Review: Taylor Swift's "Midnights"

Returning to her pop sound with long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album, “Midnights”, on Oct. 21. 

First teased during her acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the VMAs, Swift later explained on social media that “Midnights” explores “13 sleepless nights” throughout her life.

Swift also took to TikTok to reveal the titles of each song, letting a bingo cage choose the number of the track she was going to reveal in each video. 

“Midnights” is a culmination of some of the best parts of Swift and Antonoff’s projects over the years. It has the “1989”-reminiscent synth woven throughout the production that has become a hallmark of Antonoff’s style, along with some bass-heavy production in songs like “Vigilante Shit” that made “Reputation” such a stand out in Swift’s discography. “Lover”’s DNA is apparent in the variety of “Midnights’” themes. 

Lyrically, Swift put all of her pens to use in this album. While accepting the Songwriter-Artist of the Decade award at the Nashville Songwriter Awards, Swift explained that she categorizes her songs by one of three imaginary “pens” she used while writing them: quill, fountain pen, and glitter gel pen. 

Swift explained that she categorizes her songs as quill if “the words and phrasings are antiquated,” such as “Ivy” from “evermore,” while fountain songs follow a “modern storyline or references, with a poetic twist.” They place “yourself and whoever is listening right there in the room where it all happened.” 

Glitter gel pen lyrics, on the other hand, are “frivolous, carefree, bouncy” lyrics that “don’t care if you take them seriously because they don’t take themselves seriously.” 

Best described, “Midnights” is an album written with a fountain pen that had glitter ink. 

It contains vivid imagery placing the listener in each of those “sleepless nights” in songs like “Maroon” where she reminisces “You were standing hallow-eyed in the hallway; carnations you had thought were roses.” 

However, it also contains more carefree and non-self-important lyrics where the glitter ink shines through like in the lyrics “karma is a cat purring in my lap cause it loves me, flexing like a Vegas acrobat.” 

That’s not to say that any of these “shiny” lyrics are frivolous or shallow. What’s most striking about “Midnights” is Swift’s ability to juggle both the serious and light-hearted. 

“Karma” demonstrates this balance well. While the “karma is a cat” lyrics seem like fillers out of context, they play a crucial part in the larger picture of the song made apparent by the song’s thesis lines, “karma’s a relaxing thought; aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?” 

Swift is able to enjoy these low-key and more mundane parts of her life because she knows that karma is on her side, meanwhile the subject of the song can’t because they are perpetually on guard waiting for their bad karma to catch up with them. 

The lyrics also lend themselves to the versatility of “Midnights,” best outlined by the five themes Swift said inspired her to write the album: falling in love, self-loathing, fantasizing about revenge, wondering what might’ve been, and falling apart. 

Swift explained how some songs on “Midnights” fit these themes via Instagram reels.

The lead single, “Anti-Hero,” delves into the self-loathing theme, with lyrics exploring Swift’s tendency to self-sabotage and fears that she’s “the problem” set to Antonoff’s characteristic upbeat synth. Swift muses how difficult she feels it must be for the people around her with the hook, “It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.” 

Dream-pop “Snow on the Beach,” which includes a Lana Del Rey feature, explores the beginnings of a relationship while bass-heavy, groovy “Lavender Haze” explores the idea of wanting to keep that relationship in a “bubble,” and free of outside expectations. 

In “Lavender Haze,” Swift sings “I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say,” adding a twist to the phrase “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” 

With lyrics that, with a more folksy production, could fit on songs like “tolerate it,” appropriately sparkly “Bejeweled” encapsulates a specific kind of revenge: feeling like yourself again after being in a particularly dulling situation. “Bejeweled” is best summed up by its lyrics, “and I miss you, but I miss sparkling.” 

In line with the theme, Swift makes callbacks to her past work on this album, such as the “Out of the Woods” sample at the beginning of “Question…?”

The bonus tracks on “Midnights”, added on the 3am Edition, further flesh out the themes of this album with songs such as “Dear Reader”, which ironically advises the listener to “never take advice from someone who’s falling apart.” 

“folklore” and “evermore” collaborator Aaron Dessner also joined Swift in writing and producing some of the 3am tracks, such as “The Great War,” which is perhaps one of the best examples of Swift’s distinct imagery-driven storytelling that derives from her country roots. 

The standout 3am track, however, is “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve,” in which Swift mourns the loss of her girlhood. Looking back on a previous traumatic situation with the distance of 13 years and the perspective of a grown woman, Swift reflects on how this relationship still impacts her, comparing these memories to “weapons.” 

Swift also emphasizes how this experience has permanently altered her perspective of the world; these “stained glass windows in my mind” will tinge all future experiences. 

One of the most poignant lines in the song comes during the bridge where Swift belts “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first.” While the rest of the lyrics in the song are heavily rooted in metaphors, this line is the most straightforward and visceral, echoing the same kinds of demands you’d hear on a playground, expertly illustrating the power imbalance in the age gap of this relationship. 

Swift explained that the choice to release these surprise 3am tracks came from, “loving the feeling of sharing more of our creative process with you, like we do with From The Vault tracks,” referring to the additional tracks she’s been releasing with her re-recorded albums

In fact, “Midnights” is the perfect album to release in the midst of the re-recording process, as each song is a revisitation of her past. 

After two re-recorded albums and nine previous studio albums, “Midnights” marks Swift’s most successful era yet. Along with breaking streaming records, and her own record for album sales, Swift became the first artist in history to occupy all top ten spots of the Billboard Hot 100. 

Sixteen years into her career, Swift has more than earned the right to pen “Ask me why so many fade, but I’m still here.”

Hanne Brandgard (she/her) is a sophomore journalism major. She enjoys watching movies and reading books in her free time.

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