After months of eager anticipation and theorizing whether ‘1989‘ or ‘Speak Now’ would be the next re-recording, Taylor Swift decided to surprise us all with the announcement of her tenth original studio album titled ‘Midnights‘. Following the refreshing folk sound of her last two original albums, ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore‘, ‘Midnights‘ marks a return to her pop sound as it follows Swift on midnights scattered throughout her life that explores different types of melancholia and reflection. This would also mark the first full collaboration between Swift and long-time collaborator Jack Anatanoff who implements his sound quite aggressively into an album that feels so cohesive it’s a bit damaging in the long run. That being said, with Swift’s lyricism as sharp as ever and Antanoff’s undeniable talent to craft a catchy melody, ‘Midnights‘ while far from being their best work, still manages to be an all-nighter worth staying up for.
While the promotional rollout for ‘Midnights‘ was as meticulous as you would expect from Swift, the sound of the album was barely part of the actual promotion. It was more so sold visually with an album trailer and two confirmed music videos. Some lyrics were revealed through billboards across the world but unless you heard a leak on Twitter, Swift kept it pretty secretive. Like most of the loyal fans, I decided against listening to any snippets or leaks and decided to go in blind so when ‘Lavender Haze’ started, the utter whiplash I experienced was unfathomable. The further I got into the standard album, the more conflicted I became. It was the same with ‘folklore‘ only then I just knew that the sound needed to grow on me and now it’s one of my favourites. With ‘Midnights‘ however, I felt something was lacking. I stopped reading the lyrics around the time ‘Question…?’ came on purely so I could focus on the sound. By the end, I honestly felt underwhelmed and conflicted. Did the new sound need some getting accustomed to or did Swift release an album that’s not as good as some of her others? After countless relistens, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is actually a bit of both. While I came to appreciate the sound of the album more and more, it still didn’t connect with me the same way any of her other albums have. It lacked the vibrant nature of her other pop albums and surprisingly enough, with Jack Antanoff at the helm, some of the tracks quite honestly feel uninspired and unfinished. The ironically dull ‘Bejeweled‘ feels like it stays in a painfully safe space and doesn’t really polish itself into something worth noting or praising. The real question in the track ‘Question…?’ is how did such an unadventurous melody and beat get approved? The worst offence, however, comes in the form of ‘Vigilante Shit‘ which at it’s best sounds like a ‘reputation‘ reject and at it’s worst, a Billie Eilish-inspired track that comes across as a parody.
Although the album isn’t as cohesive quality-wise as some of her other works, ‘Midnights‘ occasionally strikes the right notes with tracks that are as personal as ever. The lead single ‘Anti-Hero’ explores a spiral of Swift’s self-doubt and negativity with lyrics that just cut deep for most people. “I’ll stare directly at the Sun but never in the mirror“ in particular is a lyric that sticks out to me. I love just how much personality she injects into her lyricism, it’s always present in her discography and this album isn’t any different. She has this ability to capture a feeling perfectly by using imagery and meticulous diction and this album is a harsher and at times humorous example of it. I personally think it’s hilarious that the radio cut out the ‘Anti-Hero’ bridge because Swift sings ‘I have this dream, my daughter-in-law kills me for the money.’ Another noticeable track is the weirdly anthemic ‘You’re On Your Own, Kid’ which details Swift’s career and journey not just as a singer but as a person. Its inspiring lyrics and reassuring sentiment make it a true standout not just on ‘Midnights‘ but most of her discography. Sonically, like most of the songs on this record, it felt a bit lacking, that being said, the build-up in the second half was a nice touch. The very poppy and upbeat ‘Karma’ was an instant standout, whatever Antanoff did with the instrumental is magic. In fact, I’d say that I actually loved how much he played around with synths to create different sounds and emotions. The synths in the beginning of ‘Bejeweled’ for example sounded shiny if that even makes sense.
Songs like the opening track ‘Lavender Haze’ and the following track ‘Maroon‘ have some of Swift’s strongest pop lyricism to date with ‘Lavender Haze’ being in my opinion the better opening track on her pop records. That being said, I do think there is a predictability to these two songs and the remainder of the album that stops them from becoming special when stacking this album with her previous pop albums. ‘Midnights‘ doesn’t have a strong enough musical identity which is bizarre considering how much she pays attention to differentiating her albums from each other. It is original in its own right but it doesn’t hold a candle to how fiercely unique albums like ‘1989’, ‘reputation’ and ‘Lover‘ were in terms of melodies, production and instrumental details. Swift’s vocal delivery has only improved and her lyricism is what truly saves this album but in most of the verses and sometimes even the choruses, her voice more or less tends to stay in the same spot. It isn’t playful like ‘1989‘, it isn’t loud like ‘reputation‘ and it’s not as expressive as ‘Lover‘, it’s just there. Because of this, the album structure and how compelling it remains throughout is affected. The build-up of momentum in the first three tracks is lost completely with ‘Snow on the Beach’ featuring Lana Del Rey which is disappointing not just in how lacking Lana’s presence is but how unadventurous the track is. It sits at four minutes and sixteen seconds and once again, stays on the same path throughout. A better example of a slow track on ‘Midnights‘ is the very cute, ‘Sweet Nothing’ which was written with Joe Alwyn. It’s shorter and the little additions in the second half make it a much more pleasing and fulfilling listen.
The track ‘Midnight Rain’ has some of my favourite lyrical moments on the album although I was genuinely caught off-guard the first time I heard it. The distortion on her voice in the chorus was something I honestly despised for a number of weeks however I wouldn’t skip it. After I caught myself singing it, I found myself weirdly enjoying it and now I actually don’t mind it. The promise of a vulnerable album was definitely delivered with tracks like ‘Labyrinth’, ‘You’re On Your Own, Kid’ and ‘Anti-Hero’. ‘Labyrinth’ in particular feels emotionally rich with its exploration of the fear that comes with falling in love again. The closing track on the standard album, ‘Mastermind‘ easily has some of the best variety in melody and vocal delivery, it feels like pure Taylor Swift. It’s honestly one of the best closing tracks she has, it has a finality to it, it feels grand and cinematic and it closes out the story well. That is until ‘The Great War’ starts playing.
Yes, Swift advised fans that a special surprise was awaiting them at 3am following the release of the album. When the time came, it was announced that there were seven extra tracks released and bundled into ‘Midnights (3am Edition)’. Seven extra tracks produced mostly by ‘folklore‘ and ‘evermore‘ collaborator Aaron Dessner. These tracks carry more personality and urgency than the entire album does and there is something to be said about how cohesive the standard version is, that it must’ve been intentional. Not saying it corrects the album’s flaws but for some reason they wanted it to sound as minimal as pop could get. These seven tracks have what was missing. While I’m not the biggest fan of ‘The Great War’ sonically, it has some of the record’s strongest lyrics. ‘Bigger Than The Whole Sky’ is one of my personal favourites. The sound, vocal delivery and heartwrenching lyrics is perfect for ‘Midnight’s concept. ‘Paris‘ is cute but far from my favourite. ‘High Infidelity’ sounds like it came straight from the ‘evermore’ woods so it’s safe to say that I loved it. ‘Glitch‘ is very fun, it’s definitely a grower but I’m glad it’s there. The same can be said for ‘Dear Reader’ which is a decent closer. The true standout of these seven tracks however is ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve’ which is, in my opinion, the strongest track on the record. From the way the guitar emulates that fierce rage to the soaring chorus and truly insane outro. This is without a doubt one of her strongest songs in recent memory. Swift’s passionate vocals bring her vulnerable and painful lyrics to life in the most powerful way. I’ve never seen a pop song be so relentless and unapologetic about how angry it is, it’s actually therapeutic.
Then as if that wasn’t enough, there is ‘Hits Different’ featured only on the Lavender Edition Deluxe CD. It’s the perfect blend of ‘Lover‘ and ‘1989‘. It’s perfect bubblegum pop, I can see why it wasn’t on the standard edition or the 3am Edition but I am glad it’s released. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. It’s one of her best deluxe tracks and that’s saying something.
Overall, while I would consider ‘Midnights‘ as a whole, 3am Edition and all as my least favourite album for Swift so far, it still has its charms and jewels in there. I am still very eager to buy all four editions to form that damn clock. The music videos have been great and I still gasp in excitement whenever ‘Anti-Hero’ comes on the radio. It’s one of her best eras conceptually even if the album itself isn’t as strong.
1. Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve
3. You’re On Your Own, Kid
4. Bigger Than The Whole Sky
5. Hits Different
6. High Infidelity
7. Lavender Haze
8. Sweet Nothing
13. Midnight Rain
14. The Great War
17. Dear Reader
18. Snow On The Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey)
21. Vigilante Shit
Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights‘ is now streaming and available to purchase on CD, Vinyl and Cassette.