Countdown to “Midnights”

Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

A musical innovator who needs no introduction, Taylor Swift has prominently presided over the pop realm throughout the course of her joyride of a career. From her emergence as a country darling in the late 2000s to becoming a pop juggernaut in the 2010s, she has become a household name and has been lauded as one of this generation’s greatest storytellers and songwriters for the way she implements introspection and personal, detailed descriptions in her songs.

In 2020, Swift bestowed the world with not one but two of her most critically acclaimed projects, “Folklore” and “Evermore,” garnering her newfound respect as she ventured into the territory of folk-pop and furthered her prowess as a potent lyricist. Since then, she has been focused on rerecordings her past albums and after two years, “Midnights” has become her newest original endeavor. What is “Midnights”? Is it a treasure trove of pristine pop mystique? Is it a lackluster attempt at resurrecting a brooding style of pop?

And the Clock Strikes Midnight 

Much of this project feels like the perfect culmination of Swift’s expansive, genre-bending oeuvre especially her catalog post, “Red”. Some tracks encapsulate the full pop ascension of “1989” or the purity pop of “Lover.” Other tracks mirror the vengeful allure of “Reputation” or the folksy, rustic romanticism of “Folklore” and “Evermore.” In essence, this album is enriched with tasteful musical palate while still keeping an innovative edge. The midnight mystique and themes that Swift toys with certainly contribute to the originality.

“Lavender Haze” introduces us to this witching hour and its alluring ambiance. A sweet concoction of sexiness, Swift croons about the honeymoon phase of a relationship and this so-called lavender haze that has her ascending into heavenly intimacy. Sonically, it incorporates the lush funk-pop that could be found on “Lover” with hints of “1989” sprinkled in. 

With the mention of “Lover,” its synth-pop influence becomes all too apparent throughout the tracklist. When done well, the influence adds a glimmering freshness to tunes like “Midnight Rain” and “Bejeweled.” From “Midnight Rain” and its vocal distortion quirks and cascading synth patterns to the crystalline gaudiness of “Bejeweled,” we the listener are launched into a starry mantle of 80s glamor. Delving even deeper, “Karma” and “Mastermind” provide another shimmery helping of electro-pop perfection, carefully crafted to fit the midnight magic. 

Photo courtesy of consequence.net
Photo courtesy of consequence.net

If there’s one track that is a bit of an odd one out in the mix of this “Lover” lusciousness, it’s “Vigilant Shit” which fully embodies the sickly cynicism of “Reputation” through its bass-boosted production and taunting themes of villainy, vengeance, and vigilantism against a rogue lover. “Draw the cat eye, sharp enough to kill a man,” immediately reels in listeners as the dark instrumentation comes in and Swift intricately expands on the sketchiness of the fictitious lover, going so far as to mention his white-collar crimes. 

Although a deviation from the folk funk of “Folklore” and “Evermore,” the record still provides wistful gems that manifest the sylvan nature of those two projects. The Folklore-Evermore lovechild known as “Snow On The Beach” concretely encapsulates a rare wintry phenomenon parallel to a perfectly bizarre and seemingly impossible love. Swift conjures precise imagery and sonic divinity with the brisk sounds of violins and brass instruments at her disposal.  Accompanying Swift’s airy main vocals is Lana Del Rey’s harmonies that guide the tune toward a transcendental heaven. However, her feature is unfortunately very minor and could have had more impact if she had been given a verse or bridge all to herself. 

In terms of lyricism, for the most part, Swift adopts brooding melodrama to illustrate a tasteful variation of feelings in this sleuth of tracks. She keeps to her familiarity with the avenues of love that she is known for. Still, she certainly isn’t afraid to explore the nitty gritty of emotional turmoil and psychological existentialism, topics that she began exploring in “Folklore” and “Evermore.” “Anti-Hero,” a symphony of self-sabotage, is a paragon of Swift’s impressive wordsmanship with lyric after lyric of shortcomings and self-reflection. In one lyric, she’s personifying her depression as one who “works the graveyard shift,” and relays the mistrust in herself as, “I should not be left to my own devices, they come with prices and vices, I end up in crisis.” In another lyric, she brilliantly deploys one of her most relatable hooks, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me,” before concluding on the fact that “It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.” With its infectious production and replay value, it is a tremendous high for Swift and a perfect display of her craftiness as a storyteller.

photo courtesy of pitchfork.com
photo courtesy of pitchfork.com

Returning to the effervescent “Snow on The Beach,” Swift manifests mystical imagery to set the scene of this “weird but fuckin’ beautiful” phenomenon of snow on the beach. From deeming that “Life is emotionally abusive” to finding solace in a love that’s “comin’ down, no sound, it’s all around like snow on the beach,” she truly illustrates this bizarre, celestial celebration of deep affection that comes from the rarity of falling in love with someone at the same time as they are falling in love with you. 

The sonically supple “You’re On Your Own, Kid” reflects on neediness and yearning for romance through particular details like “sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes” evoking an aesthetic sensibility. Its title is reflective of the loneliness one is susceptible to as a part of the human condition and the listener is presented with emotionally raw realism on how cumbersome it can be to feel lonesome. Ultimately, Swift comforts the listener by telling them to “make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it, you’ve got no reason to be afraid” and reassures them that “you can face this.” 

Briefly touching on the 3 am deluxe version tracks that she released shortly after the original tracklist, these tunes contribute significantly to the allure of this mystical listening experience. The gladiatorial imagery of “The Great War” perfectly paints the conflicting dynamic of relationships and the need for survival. “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” evokes a poetic melancholy on loss; the ambiguity of loss still creates a believable pathos as Swift tearfully croons, “What could’ve been, would’ve been, What should’ve been you.” A sister track to the resonant “All Too Well,” “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve” elicits the trauma accumulated from a tempestuous relationship.“Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first,” Swift laments as she combats the traumatic aftermath and mourns the loss of her innocence stolen from her. 

Of course, this album is not without its pitfalls when it comes to production and lyrical delivery. For example, although enriched with delicately woven storytelling, “Question…?”  suffers from lackluster instrumentation and an apathetic vocal delivery that severely hinders the track and prevents it from being a remarkable moment in the tracklist. Had she maybe added punchy guitars or implemented quirky vocal techniques, this track would have been a much more memorable listening experience. Songs like “Sweet Nothing” suffer from a different problem of clunky lyrical delivery and having lines awkwardly delivered. Some sentences run on for too long and create a flow that is clunky in execution. 

Overall?

Already her tenth album and Taylor Swift continues to not only assert her prodigious artistry but captivate the general public with infectious hook after infectious hook. Will “Midnights” age well in her overarching discography? Time can only tell but for now, it is certainly a contender for one of the freshest, most captivating albums in a year where music seems to be in a sort of drought. It is amazing how one can dissect this album and find little surprises from past album cycles and I would say this album is certainly one designated for the fans. For its individualistic mythology, detailed storytelling, and diverse display of pop instrumentation, “Midnights” is… an 8/10.

Favorite tracks: Anti-Hero, Snow On The Beach, Midnight Rain, Vigilante Shit, Karma, Glitch, Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve

Least favorite track: Question…?