REVIEW: “Midnights” is a different kind of Taylor Swift


Beth Garrabrant

“Midnights” is far more subdued than her earlier work and more concerned with ambience and experimentation. Photo by Beth Garrabrant

Kaelin Gaydos and Brennan Eberwine

Pop artist Taylor Swift released her tenth album, “Midnights,” on Friday at, well, midnight. The album could be seen as a redefining moment in Taylor’s career. Fans were ecstatic when she first announced the new album, and the hype has been overwhelming.

Over the past month, Swift has posted episodes of “Midnights Mayhem” on her TikTok, where she has announced the track names for the album. Taylor drew a ball from a bingo wheel with one of the track numbers on it, and then into a rotary phone announced the corresponding track name. Fans joked that they were losing sleep over the exciting announcements.

Now, after weeks of anticipation, “Midnights” has been released and Swift has once again taken a different direction.

After her two previous albums “Folklore” and “Evermore” took a less autobiographical approach with more focus on escapism through fictional narrative and a more subtle folk sound, Swift is back to writing pop tracks from a personal perspective. “Midnights” can be described as somewhat of a concept album, built around different nights in her life and the experiences, emotions and vibes in those moments. 

The tone of “Midnights” is somewhere between her 2014 release, “1989” and 2017’s “Reputation.” It is neither as chock full of catchy pure pop hits as “1989” nor as electronica and hip hop-influenced as “Reputation.”

“Midnights” can mostly be described as ambient music you might find on HBO drama soundtracks. Swift sings in an airy tone that makes the songs light and ephemeral, like they’re meant to be in the background of a restless night of talking to yourself and pretending to be the “main character” in your own show. In the right mood, the ambient sounds produced by Jack Antonoff are relaxing.

The opener “Lavender Haze” begins with a muffled beat that sounds like you’re on the street outside a club about to walk in. Most of Swift’s songs about love act as if she and the object of her affection are the two singular people in the relationship. However, on “Lavender Haze” Swift brings in the uncomfortable middleman who often exists in her relationship which are tabloids and other speculators who pry into her love life, Saying “All they keep asking me is if I’m gonna be your bride, the only kinda girl they see is a one night or a wife.”

By virtue of being less on the nose, “Lavender Haze” is far more deft and clever at handling the gender politics of Swift’s love life than tracks such as “The Man”. It’s a shift that makes the song much more enjoyable than Swift’s previous forays into political songwriting.  

In general, “Midnights’’’ love songs that are far less saccharine and more specific than those on her 2019 album “Lover”. They’re less about a breakup or a honeymoon phase and instead about Swift questioning her own ability to love or sustain a relationship at all. Other songs take a much more introspective look at her as a person. Songs like “Anti-Hero” expose some of Swift’s insecurities. It’s a side only seen in some of her best work such as “All Too Well.”

Some of the topics explored in “Anti-Hero,” such as her struggles with body issues, have only been briefly touched on in works like Swift’s 2019 documentary “Miss Americana.” But the track looks deeper, exploring her feelings of marketing herself to people and having to keep attention on herself as a celebrity to stay relevant in the industry. Eventually she proclaims “It’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.”

Other tracks also expose a vulnerable side including “You’re On Your Own, Kid” which explores Swift’s feelings of abandonment and loneliness having risen to fame so early.

Lana Del Rey was featured in one song, “Snow on the Beach.” Taylor and Lana fans alike are in agreement that Del Rey should have gotten a larger part in the song, as she was only featured in background vocals and is faintly heard intermittently singing the chorus. Lana should have been more present in the song. Many people were very excited about this song but were disappointed because of this. However, the song was still enjoyable and it’s one of the best on the “Midnights” album right now. The shift from Taylor’s voice to Lana’s background vocals adds a different tone to the song that you won’t find anywhere else in the album. The lyrics of this song in general are so poetic and almost kind of give the feeling of hiraeth.

Swift has always been known as a strong songwriter and that’s no different on this album even if some lyrics are puzzlingly bizarre or almost funny. Such as on “Anti-Hero” when she states “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby” or on “Karma” when she sings “Karma is a cat, Purring in my lap ‘cause it loves me”. Despite some of the lyrical weakpoints most of the songs still have rich lyrics that are wistful and accessible.

Obviously it wouldn’t be a Taylor Swift album without a surprise, so seven more unanticipated songs were released at 3 am Friday morning. None of these tracks were a part of the “Midnights Madness” series, so fans did not know any of them were coming. The surprise “3am Tracks” means that the “Midnights” album has increased from 13 songs to 22 songs and is now significantly longer.

Of course, Taylor must have released these tracks separately for a reason- why else wouldn’t they be in the main release of the album? The album moves from a pop-like, upbeat feeling to a sadder, more thoughtful vibe. The “3am” tracks are lyrically strong but are much quieter and somber than the main “Midnights” album. “Bigger Than The Whole Sky,” another one of the best tracks, describes the feeling of loss and trying to deal with it. One of the main verses is “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, you were bigger than the whole sky,” which discusses the feeling of losing something or someone very dear. Although the song is sorrowful, it’s very sweet and heartwarming.

Just hours after the “3 am Tracks” were released, Swift also dropped all of the lyric videos on her YouTube along with the first music video of the album. “Anti-Hero,” a highly anticipated song, was the first to get a video. Now fans are patiently waiting to see when the other tracks will get a music video of their own.

One thing “Midnights” leans into more than any of her other works is simply just how much of a dork Taylor Swift is. Beyond some of her, let’s say interesting, aforementioned lyrics, Swift has one other weakness: she has a hard time cussing convincingly. Up until very recently, her songs couldn’t even garner an “explicit” rating, even for “Reputation” which is supposed to be her playing into her persona as a “snake.” 

“Folklore” and “Evermore” are the first albums with any sort of explicit rating on the songs. On “Midnights”, Swift cusses quite a bit, going so far as having one of the song names have a cuss word in it (think of the children Taylor!) However, even with these words in her repertoire they feel unnatural. 

It’s something I find endearing and a bit charming. Swift isn’t trying to be something she’s not on this album, ever. She’s a 32-year-old cat mom who loves wine, is patient-zero for millennial humor and is self-loathing like the rest of us. She’s not untouchable or made of teflon, But instead a flawed person who made a flawed album that’s challenging and more complex than a lot of her earlier work such as the recently released “Fearless”.

At its best, “Midnights” pushes Swift’s songwriting abilities to new heights by exploring new themes while overlaid by catchy songs that are fun to listen to. At its worst, the songs are still lyrically impressive but sound like “Reputation” B-Sides. Fans of Swift, also called “Swifties”, who were hoping for more soft folk music will most likely be disappointed in “Midnights,” but Swifties who come for Swift’s dorkiness, somewhat painful relatability and ability to write a decent bridge will likely come away liking at least a few songs off this album.