Track five holds a special place in the heart of every Taylor Swift fan.
It’s “All Too Well.” It’s “Delicate.” It’s “Dear John.” It’s the “vulnerable, personal, honest, emotional song,” she explained before the release of Lover. “So because [the fans] noticed this, I kind of started to put the songs that were really honest, emotional, vulnerable, and personal as track five.” There are lists devoted to not only Swift’s best songs, but specifically Swift’s best track fives — which now includes “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” the fifth track on her new LP, Midnights. It’s too early to compare it to “My Tears Ricochet” and “The Archer” (Midnights hasn’t even been out for more than one midnight), but it’s not too soon to call it the best song on the album.
“Summer went away, still the yearning stays / I play it cool with the best of them,” the song begins, Swift’s voice sounding higher than usual. She’s pining for a guy who doesn’t feel the same way about her. He’d rather smoke with the boys than spend time with her, but she’s determined. She would leave her hometown, but “there’s just one who could make me stay.” There’s a vibe shift in the pre-chorus, however. “I search the party of better bodies / Just to learn that you never cared,” she sings before hitting one of her shortest, yet still effective choruses: “You’re on your own, kid, you always have been.” I’ll admit to being skeptical about the cutesy song title — until I realized the “kid” is her.
In the second verse, Swift is no longer enraptured by the hometown boy: “I picked the petals, he loves me not.” She’d rather spend time in her bedroom, writing her songs, or planning her escape. It recalls something Swift said in her New York University commencement speech: “Not being invited to the parties and sleepovers in my hometown made me feel hopelessly lonely, but because I felt alone, I would sit in my room and write the songs that would get me a ticket somewhere else.” Later in the speech, she added, “How do I give advice to this many people about their life choices? I won’t. Scary news is: You’re on your own now. Cool news is: You’re on your own now.”
But the main reason why “You’re On Your Own, Kid” is the standout on an album full of future setlist favorites is the bridge. Swift is a master of the bridge; she uses them to shake things up, to raise the drama and heighten the emotional impact. “All Too Well,” “Champagne Problems,” and “Death By a Thousand Cuts” are her bridge masterpieces — her Brooklyn Bridge, if you will — but “You’re On Your Own, Kid” isn’t far behind.
Here’s when a track five becomes a TRACK FIVE:
From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes
I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this
I hosted parties and starved my body
Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss
The jokes weren’t funny, I took the money
My friends from home don’t know what to say
I looked around in a blood-soaked gown
And I saw something they can’t take away
‘Cause there were pages turned with the bridges burned
Everything you lose is a step you take
So, make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it
You’ve got no reason to be afraid
It’s all there: the hurried vocals to match the tension; the swirling production; the vulnerable confessions (Swift has struggled with an eating disorder in the past, making the “starved my body” line hit extra hard); and her growth as a musician and a person. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” seems to say that whatever you’re struggling with — it could be a romantic relationship, a friendship, or a move to a new city — might seem impossible in the moment, but don’t be afraid. You’re on your own, kid, but things will be OK. You can face this. It’s an important lesson at any time of the day or (mid)night.