Image: Beth Garrabrant
With each record, Taylor Swift has always masterfully transported us to another place, and time. She took us back to the 80’s with 1989, deep into the woods on folklore and evermore, high school days ran rampant on Fearless, whilst the autumn leaves fell into place on Red. This time around, we meet the global superstar in the middle of the night, where she shares her innermost thoughts. Thirteen stories are shared of things that she says 'kept her up at night'. The wonders and anxieties of falling in love, the lure of revenge and thoughts of self-loathing are central threads throughout Midnights, with the record documenting different stages of Swift’s life throughout her illustrious career and the impact of not only her actions, but also of those who she allows into her life.
Opening with Lavender Haze, we’re immediately met with a sound that distinctly cries Taylor Swift, but also presents an evolved palette. The synth-pop sensibilities of 1989 glimmer throughout Midnights’ opening number, weaving in threads of R&B as the singer explores a vibrant love that blocks out all the outside noise, whilst also shunning stereotypical gender roles. Her soothing vocal runs and melodic prowess set the tone for what is to follow. The track also adds a number of incredible names to Swift’s acclaimed list of collaborators, with the artist tapping Zoë Kravitz, Sounwave, Jahann Sweet and Sam Dew to join her and longtime collaborator and producer, Jack Antonoff. She recalls on love lost in Maroon, detailing shared moments early on in a relationship before turning sour. Swift once again uses colour as a vivid storytelling device, echoing the crimson heartbreak present on Red above subtle shoegaze inspired guitar work.
Anti-Hero offers a glimpse into the singers most inner thoughts, laced with self-critique presented through somewhat surrealist lyricism. Swift compares herself to a “monster on the hill” and fears her future daughter-in-law committing murder and accusing her of “laughing up at us from hell” only to find out the singer had cut everyone from her will. “I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror” she sings, avoiding recognising her flaws and instead basking in the glow of her projected image. The track offers one of the albums more commercial pop moments, with flawless production simmering beneath Swift’s airy and echoed vocals. The introspection and reflective thoughts are echoed in You’re On Your Own Kid, recalling on her teenage dreams and touching on the toll that being in the spotlight has had on her mental and physical health.
One of the albums most anticipated tracks was arguably Snow On The Beach, which sees the musical juggernaut team up with melodic songstress, Lana Del Rey. The beautifully crafted track marries Swift’s main vocal line with hypnotic and ethereal harmonies from Del Rey, creating a hazy and dream like unity that serves as a standout moment on the album. Evocative lyricism flows throughout, documenting a love so out of the blue it would be like witnessing snowflakes hit the sand on a shoreline. There’s also a poetic nature to the songs phrasing, each considered line and melody cuts through the tracks misty production and also features a shout-out to Janet Jackson. When first pressing play on the rhythmically driven Midnight Rain, you too may think Cher has leant her vocals to the track, with distorted vocals channeling the legendary artists' distinct tone. The 80’s synth-pop realm of 1989 returns in full-force on the track, offering down-tempo beats and metallic lustrous production, whilst thematically touching on prioritising a career ahead of a relationship. There’s a drive to Question…? that is reminiscent of I Wish You Would, and samples Out Of The Woods from that same album, as bright production swells beneath Swift’s enchanting vocals, led by choppy synth chords.
The album takes its most notable tonal shift on Vigilante Shit, a contemporary cut that implements industrial production led by a booming beat and beguiling sounds. The reputation era has returned in full force on the track, with Swift singing, “Lately I’ve been dressing for revenge” as she plots the take down of a man who has done her wrong. The song simmers, continuing to build tension towards haunting nursery rhyme like melodies in the songs bridge, evident with the lyrics, “Ladies always rise above, ladies know what people want. Someone sweet and kind and fun, the lady simply had enough”. Bejeweled is another offering that echos Swift and Antonoff’s work on reputation, a more pure-pop moment within the body of work where Swift asserts confidence and reminds her lover she shines like a mirrorball, and he best not forget it. The singer has previously stated that the songs on Midnights were inspired by sleepless nights throughout her life, which could be a leading contributor to the nostalgia of eras past present on the album. Labyrinth sees Swift explore the complex nature of love lost and the blossom of new love, finding comfort away from heartbreak in the warmth of another. The song also touches on the fears and anxieties of falling hard and fast for someone new, “never trust it if it rises fast, it can’t last” she comments.
Any true Swiftie knows the legend of Karma, an alleged scrapped album from Swift that according to rumour, should’ve arrived in 2016 but was shelved for 2017’s reputation. Whether such an album exists is hearsay, but Swift is adding fuel to the fire with a track on Midnights dubbed Karma. The deliciously devious track compares the singers positive relationship with karma, likening it to a boyfriend, a cat, a queen, a god, the wind blowing through your hair and more, but for others karma is a dreaded thought of how their actions hold consequences. In this, Swift is essentially saying those who have wronged her will have their day when karma catches up to them, whilst she remains unbothered and living life carefree knowing she’s done nothing to meet the same fate as her opposers.
Teaming up once again with William Bowery, the pseudonym of Swift’s partner Joe Alwyn, Sweet Nothing conjures imagery of shared moments with a loved one that could be considered mundane, but instead holds a greater weight than the shiny moments of a relationship that get splashed across social media. Intimate and detailed lyricism evoke a wholesome and sweet relationship, with lulling piano work playing out below. Midnights officially closes with Mastermind (although Swift blessed us all with seven bonus tracks three hours after the albums release) on which she plays into the trope she’s a calculated mastermind. She details a plot implemented to land the man who caught her eye. She admits “all the wisest women had to do it this way” and teases her penchant for Easter eggs and teasing fans with “I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian ‘cause I care”.
On Midnights, Swift weaves together the reminiscent sonics of 1989 with the nature and elevated storytelling songwriting present on folklore and evermore, whilst pairing the revenge-fuelled power of reputation with the anecdotal haze of love present on Lover to crate a body of work that progresses past all this into new territory. It feels effortlessly new, yet drenched in a glow of nostalgia that brings together everything we know and love from the singer. Brooding and atmospheric soundscapes are contracted with brighter kaleidoscopic moments, never overshadowing one another but instead working in simpatico to soundtrack the narrative-based conceptual exploration of the record. Swift and Antonoff's subdued approach to synth-pop has further enriched the singers penchant to pivoting and expanding on previously established sonic territory. There’s a confident stride laced throughout, be that as she stomps on haters in Karma, or lulls us into our emotions on Snow On The Beach, Swift is firmly in the drivers seat, steering listeners' late night introspection that captures the human experience. Our flaws, our anxieties, our successes and our dreams are all things that keep us up at night, and now Taylor Swift has delivered a soundtrack that proves you’re not alone, even at 2am when you’re cursing someone’s name or in the middle of the night in your dreams.
Midnights is out now!