Her 10th studio album is an understated, beguiling look into the mind of one of the biggest pop stars of our age
The days of Taylor Swift simply releasing an album are over, it seems. The run-up to Midnights was more of a countdown to an event – no advance tracks released, simply some snippets of information: it was a vague concept album consisting of tracks written during bouts of insomnia in the night-time hours, lyrics would appear on a Times Square billboard, Lana Del Rey guested on one track, and there was the now ubiquitous co-writing/producer credit for Jack Antonoff.
Now that the album is with us, it’s clear that Midnights is the sound of Swift subtly moving back to the light synth-pop of 1989 and Lover. The only sign of Aaron Dessner, her collaborator on the superlative 2020 double-bill of Folklore and Evermore, is on the bonus “3am edition” bonus tracks. Thankfully, it’s a sound that fits Swift like a glove, and while Midnights doesn’t quite have the same gorgeous haze that Folklore and Evermore had, there are enough examples of Swift’s songwriting genius to assure it a place in most people’s end of year lists.
Anti-Hero already sounds like a Taylor Swift classic in the making, with a chorus (“It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me”) already lip-synched to a million times on TikTok. Opening track Lavender Haze recalls the likes of Solange or The Weeknd with its waves of dreamy, shimmering synths, but it’s Swift’s lyrics that’s likely to attract most attention. Like much of her best work, Midnights is filled with intriguing references to Swift’s own life (or, at least her public persona) – Lavender Haze declaring that “I’m damned if do, given a damn what people say, no deal, the 1950s shit they want from me”.
You’re On Your Own Kid is an early highlight – an autobiographical look at Swift’s own journey into celebrity, taking in her eating disorder (“I hosted parties and starved my body”) and the press obsession with her celebrity boyfriends (“like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss, the jokes weren’t funny, I took the money”). She also finds time to throw in a reference to the blood-soaked prom dress in Carrie to make fame sound incredibly lonely.
Less successfully, there’s also a return to settling scores with songs seemingly designed to provoke tabloid headlines – as on her 2017 album Reputation, there are songs about unnamed enemies: Karma is presumably about Scooter Braun, with lines like “my pennies made your crown, trick me once, trick me twice”), but could also have Kanye West in its sights (“you’re talking shit for the hell of it”). It may be fun to play ‘spot the reference’ but it also feels slightly forced (as do the myriad of “fucks” thrown into lyrics).
The Del Rey collaboration, Snow On The Beach, is far better, melding the two artists’ styles quite beautifully – it’s a languid ballad with some lovely lines (“my smile is like I won a contest, and to hide that would be so dishonest”), even if Del Rey is pretty much relegated to backing vocals rather than a fully blown duet. The aforementioned Anti-Hero is also one of the best things Swift’s ever written, an exploration of insecurity and depression with a chorus that just buries its way into your brain.
Antonoff may be on the verge of being a bit too prolific right now – Midnights is his second production credit of the month, following The 1975‘s latest album – but he obviously makes a decent foil for Swift. While her 10th album doesn’t make instant classic status like 1989, and Evermore and Folklore remain her masterpieces, it is still an understated, beguiling look into the mind of one of the biggest pop stars of our age.