that her songwriting is the subject of a new literature course at the University of Texas. Dubbed “Literary Contests and Contexts: The Taylor Swift Songbook,” her songs will be studied alongside work by literary giants such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Coleridge, Frost, and Keats. So how do I use the same words she wields so masterfully and effortlessly to articulate my love for her? But today, on what I have dubbed Midnights day, I shall do my best to finally explain why TS means the world to me.

Like everyone else, I first related to TS because of her music. She is the most gifted singer-songwriter who has won countless awards, from 11 Grammys—including three Album of the Year wins (only one of six main artists and the only woman to do so), 34 American Music Awards—the most for an act, 29 Billboard Music Awards—the most for a woman, an Emmy Award, and everything in between. She is an inductee in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and being a writer myself, it is lyrics that resonate most with me. I appreciate a good bop and can bump to a great record with nonsense lyrics. But it is great lyrics that stay with me forever, and TS has a shitload of them. While receiving the Songwriter-Artist of the Decade Award from the Nashville Songwriters Association International last month, TS shared that writing songs is her life’s work, her hobby and her never-ending thrill.

Though I may not be a multi-award-winning singer-songwriter like TS, I am a logophile. Words are my talent. I say that with confidence and ease. I know how to use words to hurt and to heal. I am not picky; big or small, I love them all. Whether I am reading, speaking or writing them, I just love how words interact with each other to form sentences. TS is a cowboy logophile like me (I had to 😅) whose music has stayed with me even when people or feelings did not. foklkore the album that won TS her third Album of the Year Grammy can be described as a roadmap to my soul, but it is reputation, her sixth album, that is dearest to me as it saved my life in December 2017.

TS was born on December 13, 1989. 28 years later, on December 13, 2017 at 1:10 a.m., my mum, the absolute love of my life, died following a 5 ½ year battle with breast cancer. What are the fucking odds?!! There are coincidences, and then there is out of the 365 days in 2017 my mum’s death day just had to fall on my idol’s birthday… what are the fucking odds indeed.

June 15, 2012; a sunny Friday afternoon that had started out like any other day until my mum was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer that had metastasised to her spine. Over the next year my mum lost her hair, her breast and then her ability to walk. 2014 and 2015 were the hardest years in my mum’s battle with cancer as she was being admitted to hospital on a monthly basis. During those copious hospital admissions I would visit my mum every day and I ALWAYS played Shake It Off when walking into the hospital. I resonate deeply with metaphors so I would play that song real loud through my earphones and shake off whatever negative emotions I may have been feeling. Whether it was a bad day at the office, a fight with my then-boyfriend, or just general frustrations with life, none of it had any business carrying over to my mum’s hospital room. Cancer is scary shit and those battling it need nothing but positive vibes around them. I wrote about my mum’s battle with cancer in a series of 13 (duh!) posts titled ‘JS Kicking Cancer’s Ass’ that you can check out here.

In early 2015, less than three years after my mum’s diagnosis, TS revealed on her Tumblr that her mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Then in 2020 she revealed that her mom was battling cancer for the second time and also had a brain tumor. While everyone’s journey of witnessing someone they love battle cancer is unique, there is an aspect of that trauma and grief shared by us, their loved ones, that may be different in the details but is similar in the hope we desperately hold on to, and the despair and fear that keep us up at night. So while I do not know TS personally, I have a deeply personal understanding of what her and her family are going/went through and I continue to send them so much strength, love and light.

But while her mum is very much alive, mine died 1 hour and 10 minutes into TS’s 28th birthday. Meaning, in a horrible twist of the popular Christmas song, she died 12 days before Christmas. Christmas has always been my favourite day and time of the year, so you can imagine how awful it is that I buried my mum two days before Christmas. I came back to Nairobi on Christmas Eve and there was absolutely nothing merry about my first Christmas without the love of my life. It was a horrible Christmas in more ways than one and I would not have survived it were it not for reputation, TS’s sixth album. It was released on November 10th but I only got around to listening to it in the days following my mum’s death. And that album saved my life. For 55:38 minutes I thought about something else other than the fact that my mum was dead. I played it over and over and over. Sober or high, there was only one thing I wanted to listen to. It may sound hyperbolic to say rep saved my life, but I have the word reputation tattooed on my right ribcage so believe me when I say I would not have survived December 2017 were it not for that album.

I first fell in love with TS because of her chart-topping music, the logophile in me is obsessed with her lyricism, after my mum died the number 13 now means as much to me as it does to TS, and the woman I am continues to learn from, and be inspired by, her very public highs and lows.

From her 2019 Elle Magazine self-written article on 30 things she learned before turning 30, I learnt the importance of realising childhood scars and working on rectifying them:

For example, never being popular as a kid was always an insecurity for me. Even as an adult, I still have recurring flashbacks of sitting at lunch tables alone or hiding in a bathroom stall, or trying to make a new friend and being laughed at. In my twenties I found myself surrounded by girls who wanted to be my friend. So I shouted it from the rooftops, posted pictures, and celebrated my newfound acceptance into a sisterhood, without realizing that other people might still feel the way I did when I felt so alone. It’s important to address our long-standing issues before we turn into the living embodiment of them.

From her very public feud with Kim and Kanye in 2016 that birthed the reputation era, I learnt the importance of turning your setbacks into successes. Of not caring so much if you feel misunderstood by people who do not know you, as long as you feel understood by the people who do know you. TS was very publicly cancelled after Kim produced “receipts” “proving” her insincerity. The hashtag #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty soon trended on Twitter and it was not long before she disappeared from the spotlight. She later said that so many people jumping to cancel led her to feeling lower than she had ever felt in her life, and that she feared the cancellation might ruin her career, so she disappeared from the public eye until she released reputation in November 2017. When Kim called her a snake on Twitter, it led TS to be inundated with snake emojis on her social media pages. But she flipped that insult around by embracing snake imagery for rep’s album cycle: from her Look What You Made Me Do music video, to merchandise, to a 63-foot inflatable cobra named Karyn that was the “centerpiece” of her Reputation Stadium Tour. TS also took charge of her image and narrative at this time by not doing any interviews to promote the album, a first for her, and instead let reputation do the talking. And you have to admit, “There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation.” was pretty fucking epic!!!

From her very public feud with Scooter Braun in 2019 I learnt the importance of having agency and a voice, more so for women in this patriarchal society we live in. TS did not take Scooter’s ownership, then sale, of the masters of her first six albums lying down. Some of those songs were written on her bedroom floor in her early teens and she unapologetically used her voice to make it clear what horseshit it was for her nemesis to own work he had no part in creating. Sis took her power back with the decision to re-record her first six albums, and so far she has released Fearless (Taylor’s version) and Red (Taylor’s version). From November 10th she can officially rerecord rep and I am dyyyiiinnnggg for reputation (Taylor’s version) as I cannot wait:

  1. For the vault tracks. If Red (Taylor’s version) is anything to go by, rep’s vault tracks will be siiiiccckk!!
  2. To listen to my favourite TS album (though folklore stays giving it a run for its money 😅) guilt-free. I always feel guilty listening to TS’s back catalogue so unless I realllllllyyyyyy cannot help it, I try not to give Scooter any of my coins 🙅‍♀️

TS also uses her voice to advocate for other artists. Following the drama with Scooter she called out the music industry for its exploitation of artists and said she would use her leverage to fight for musicians’ rights to own their work and be compensated fairly for it. In 2015 she wrote an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, calling out the company’s decision not to pay artists during its initial three month free trial of Apple Music. Within hours, Apple announced that it was reversing said decision. While many artists, big or small, stay silent for fear of rocking the boat, TS stays using her status to make a difference and I fucking admire and respect that. Too often it is easier to lay low for fear of being singled out for punishment or ridicule, but TS took her setbacks and used them to propel success not just for her, but for other artists as well. Her enemies ignited a fire in the self-proclaimed approval seeker that propelled her to never stay silent about nonsense ever again. I have always been one to use my voice to stand up for myself, but a confident, assertive woman is not something society takes to easily. After all, no one likes a mad woman. But TS emboldened me to continue using my voice and agency and not give too many fucks about who I piss off in the process.

Over the years my love for TS has evolved from just that of an artist to that of a talented, innovative, resilient and accomplished artist, businesswoman and role model. Hence today on Midnights day (and for all the days of my life) I remain Little Miss Can’t Shut Up About Taylor Swift.

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