When Taylor Swift revealed that her tenth studio album, Midnights, will be released, the question on everyone’s lips was, “What would Midnights sound like?” Whenever Swift launches a new album, it’s impossible to predict exactly what you’ll receive, because she is so imaginative and inventive.
The singer-songwriter has never been one to shy away from experimenting with new sounds, from conquering the country world with her first four records to transitioning to a pure pop sound with her next three to releasing two consecutive indie-folk hits to having to re-record two songs from her country catalog.
Her work encompasses a wide range of musical genres and sounds, including well-executed experimentation and quirky musical detours, that few musicians can match. And because to her distinctive lyrical style, which has never been anything less than brilliant during her whole career, the many musical components are woven together to make a mesmerizing cloak.
Thus, the question: what would “Midnights” be like? Due to the fact that the singer did not release a single or give any actual hints about the direction of the album in the 53 days following its announcement (yes, I did the arithmetic! ), those statements lingered in everyone’s mind until this morning.
What then is “Midnights”? Is it a continuation of her indie-folk narrative or a fresh pop release? Is she returning to her roots or experimenting with an entirely new genre? Midnight is actually all of the above when all factors are considered.
The maturity and self-assurance that characterized folklore and evermore are palpable here, but the synths-based production (courtesy of Jack Antonoff) is closer to the pop trio of 1989-reputation-Lover – only this time it’s considerably more glittering and mysterious.
The lyrics have a personal and open-hearted approach (as always), but the style is less flowery and more cheeky, harkening back to the albums from the beginning of her career. Yet, the fictional aspect and character-driven tales of certain songs on the dual indie-folk albums are notably evocative.
Combing Through the Midnights
In addition to Swift and Antonoff, Lavender Haze features Kendrick Lamar’s musical collaborators and Zo Kravitz, amongst others. Lyrically, the song is about struggling to maintain a “all-encompassing love light” despite social media’s negativity and criticism, a recurring theme in the artist’s discography.
She dismisses the comments by declaring, “Talk your talk and go viral […] / Get it off your chest / Get it off my desk,” which is a marked contrast to her past songs about retaining love despite the cacophony of fame.
The production is undeniably pop, but it lacks the grandiose flair of her other pop songs, such as Me! and Shake It Off. This time, it’s considerably more refined and understated, but that’s completely in line with the rest of the album’s exceptional quality.
The story of living under continual public observation is continued on the third track, Anti-Hero, a pop gem that is as entertaining as it is melancholy. Swift describes her doubts and anxieties over a peppy and catchy track, making fun of herself and her haters in a typically Swiftian style with lines such as “Too huge to hang out / Slowly lurching toward your favourite city / Pierced through the heart but not murdered.”
The majority of the album concentrates on the singer’s concerns and various obstacles in life, particularly those involving relationships. For example, in Question…? In Labyrinth, she ponders how she was able to fall in love with someone so swiftly after a heartbreak, while in the previous scene she ponders a lost love that left her with unanswered questions.
In spite of the album’s laser-like concentration on anxieties and frailty, however, three songs on the album reveal the singer’s familiar self-assurance and vindictiveness. Swift shows her anger with a partner who undervalues her on the ninth track, Bejeweled, by stating that despite the fact that he doesn’t appear to be interested in her, she can still dazzle the room.
In the filthy dark pop Vigilante Shit, Swift narrates the narrative of assisting a woman in exacting revenge on her worthless husband, yet in Karma, she writes the effervescent version of the same by rejoicing in her adversaries receiving their just desserts. She sings over an upbeat melody, “Karma is my boyfriend / Karma is a deity / Karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekends / Karma is a peaceful notion / Aren’t you envious that it’s not for you?”
You’re On Your Own, Kid, the fifth track on the list, is a standard pop tune. The fifth Swift song, which is emotionally gut-wrenching. The song depicts a young person who falls in love, only to discover that their partner never genuinely cared for them, forcing them to accept that they are alone. The song is nostalgically heartbreaking and has several gut-punching lines, such as “I hosted parties and starved my body / Thinking a perfect kiss would save me.”
Curiously, the next song appears to be the polar opposite of the previous one; in Midnight Rain, Swift’s narrator is the one leaving behind a small-town boy to pursue her music career. We are left to ponder the probable autobiographical nature of this song and whether it is a product of Swift’s imagination or a rehashed recollection from her past.
Speaking of throwbacks, the second song on the album, Maroon, appears to be a reference to her previous song Red, but it takes a more mature approach to the concept of linking love to color. Instead of comparing it to a “bright and blazing red,” she utilizes a dark crimson hue, which is harsher and allows for greater complexity and candor.
The two most sensitive songs on Midnights are featured at the album’s beginning and end. Snow On The Beach, the fourth track of the album, is a hazy pop song that tells the story of falling in love with someone just as they are falling in love with you, and how there is such beauty in that commonplace strangeness. This song features Lana Del Rey, the only guest artist on the album; yet, her presence (or lack thereof) on the tune maybe its only detriment.
At (nearly) the end of the album, track number twelve gives another hymn to pure gentle love. Sweet Nothing, co-written with partner Joe Alwyn, is about the enchantment of being in love with someone who has no expectations of you and simply loves you for who you are.
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Finally, Midnights concludes with Mastermind, a song that describes Swift as precisely as possible. In the song, she sings of devising a meticulous plan to get her crush (Mr. Alwyn) fall for her. This is a humorous contrast to her prior songs about the beginning of their love, in which she portrayed it as something predetermined by fate. She says the reverse in Mastermind, laughing about her “cryptic and Machiavellian” methods.
Behind the Glitter and Shine
Midnights is unquestionably the result of Swift’s ongoing development as a songwriter and singer, as well as her adventures re-recording older songs. It demonstrates growth and maturity but also revisits early themes of love and life. Clearly, slipping back into her old shoes opened something new in her and her craft upon her return.
This is a considerably more elegant and synth-based approach to pop than her previous albums, exploring different nuances of similar sounds as opposed to dramatic 180-degree turns mid-album. In truth, the songs may appear similar at first listen since they all utilise the same soundscape, but they do so in such a variety of ways that Swift deserves the moniker of ‘Mastermind’ without question.
Nevertheless, Midnights may come as a surprise to those who joined Swift’s fanbase during the gap between folklore and evermore and Midnights.
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Midnights, unlike the indie-folk package, does not take a conventional approach to its lyrics. The florid, ornate style of narrative has been replaced by one that is more tongue-in-cheek and relies on wordplays of popular terms. Whereas previously the intensity and emotions underlying the lyrics were so palpable, this record conceals them beneath its glistening, shimmering sound.
Given the unruliness of the lyrics, in which she explores common feelings of fear, uncertainty, and the complexity of womanhood, it would be irresponsible to dismiss it based just on its sound and words. Moreover, not everything must be written in Victorian English to be wonderful; sometimes, all that glitters is gold, and Midnights is a glittering paradise.