Taylor Swift’s tenth album “Midnights” was shrouded in mystery from its announcement at the 2022 Video Music Awards on Aug. 28. The cover, a shot of Swift holding a lighter to her face surrounded by the tracklist and title, was the only major reveal regarding the album until its release. Swift debuted a different song title on the tracklist during her “Midnights Mayhem” segment that she did on TikTok over the weeks leading up to the album. Besides this, no snippets were released.
Coming off of her 2020 alternative-tinged sister albums, “folklore” and “evermore,” the anticipation for their follow-up was substantial. This was proved by how the album fared within its very first day. On Oct. 21, the day of “Midnights’” release, Spotify announced that Swift had broken the record for the biggest album streaming debut in a single day.
On “Midnights,” Swift manages to find a way to combine aspects from her discography to create something that is entirely new. Solely produced by Swift’s frequent collaborator and longtime friend Jack Antonoff, the album marks her return to pop music with a project that feels genreless when listened to. The album is, according to Swift, a concept album that is a collection of “13 sleepless nights.” She drew inspiration from moments throughout both her life and career that she reflects on.
The themes of “Midnights” are scattered throughout it. Opener “Lavender Haze” is an electronic-infused track that discusses Swift’s experience with trying to be in love while constantly under the public eye. She sings, “The only kind of girl they see / Is a one-night or a wife.” Lead single “Anti-Hero” is a twinkling pop cut that sees Swift battle with her own self. In the pre chorus she sings, “I should not be left to my own devices / They come with prices and vices, I end up in crisis.”
Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey makes an appearance on “Snow On The Beach,” a dreamy track comparing the feelings of a reciprocated love to snow coming down on a beach. Del Rey provides haunting background vocals to support the mystic feel of the track. A highlight on “Midnights” is a chilling moment at the end of the bridge when Swift’s vocals cut out from her hopeful “Can this be a real thing?” and Del Rey coos “Can it?” It leads into a near-silence that grows back into the chorus.
The midsection of the album is a standout. The aptly-titled “Question…?” is a synth-pop track reminiscent of her early work in pop, but still retains a fresh feeling to it. Sampling Swift’s own 2014 “1989” single “Out of the Woods” in the chorus, the song looks back on a relationship that ended in chaos. The fast-spoken delivery of the verses adds to the tension of the story as she sings, “I swear that it was something / ‘Cause I don’t remember who I was before you / Painted all my nights / A color I have searched for since.” Follow-up “Vigilante Shit” contains themes reminiscent of Swift’s reputation album with a darker edge. Menacing synths and beat drops echo behind Swift as she sneers, “Don’t get sad, get even.”
Color is a recurring theme throughout Swift’s catalog, and “Midnights” is no exception. On the track “Maroon,” Swift paints the colors of a broken love in the titular shade of red. She compares the color to “the mark they saw on my collarbone” and “the lips I used to call home.” The production is dark and feels like a slower, more mature sequel to her 2012 song “Red.” This shows especially in the bridge, where she exclaims, “And I wake with your memory over me / That’s a real f****n’ legacy.”
The latter-half of “Midnights” is a calmer confessional compared to the mainly-slinking first half. Standout track “Labyrinth” contains one of Swift’s best vocal performances of her career. “It only hurts this much right now / Was what I was thinking the whole time,” she confesses on the soaring opener. It discusses a fear of re-learning how to fall in love after being consistently hurt by it. “Sweet Nothing,” a slower gem on the album, is a piano-driven track where Swift struggles with the values in her relationship. She sings, “You’re in the kitchen humming / All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothing.”
On the closing song “Mastermind,” an instant classic in Swift’s discography, she paints the situations that she encounters as outcomes that she plotted all along. Over the thumping synths of the chorus she sings, “I laid the groundwork and then just like clockwork / The dominoes cascaded in a line / What if I told you I’m a mastermind?” It is confessions like this that make “Midnights” so immersive. Swift’s storytelling is at all times on-par with Antonoff’s instrumentals. Her vocals stand front-and-center in the track until she digs into the story more, and the production swells up with the story.
“Midnights” is a testament to Swift as both a writer and a vocalist. The writing style is unlike any of that on her previous nine albums. It is conceptually imaginative while ultimately staying relatable. Listening to the album is like being inside Swift’s head at her most conflicted and personal moments. Her vocal performances are as raw as ever, from the hushed slyness of “Vigilante Shit” to the slight cracks in her pleading voice during the bridge of “Mastermind.” The latter title reigns true regarding “Midnights;” only a mastermind could have pulled off an album of such vast themes and sounds — and Swift managed to do it flawlessly. 5/5