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Taylor Swift’s Midnights review: music's brightest star shimmers amidst darkness on her return to pop (8/10)
There’s no one quite like Taylor Swift. Over a decade and a half into her flourishing career, she continues to be a driving force in popular culture. Her penchant for songwriting and knack for melody cemented her as a master(mind) of genre, pushing boundaries and opening lanes not only for herself but also placing storytelling at the forefront of Top 40 music. From country to pop, from rock to folk, Swift proves time and time again that she is a chameleon, shapeshifting both her sound and image as her mind takes her down endless rabbit holes. Following her retreat from the "folklorian woods," Swift dives headfirst into exploring the twirls and terrors of the night.
Midnights (released October 21, 2022) is Swift’s 10th studio album - and fourth in as many years. Prior to its release, many wondered what direction the “All Too Well” songstress was headed. Would Midnights be sonically in-line with the folk stylings of 2020’s magnificent folklore and evermore, or would Swift find inspiration from her “Taylor’s Version” project of re-recording her prior work? With no lead single preceding the album’s release, fan theories ran rampant - and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Swift's latest release is “a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams,” she describes. The album is a return to the days of Swift’s pop past. Sonically reminiscent of 1989, reputation, and Lover, Swift’s newest entry pushes her further toward pop’s extremes than ever before (thanks to long-time collaborator and producer Jack Antonoff). She returns in full force, her focus drawn inward this time, contrasting her work on 2020’s efforts. Swift pulls the curtain back on her hopes and fears across vintage synths, her stellar lyricism in a constant tug-of-war between victory and vengeance.
Album bookends and highlights “Lavender Haze” and “Mastermind” draw from “Hard Feelings/Loveless” and “Supercut” respectively. On “Haze,” Swift drew inspiration from her time binge-watching Mad Men to envelop listeners in her bubble, preventing outside noise from impacting her relationship. “Mastermind” is a mesmerizing tour-de-force of a closer as she admits that her long-term romance might not have been fated but rather calculated.
No moment on Midnights is more shocking than “Vigilante S—,” an eviscerating sneak attack in a post-Billie Eilish soundscape that finds Swift “dressin’ for revenge.” Production ushers in a sweeping sense of noir, a grimy speakeasy backroom complete with a flickering overhead light. “He was doin’ lines and crossin’ all of mine / Someone told his white collar crimes to the FBI,” Swift snarks in a moment that makes the fury of reputation’s “I Did Something Bad” seem like a walk down Sesame Street.
Swift’s vocals on “Midnight Rain” are pitched down into near-oblivion, a jarring, yet fascinating introduction to a self-inflicting story about not wanting the picture-perfect life that her partner both represents and reflects. She delivers her chorus’ punch similarly to 1989’s “All You Had to Do Was Stay,” but the callbacks don’t end there. “Question…?” opens with an interpolation of 2014’s “Out of the Woods” as the stunning “Maroon” reveals itself with a taste of “King of My Heart.”
Despite all its glimmer and shine, there are moments on Midnights when the lights turn on prematurely. On “Karma,” Swift trades infectious production and a meme-worthy chorus for lyrical quality. "Bejeweled" shines in its self-worth message but feels less like a shimmering crown and more like time spent at Las Vegas slot machines praying for riches. She awkwardly drops the F-bomb on “Question…?”, but why this to prove savagery when your ability to translate life’s most mundane experiences into captivating sound is badass all on its own? There's a question we can ponder.
“Snow on the Beach” is the much-anticipated collaboration between two of the best lyricists of this generation. Swift teams up with Lana Del Rey on a hazy, Christmas-adjacent walk on the sand that stays still, never venturing beyond its self-imposed restrictions. Del Rey’s feature is more of a tease than anything of what the future has in store for the next time these two unite.
While Swift spent much of the pandemic revisiting her back catalog to regain control of her master recordings, she now forges a spellbinding path forward. Midnights succeeds in its depiction of the wonder that visits all of us before bed: fated romance, anxieties rooted in memory, shadows, and intimacy. “One moment, your life looks like a night sky of gleaming stars. The next, the fog has descended,” Swift writes in the album’s thesis. Midnights’ strongest moments capture what makes us human: our dreamscapes, our commonplace ruminations, our reaches for reality in the name of finding our true selves. For Swift, her return to pop music makes it clear as day that she found her shimmering light at the end of the tunnel but is choosing to glow in the dark instead.
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NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.