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December 2, 2023

Taylor Swift's musical risk-taking pays off in Midnights

By MOLLY GAHAGEN | October 25, 2022



Swift’s latest album Midnights presents the singer-songwriter’s most personal and frank experiences.

In what may arguably be one of the biggest album releases of the year, Taylor Swift’s 10th studio album Midnights was released on Oct. 21. The 13 tracks depict sleepless nights” from across Swift’s life, drawing on her strong storytelling skills and sharp lyricism. 

As a self-proclaimed Swiftie, I have been eagerly anticipating the seemingly universal excitement that only a Taylor Swift album can bring since her last album, Red (Taylor’s Version), dropped last year. As part of the album’s pre-release marketing campaign, Swift dropped her notorious ‘Easter Eggs’ through the “Midnights Mayhem with Me” series on her TikTok account, leaving fans on the edges of their seats as they waited for the new era. 

Midnights marks Swift’s return to shimmering synth-pop, back from the folksy, subdued sounds of folklore and evermore. The album cover depicts Swift with smudgy eye makeup holding an open lighter, which sets the tone for the dark, chaotic energy the album embodies. The themes she delves into — insecurities, making mistakes, having regrets, seeking out revenge and finding love when it is least expected — play on her earlier work, but she dives deeper and grittier than ever before.

Opening with “Lavender Haze,” co-written with Zoë Kravitz among others, the album is sonically different from anything else Swift has produced with its soft electro sounds. Followed up by “Maroon,” Swift juxtaposes present and past lovers, leaving a sense of melancholy.

“Snow On The Beach” encapsulates the warm rush of falling in love in a much-coveted duet with Lana Del Rey. The only fault of the track is Del Rey being reduced to backing vocals, rather than having a verse to herself. 

Swift is more personal than ever on “Anti-Hero,” the album’s first single. She describes intrusive thoughts and the fear of exhausting everyone in her life. Despite somewhat randomly comparing herself to a “monster on the hill” and a congressman, her genuineness shines through the persona crafted in her art.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Taylor Swift album without a heartbreaking track 5. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” presents Swift as a lonely outsider, desperate to win over someone unattainable despite knowing that changing yourself for others doesn’t win out. While not the saddest track 5 (nothing will beat “All Too Well”), the images of youthful naïveté and a lack of self-confidence leave a hollow feeling.

In one of my favorite tracks on the album, “Midnight Rain,” Swift hearkens back to “The Lucky One” and recalls prioritizing herself and her career over her personal life. The song opens with a distorted version of her voice before dropping into its infectious rhythm.

“Bejeweled” captures retrospective glimpses into previous bouts of unhappiness and undeserving relationships, accompanied with the catchiest beat on the album. Her mischievous side comes out when she recounts, “They ask, ‘Do you have a man / I could still say ‘I don’t remember.’”

In a dizzying change of pace, “Labyrinth” presents a fragile image of being left afraid of loving again after previous heartbreaks. Next up, Swift channels the energy of reputation in “Karma.”

“Vigilante Shit,” which I will never stop talking about, provides a narrative reminiscent of “No Body, No Crime” from evermore, bringing women together in the name of revenge. She describes making friends with the subject’s ex-wife and collaborating to turn him in for his white-collar crimes, declaring, “you did some bad things, but I'm the worst of them.”

Subsequently, “Sweet Nothing” presents a quiet image of domestic tranquility. This track cultivates soft, comforting energy, which is much-needed among the anger, vengeance and hurt expressed in the other tracks.

In the album’s ending piece, “Mastermind,” Swift’s lyricism is on full display, including when she describes herself as “Machiavellian” — a word I would never have bet on hearing in a Taylor Swift song.

Midnights presents various callbacks to Swift’s previous work, seamlessly fitting into the world she has crafted through her music. The thirteen tracks, plus the seven bonus tracks from the 3 a.m. version (all of which are absolutely worth a listen — especially “Bigger Than The Whole Sky,” “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” and “High Infidelity”), present a nuanced perspective into the headlines that have chased Swift over the years, granting listeners access to her inner world.

The album was co-created with Jack Antonoff, a longtime friend and music partner of Swift. Built on the soft synth sounds, one of Antonoff’s signature hallmarks, the duo created an understated soundscape which allows vocals and lyrics to shine brightly.

Midnights is markedly different from anything I expected to hear from Swift, but I should know better than to go into anything she does with pre-established expectations. Her soft vocals over muted accompaniment will likely preclude the album from generating radio hits, but its range and depth solidify its merit. Despite her star status, Swift is not one to play it safe or rely on her past successes, and Midnights presents another perfect, no-skip album. 

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