A New Swiftie’s Take on ‘Midnights’, by Caroline Cruise
On the eve of Oct. 21, millions of Taylor Swift fans counted down the hours and minutes until the release of Midnights, Swift’s 10th studio album. And for the first time in my life, I was one of them. Even though I grew up with Taylor Swift’s music, I didn’t consider myself a Swiftie until I became hooked on folklore and evermore. After two years of listening to these albums and exploring the rest of her music, I was ready for something new. And, for better or for worse, that’s exactly what I got from Midnights.
The pulsing bass and shimmering synth in Lavender Haze, Midnights’ opening track, proclaimed Swift’s return to pop. It was a sharp turn from the indie/alternative sound of folklore and evermore, which originally drew me to Swift’s music. I loved these albums for their minimalistic and acoustic sound, which felt very personal and intimate. I could tell from track one that Midnights was going to have a completely different tone, and it totally threw me for a loop. After I got over my initial shock and took in the album for what it was — a pop record — I started to appreciate it more.
One of my favorite aspects of Taylor Swift’s artistry is her ability to tell a story through her lyrics. In Midnights, she explores personal topics, like falling in love, with honesty and vulnerability. Sweet Nothing, a criminally underrated track, describes Swift’s gratitude and comfort in her current relationship. Lyrics like “on the way, I wrote a poem, you say ‘what a mind,’ this happens all the time,” show that it’s the little things that matter most in a relationship. With a skipping melody on the electric piano, this simple song balances out some of the more synthesized tracks on the album.
The storytelling style in Midnights is very different compared to the narratives that drew me in on folklore and evermore. While these albums are centered around other people’s stories, Midnights is largely centered around Swift’s experiences. I wasn’t sure that I would connect with this type of storytelling, but Swift describes her personal struggles in such a real and relatable way that it pulled me in. In Anti-Hero, she frankly admits, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me … I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror.” Swift’s writing is much more candid and confident in this album, and it’s a side of her artistry that I really enjoy.
That being said, some of the lyrics are a little more absurd. I can’t listen to “Anti-Hero” without cringing at the line “sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby.” I also wasn’t expecting to hear “karma is a cat, purring in my lap because it loves me” in Karma. But in the grand scheme of things, I think these lyrics contribute to the fun, “glitter gel pen” vibe of her music. While Midnights certainly deals with some serious topics, the album also has plenty of fun and lighthearted moments.
Even though I didn’t mind some of the more silly lyrics, there were other musical elements within Midnights that I didn’t love. For example, I thought the vocal distortion in Midnight Rain and Labyrinth didn’t sound quite right. I understand that it was a clear stylistic choice, but it sounded poorly mixed — like Swift and co-producer Jack Antonoff meant to make adjustments but forgot. Same goes with the autotune in Dear Reader, which was a disappointing finish to Midnights’ seven bonus tracks.
Furthermore, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had heard parts of the album before. The hook of “Lavender Haze” sounds identical to I Think He Knows, the sixth track on Lover. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate choice, but I would’ve preferred a more original start to the album. Additionally, the chorus of The Great War sounds very similar to folklore’s betty. I’m not 100% against these parallels; for example, I love “Karma” and Vigilante Shit, even though the narratives in them remind me of Reputation. At times, I just felt like I was listening to a mixture of Swift’s past music when I really wanted something different.
I walked into Midnights thinking that I was going to get another folk indie album — and boy, was I mistaken. But the more I listen to Midnights, the more I enjoy it. Taylor Swift writes pop songs really well, pairing catchy melodies with heartfelt, honest, and sometimes comical, lyrics. Although Midnights’ overall sound is much different than the albums that drew me into Swift’s music, her commitment to telling a captivating story is unwavering. And even though this was the first album of Swift’s that I was eagerly awaiting, I have a feeling it won’t be the last.