“You’re On Your Own, Kid” is the fifth track on Taylor Swift’s newest studio album, Midnights. The song offers a vivid, though somewhat intangible, tale of growing up, which is interspersed with specific anecdotes that ground the song in a truly poetic way.
Opening the song, Swift sets the scene by singing “Summer went away/Still, the yearning stays.” This is an example of a technique Swift uses often, where she uses seasons and seasonal imagery to convey the passage of time. The idea of summer fading into fall signifies the passing of a phase in one’s life, and could be argued to allude to a summer romance mentioned in several of her other songs. In the second half of that stanza she continues: “I wait patiently/ He’s gonna notice me/ It’s okay, we’re the best of friends/ Anyway.” These lines sharpen the image of a young girl waiting for an anticipated dose of male attention, and even sacrificing her own emotional wellbeing in the interest of waiting for him to “notice her.” The tone is bittersweet as she longs for affection while simultaneously trying to grow up and realize herself.
Later, in the second stanza, Swift continues to narrate the disproportionate emotional labor done by a teenager with a crush: “I hear it in your voice/You’re smoking with your boys/I touch my phone as if it’s your face.” This scene conjures up an image of the narrator pining over this guy, while he is unaware of her pain simply living his life without her. The simile of her touching her phone “as if it’s your face” is an especially vivid image for gen-z teenagers: when your phone is your connection to someone you care about, it can sometimes feel like it takes on a greater significance as your link to them. Taylor goes on: “I didn’t choose this town/I dream of getting out/ There’s just one you could make me stay.” This part gives the listener more detail in their mental image of the pining teenager. She has big dreams far beyond her hometown, but her feelings for this boy who doesn’t value her are still holding her back.
Taylor continues the motif of seasons and images of growing up in the pre-chorus with the line “From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes.” These images show another transition from summer to winter, whereby sprinklers represent playing outside in summer and fireplaces represent winter. But at the same time, sprinkler splashes imply a certain youthfulness and fireplace ashes conjure a more mature image. Going a layer deeper, it could also be argued that a sprinkler splashing gives life and beginning while fireplace ash represents the end of something and what remains after a struggle. The repetition of this line adds a powerful meaning to the song about growing up and about the story of this girl letting go of the guy she pines for and finding her own identity.
She begins that process of letting him go in the next verse with, “I see the great escape/So long, Daisy May/I picked the petals, he loves me not/Something different bloomed/Writing in my room/I play my songs in the parking lot/I’ll run away.” Here Swift alludes to “Daisy May,” an innocent young girl who she feels she is leaving behind in order to realize her dreams. She then references an old childhood game little girls play, where you pick leaves off a flower and with each petal say “he loves me” then, “he loves me not” for the next petal. The phrase that lands on the last petal of the flower is supposed to tell the fortune of if a crush likes you back. Swift uses this allusion here to conjure up childlike innocence
while showing that the narrator, presumably Swift herself, has learned that she can’t make this man reciprocate her feelings. She then talks about writing and performing songs, showing that she has moved on to chasing her dream of being a singer-songwriter and realizing her own goals.
She then presumably throws herself into her career to a stressful extend, because by the next verse, after another “From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes” she narrates “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.” She has now poured everything she has into performing, only for it to destroy her in the process. She also comments on how she still craves male attention, to the extent of body image issues that cause her to starve herself. This sentiment is shared by many women trying to survive in an industry where their success is so often reliant on sexualization and male approval. She continues this idea in the next stanza with “The jokes weren’t funny, I took the money/My friends from home don’t know what to say” to show that she has given into some of the shadier parts of the music industry and feels like she’s lost herself in the process.
In the bridge, however, the song has a sort of volta where Swift transitions to talking about finding joy in life that both comes from within and focuses on what is happening in the moment. She sings: “‘‘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.” These lines mean that everything we lose and hurt ourselves with in the process of growing up is a learning experience that shapes our future. So the only real way to get through it is to focus on each day—to “take the moment and taste it.”
Swift closes the song with a last repetition of the chorus line and a closing statement: “You’re on your own, kid/Yeah, you can face this” This manta highlights that the maturity and self-realization she’s been narrating can only come from within, and no one else can do it for you.
For these reasons, the emotional journey this song takes the listener through is visceral in a way only poetry can be. To classify this work as anything else would be borderline disrespectful to its beautiful lyrical message.