By Olivia Ruiz and Anna Mintzer
Taylor Swift’s new album Midnights is a self-proclaimed “collage of intensity, highs and lows and ebbs and flows.” The highly anticipated 13-track album was released on October 21st at midnight, with the deluxe “3 a.m. edition” release three hours later containing an additional seven songs. The album is a culmination of 13 “sleepless nights” throughout Swift’s career, littered with callbacks to, and sampling from, her previous albums. Midnights has shattered records, becoming Spotify’s most-streamed album in a single day, with Swift also becoming the most-streamed artist in a single day in Spotify history. Midnights is also the first ever album to hold all ten top slots of the Billboard Hot 100.
The album is undoubtedly a sharp contrast to the folky sister albums, Folklore and Evermore. The past two albums were a sharp turn from Swift’s original discography, both stylistically and thematically. The sister-albums were written essentially as stories: an omnipresent narrator painting a musical picture–even while singing the first person. As Pitchfork writer Vrinda Jagota explains, “Midnights is positioned as a return to first-person narration” — without the classic breakup/ lovably-juvenile tones that appear on her earlier albums like Speak Now and Fearless. Mature and reflective, Swift looks back on her career with an aged but familiar classic style pop. In honor of Midnights, Swift’s tenth studio album, here are ten tracks Olivia and Anna chose to spotlight.
The album opens with “Lavender Haze”, an explosive track full of enticing techno beats that beautifully contrast with Swift’s layered vocals. Since its announcement, I have spent one too many moments agonizing over what the sound of Midnights would be. As Swift refused to release any singles or snippets of the album beforehand, I didn’t expect a return to the dark yet upbeat pop-oriented world she has channeled in previous albums such as Reputation and Lover, but I am so glad she did. Swift teased the theme of “Lavender Haze” in an Instagram post earlier this month, explaining to fans that the track is derived from an episode of “Mad Men” and was a common phrase used in the 1950s to describe being in an “all-encompassing love glow.”
Throughout the track, Swift evidently expresses this notion, making it clear she and her partner of six years, Joe Alywn, are tuning out the noise of the world through lyrics such as “I’ve been under scrutiny/You handle it beautifully,” and “They’re bringing up my history/But you weren’t even listening.” The drum synths and overall production of “Lavender Haze” closely resemble that of “I Think He Knows” from Swift’s 2019 album Lover, a track that is also an uptempo and intoxicating expression of Swift in love.
Although there are no official singles on the album, the track Anti-Hero may be the next closest thing, with Swift releasing the Anti-Hero music video eight short hours after the album’s debut. Three weeks before the release of the album, Swift posted a “behind the song” instagram video explaining how Anti-Hero is the “guided tour” of all the things she hates about herself. The song does just that, with the chorus essentially identifying Swift as the “anti-hero.” Poetic lyrics like “I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror” and “my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism” are reminiscent of Swift’s quarantine albums, however rather than showing how her life has become “larger than life” – as she says in her instagram video– she states very plainly “I’m the problem.”
What makes this track so inaccessible is not the theme– Swift is often able to connect listeners to problems only people of her status face, like in “The Lucky One” and “Mad Woman” — but the delivery. Rather than illustrating the poignant picture Swift traditionally does, the track acts like more of a therapy session with extremely on the nose lyrics like “when my depression works the graveyard shift all of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room.” Nevertheless, Jack Antonoff, a co writer and producer for majority of Midnights, elevated the song significantly with the production. The catchy chorus makes Anti-Hero a Taylor Swift classic, helping the track claim the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Snow on the Beach
“Snow on the Beach,” featuring Lana Del Rey, was my most anticipated track of the album and one I had to constantly remind myself was real. As a massive fan of Del Rey’s music, I was beyond ecstatic that two of my favorite female artists were collaborating just as Swift and Bridgers did on “Nothing New” from Red (Taylor’s Version) released last November.
This track is the closest the album comes to the rich indie-folk sound of Folklore and Evermore. Swift’s breathy vocals beautifully capture the intimacy and vulnerability of falling for someone while they are also falling for you. Although the song has invoked mixed reactions from fans regarding how much (or little) Del Rey is featured, there is still little I would change.
While I hoped Del Rey was going to sing a verse on the song and Swift was not going to revert to her infamous pattern of putting collaborating female artists on backing vocals (which she ultimately did), Del Rey’s angelic vocals are still present throughout the song and beautifully blend with Swift’s, creating an ethereal ballad that feels like a present to all of the Folklore and Evermore fans.
You’re on Your Own Kid
Taylor Swift is notorious for writing heartbreaking and gut wrenching track five songs, and “You’re on Your Own Kid” is no different. The song is a bittersweet medley of Lover and Evermore production styles intertwined with the likely autobiographical story of Swift growing up. The star of the track is undoubtedly the bridge that one can’t help but scream along with.
As Swift sings “make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it, you’ve got no reason to be afraid” she perfectly encapsulates the classic teenage feeling of growing up and embracing what you have. While “Anti-Hero” may feel emotionally inaccessible at times, “You’re on Your Own Kid” is the antithesis and has immediately become a fan favorite.
As surprised as I was when I first heard the track, “Vigilante Shit” is extremely on-brand for her.
Detailing a melodramatic revenge fantasy, this track closely resembles that of Folklore‘s “Mad Woman” and Reputation‘s “I Did Something Bad” while still conveying its own unique expression of spite. On “Vigilante Shit,” the only song on the album Swift is a sole writer of, she is at her most vicious and is not afraid to show it, singing “Lately I’ve been dressing for revenge” and “Don’t get sad, get even.”
As Midnights encapsulates songs written over 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout Swift’s life, I am going to hope that the first lyrics of the song “Draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man” was created amidst the peak of early 2010s Tumblr culture and not a lyric Swift recently conceptualized, especially after she has continuously displayed how poignant her songwriting can be. Nonetheless, “Vigilante Shit” channels my favorite elements of Reputation and it was refreshing to hear that Swift has not entirely abandoned her dark electro-pop sound.
On October 25th, Taylor Swift released her second music video for her track 9 song, “Bejeweled.” Undoubtedly the song is a return to her album Lover both lyrically and stylistically. The line “baby boy I think I’ve been too good of a girl” contains lyrical references to the songs “Paper Rings” and “Ms. Americana” and the “Heartbreak Prince” off of Lover and the sparkly production elements loosely resemble the song “ME!” The track is fun and energetic, while conveying Swift’s messages precisely: she can still “shine” in the pop genre, even after departing for a couple of albums.
The “Bejeweled” music video is equally as fun as the track itself, featuring all three members of the band HAIM, Oscar winner Laura Dern, the “queen of Burlesque” Dita Von Teese, Jack Annonoff, and makeup artist Pat McGrath. The video is a Cinderella-like story of “House Wench Taylor” who gets ready and goes to the ball to win the “keys to her own castle” – a reference to the lines “I don’t like your kingdom keys, they once belonged to me” from the song “Look What You Made Me Do.” The music video contains what Taylor Swift calls a “psychotic amount” of references and easter eggs to her previous and future work.
Due to Midnight’s revolutionary predecessors, Folklore and Evermore, Taylor Swift has often been held to the standard of exploring a new sound and genre style in each album. Track 11, “Karma”, is proof that despite Midnight’s return of old sounds, rather than explorations of new ones, Swift refuses to reach a point of diminishing return on quality of music. One of the most classically pop songs in her discography, Karma is a return to Swift’s iconic 1989 pop style, while effortlessly intertwining thematic elements from Reputation. In the chorus, Swift declares confidently, “Karma is my boyfriend,” a reference to her six-year long relationship with actor Joe Alwyn.
The song is a response to the misfortune Swift has faced in her career, primarily her masters being bought by Scooter Braun. But she doesn’t dwell on the unfortunate, instead she praises the karma that has brought her the good in her life, saying “Karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend.” Hopelessly catchy, Karma is a fresh revisit to the classic 1989-style pop that is popular amongst all listeners.
On the album closer, “Mastermind,” Swift confesses to a significant other that their close relationship was not a product of fate but rather of detailed planning, signing “What if I told you none of it was accidental” and “It was all my design ‘Cause I’m a mastermind.”
The track’s enticing electronic beats immediately pulled me in on the first listen. I felt as if Swift was taking me on a journey through her mind (which we already know is masterful), and once reaching the bridge where Swift reflects on how her childhood has led her to behave in this way, singing, “No one wanted to play with me as a little kid. So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since to make them love me and make it seem effortless” I realized that Swift was, for what might be the first time, allowing us a glimpse into her insecurities.
The song takes a potent turn when Swift learns that the person she is singing to has always known she has been scheming: “And then saw a wide smirk on your face. You knew the entire time. You knew that I’m a mastermind. “All the person does is smile, implying he knew she was never manipulating him and has loved her for who she is since the beginning despite her doubts, just as fans have since the day Swift released her debut album over 15 years ago and the years following.
Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve: Bonus Track From Midnights (3am edition)
Track 19, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”, is undoubtedly the track from the album that many reviewers seem to be glossing over since it was only included on the 3am edition of Midnights. However, this song deserves all of the praise and discourse as it is, if not even more gut-wrenching than the fan-favorite “All Too Well.”
Singing of a past relationship and lost innocence, this track closely mirrors her 2010 song “Dear John,” also containing references to being nineteen and reflecting on the long-term effects of dating an older man as a young girl, serving as another demonstration that Swift will never forfeit her ability to write harrowing and gut-wrenching lyrics, no matter what musical genre she is catering to.
The raw pain, anger, and regret Swift channels are painfully evident through the song, with lyrics such as “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first,” with her meticulously placed vocal cracks resembling that of a crying child. The continuous repetition of lyrics such as “I regret you all the time” and “I miss who I used to be,” encompassing more and more anguish as the song progresses makes these moments perhaps the most heartbreaking on the track showing how Swift can take the simplest lyrics and yet still invoke immense angst in listeners, no matter how many times they listen to it.
As these emotions continue to build throughout the song, listeners begin to hear more and more of Swift’s desperation to reclaim her girlhood, and once reaching the bridge where she belts out, “I damn sure never would’ve danced with the devil, at nineteen” we can only hear the agony of a once 19-year old girl pleading for innocence that will never be restored.
All in all, Midnights is in essence, an encapsulation of Swift’s best previous work that still possesses an entirely new sound, making this album a pleasant surprise.
Midnights has something for every fan, and although its unique sound may make it an album that needs numerous listens to finally grow on you, we must remind ourselves that no matter what genre, Swift will always gracefully find ways to integrate the most memorable sounds and memories of her past with contemporary sounds of the present, with Midnights being no exception.