Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’ is best described by the title’s first three letters
Ambitious, inspired, well-written: these are all words I can use to describe Taylor Swift’s last release, “Red (Taylor’s Version).” A 130-minute opus featuring both reworked tracks from “Red,” and previously unheard material, it stands as one of Swift’s greatest artistic achievements. Furthermore, on “Folklore” and “Evermore,” twin albums released in 2020, we saw her flex her lyrical prowess to a greater degree than ever before. After the disappointing projects, “Reputation” and “Lover,” it seemed as if her career had entered a renaissance. All these factors combined gave good reason to be excited when she announced her newest artistic endeavor, “Midnights.”
“Midnights” is described by Swift as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [her] life.” With its minimal, ‘70s-inspired album cover, it appeared as if she would continue in a similar direction as before, creating heartfelt acoustic meditations on life and love. What we got instead is a mix of styles reminiscent of her past five standalone albums under an alt-pop umbrella.
Right from the first track “Lavender Haze,” the atmosphere of “Midnights” is nocturnal and subdued, a mood that is carried throughout the album. Muffled voices are buried under punchy percussion in this R&B-inspired instrumental.
“Snow On The Beach” and “You’re On Your Own, Kid” are two of the strongest songs from a lyrical standpoint. While the former is about unexpectedly falling in love, the latter carries a realization that you can only rely on yourself despite the desire for others. However, the Lana Del Rey feature on “Snow On The Beach” feels more like a marketing strategy than a meaningful addition, as she only has five different solo lines spread throughout the entire song.
Unfortunately, “Midnights,” feels like a massive step backwards in all aspects. Despite the moody, nocturnal haze the album attempts to convey, Jack Antonoff’s production leaves most songs sounding dull and lifeless. Tracks come and go without leaving much of an impact. The one time a song has a great buildup (“You’re On Your Own, Kid”), it dies out before reaching its fullest potential. If you fed an AI every song played in an H&M over the course of a week, you would get something similar to this album.
Although there are certainly great lyrical moments, for every well-written line such as “I touch my phone as if it’s your face,” there is one like “Sometimes, I feel like everybody is a sexy baby.” Swift’s lyricism and ability to write catchy songs have been two of her strongest attributes since the start of her career. With “Midnights,” she feels inconsistent and unfocused. She plays into multiple personas but feels starkly out of place in some. Take “Vigilante S—,” a callback to the “Reputation” era, for example.
To sum up “Midnights” in one word, it is a disappointment. Taylor Swift has created an album that simply exists, and I know she can do better as she has in the past.
Rating: Strong 2/5
Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’ is a solid renewal of legacy
Taylor Swift and well-renowned pop music have gone hand in hand for well over a decade now, and this inevitably brings high expectations for her new releases. “Midnights” is Swift’s 10th full-length LP in her 16-year tenure, and it holds up to the quality of her prolific career to date. The album takes on loosely interconnected themes of self-reflection and relationship exploration, and has a mellow, laid-back tenor that is maintained throughout the project. Evidently, there is no intention to curate a “new” sound, and it does what it sets out to do well, standing as a good rendition of the classic Swift sound.
The album starts gracefully with the smoothness of “Lavender Haze,” a measured track that sets the tone for the songs to follow. It is the first glimpse into a motif of modified vocals that resurface multiple times later. The second track “Maroon” is a melancholy retelling of a fervent past love that fell apart. Then, on “Anti-Hero,” Swift shifts into a somewhat self-deprecating song saying “I’m the problem, it’s me” throughout the chorus. It’s a reflection on the imperfections even someone as exalted as Swift can have. Despite being another moody track, it has a catchy melody that’s impossible to get out of your head after hearing a few times.
The only collaborative song on the album is the fourth track, “Snow On The Beach,” featuring Lana Del Rey. Her presence is surprisingly sparse, and she only seems to contribute to the backing vocals behind Swift’s lead. It’s another slow yet catchy track and it’s a happier story than previous songs, describing imminent love instead of remnants of a past romance.
“Midnight Rain” brings another fascinating vocal edit at its entrance, with one of the most unique instrumentals on the album. It has subtle, deep, and bubbly synths layered behind higher-pitched, airy synths that reverberate in the upper register of the soundscape.
Around midway through the album, there is a shift towards a more confident, powerful tone – one that is unapologetically proud. “Vigilante S—” is one of the most unique songs on the album, a vindictive piece that is bare-bones in sound. It has simple drums, a commanding 808 that is especially apparent at the start of the song and a dark, catchy chorus with interesting, layered harmonies. “Bejeweled” is another confident song with a happier tone than the previous. It’s an anthem for self-confidence and sets an example for other women as she refuses to let a romantic partner devalue her in any way. “Karma” is a catchy, fun song that is high-energy and melodically memorable, another high point on the album.
The last two tracks end the album on a strong note. “Sweet Nothing” is almost a lullaby, a calm and sweet track that is a reflection on a happy love that acts as an escape from the stress of the world. The final track, “Mastermind,” is a triumphant tune, another reflection on love that has fallen into place in the end.
Overall, Swift displays an impressive vocal performance here, with solid lyricism to match. It’s not necessarily a departure from what we’ve seen from her in the past, but as her previous work has also been good, this is similarly an enjoyable listen. However, the production on this album is somewhat lacking in places. Its drums are generic to the point of sounding boring and dry at times, though this is somewhat counteracted with interesting synths and vocal effects we see in other places. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that a more interesting production could serve Swift’s music well. Additionally, the second half of the album is more enjoyable to listen to than the beginning, and it takes a few listens to get acquainted with the subdued first half.
While the beginning of the album has an arguably slow start, the build into the latter half is worth the wait. “Midnights” is a strong exhibition of Swift’s strengths
, and is a good new addition to her discography. While not breaking any innovation barriers, it doesn’t set out to do that. It does just what it intended, and that is to be another classic Taylor Swift LP.