Album review: Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’ concept becomes lost in experimental synth haze
Taylor Swift holds a lighter on the cover of “Midnights.” The singer-songwriter’s 10th studio album released Friday. (Courtesy of Republic Records)
By Alexis Jones
Oct. 21, 2022 3:16 p.m.
This post was updated Oct. 23 at 8:04 p.m.
Maybe midnight isn’t actually the best time for Taylor Swift to be making music.
After a surprise announcement of its release, the pop singer dropped her 10th studio album, “Midnights,” on Friday. Described by Swift as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life,” “Midnights” premised an edgier sound with the satisfying concept of examining Swift’s inner musical psyche through a grittier lens. But while Swift succeeds at experimenting with a new sound and giving listeners a more intimate look at her personal source material, only a few songs on the album actually capture the quality that such an ambitious undertaking could have had.
“Midnights” starts off strong with the sensual techno beats of “Lavender Haze.” The alternative sound beautifully contrasts with Swift’s breathy vocals as she sings of the eponymous phrase coined in the ’50s to describe “that all-encompassing love glow.” Though less romantic in actuality than initial thoughts based on the flowery title, the track is reminiscent of “False God” from 2019’s “Lover” in its moodier but gratifying take on Swift in love.
The artist maintains this darker production style with the electronic drum patterns in “Maroon” that deftly complement Swift’s changing dynamic with her lover. Lyrically, the track likens each nuance in the relationship to a different shade of red, perpetuating the color’s importance as a recurring theme in Swift’s discography and thus making an obvious but endearing nod to fans.
A deeper, more pop cut takes shape in “Anti-Hero,” arguably her most telling track yet given how she depicts anxiety, ingeniously underlined by repeating the chorus’s opening phrase, “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem, it’s me,” over and over again. While fans are most sympathetic to Swift’s insecurities – which are heard louder than ever before – her public image contrasts her claims of not feeling like a “sexy baby.” Nevertheless, the song is still an incredibly relatable track, further complemented by upbeat instrumentals.
“Snow on the Beach” is where the album steers off track because the album’s only featured artist can hardly be heard, if at all. This is disappointing considering the musical prowess of Lana Del Rey. The song itself is pretty enough to play in the background, but nothing worth stopping for and listening to intently. This again leaves fans wondering what a collaboration between the two singers could truly be.
With the fifth track of Swift’s albums known for emotionally surrendering listeners, “You’re On Your Own, Kid” does not quite live up to the reputation of its predecessors, except maybe its tension-building bridge and its vulnerable, gut-wrenching messaging of all she did to keep her lover.
It’s hard not to compare “Midnights” with Swift’s past discography, but when every song is said to be from a different midnight across her life, it only makes sense to do so – especially since she is now considered rather versatile genre wise when she easily could have been shoehorned into just one. Unfortunately, though, this is where the album starts to plateau in Swift’s alternative musical phase.
“You’re On Your Own, Kid” is the first hint of how monotonous longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff’s singular synth beats on the album have become. “Midnight Rain,” “Question…?” and “Bejeweled” confirm this is the extent of Swift’s experimentation in the album’s production and, sadly, her symbolic storytelling as well.
“Vigilante Shit” is the first track centered on the idea of revenge, which served as the thematic motivating force of Swift’s sonic and image shift with 2017’s “reputation,” but the song doesn’t hit like it thinks it does. The surface-level female rage honestly feels like a step back for Swift, who pioneered the practice of spinning whatever narrative the media projects onto her into a culturally significant clapback that proves she is stronger than all the noise, time after time.
“Karma” makes up for the production of previous tracks with its trippy techno-trap instrumentals, but the lyrics fall extremely flat. Another recurring letdown of “Midnights” is how Swift, whose craftsmanship is built upon her songwriting abilities, does not exhibit her typical lyrical competency. With lines like “Karma is a cat/Purring in my lap ‘cause it loves me,” it begs the question of what happened to the lexiconic complexity shown in her last two albums, “folklore” and “evermore.”
The album thankfully ends as strong as it started, though. Like the opening track, “Mastermind” is the epitome of what “Midnights” conceptually and sonically set out to accomplish with even stronger confessional lyricism. Albeit not as angsty and cohesive as anticipated, Swift delivered some worthwhile songs appealing to the high-concept album “Midnights” sought to be.
And in all, listeners are more than happy to have new music from their favorite mastermind.