Every time it seems like Taylor Swift couldn’t possibly reach a higher peak in terms of popularity or acclaim, more potential accolades come into view.
She’s nominated for six Grammys ahead of the awards ceremony on Sunday. Yes, she’ll be in attendance, supposedly seated next to Lana Del Rey. We’ve been told not to expect a performance as she plans to hop straight on a plane to Tokyo for the next run of shows on her Eras tour.
But the question of whether she’ll win Album of the Year for Midnights, which would make her the first singer in Grammys history to take home the award four times—she’s currently tied with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon on three—still hangs in the air.
Betting on Swift to win something is always a safe choice, but to crown Midnights, a solid pop album, over one of the other nominees would only be a cherry on top of the artist’s massive cultural footprint, rather than an award reflecting the album’s actual merits.
Midnights has high highs, but it’s far from Swift’s most memorable work. Revisiting the peak-pop-music grammar she established with 2014’s 1989, the songs retread old territory, sonically and lyrically, and don’t feel as intimate or distinctive as many of her other offerings.
SOS, on the other hand, is a more than deserving potential winner. SZA’s sophomore effort has everything: chart-topping bangers like “Kill Bill,” whose chorus narrates the singer murdering her ex-boyfriend; down bad anthems like “Snooze” and experiments like the soaring pop punk song “F2F” that let you know this is an artist unafraid to take risks.
A win for Del Rey’s Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd would also be earned, and thrilling. Del Rey thrived without industry accolades for years and has only been nominated for AOTY once before. She’s a genius who deserves formal recognition.
The official Swift Narrative, as has always been the case, is just as central to her success as her music.
In just a few short days, Swift is set to take her U.S. city-devouring Eras Tour, already the highest-grossing music tour in history, abroad for its international dates, perpetuating her catalogue’s cultural ubiquity and further globalizing her image. Her romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who’s set to battle for the Super Bowl Championship next week, also fanned the flames of public consciousness.
Swift and Kelce have made light of the simmering backlash to their ubiquity in NFL coverage, labeling detractors nothing more than “Brads and Chads,” but there’s a real threat of backlash hovering around Swift’s golden aura right now that an Album of the Year win would likely translate to reality: One can only win so many times before people start to get pissed off. Reputation-era Taylor knows that all too well.
Folklore, her last win in 2020, was near universally seen as the defining record of the pandemic era; a rich and daring genre experiment that endeared her to reluctant audiences and comforted longtime fans during a period of protracted isolation. Midnights might be huge, but it simply didn’t hit the same array of targets.
There is a Grammy that Swift has never won, oddly enough: Song of the Year—even though she’s now been nominated in that category, which rewards songwriting specifically, a record seven times, including this year for the Midnight’s lead single “Anti-Hero.”
Swift’s six previous misses must sting, especially for someone as praise-driven as herself. They include “You Belong with Me,” which understandably lost to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” in 2010, and “Lover,” which was bested by the Billie Eilish track “Bad Guy” in 2020.
2023’s loss for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” was, sorry, also deserved: The original might be widely lauded as Swift’s best track, but the extended version, while a hit on the charts, is largely loved by and primarily for Swifties. The Recording Academy decided to give Bonnie Raitt a throwback win over more relevant artists like Beyoncé, Lizzo and Adele.
Among her SOTY nominations, Swift was most clearly robbed of the wins she richly deserved two years in a row. You might hate “Shake It Off,” but it was unstoppable in 2015. Sam Smith took home the award that year for “Stay With Me.”
And Swift losing the award again the following year, this time for “Blank Space,” is the most egregious oversight. Sure, the song was certified eight times platinum and crystallized her transition from country to pop, but its lasting value lies in its artistry.
To write “Blank Space,” Swift harnessed the crazy serial dater label assigned to her by mid-2010s media, embraced the character in song and dropped some eternal truisms. Boys, as it turns out, really do only want love if it’s torture. Then she went and lost the award to Ed Sheeran for his power ballad “Thinking of You.”
Midnights may have several skips, but “Anti-Hero,” in which Swift acknowledges both her flaws and the effort it takes her supporters to defend her again and again, deserves to finally break perhaps the one losing streak the pop star has managed to log in her charmed career.
The track illustrates why she’s seemingly able to blithely withstand every fresh scoff of derision from her perch at the top of pop culture: Her worst critic, even after all her wins, is still herself.