Album review: Taylor Swift – Midnights
Lucy Kerr reviews Taylor Swift’s new album, Midnights.
Permeated by self-awareness, ethereal imagery and the cyclical nature of heartbreak, Taylor Swift’s tenth studio album, Midnights, continues her streak of lyrical excellence and thematic perfection. While introducing an entirely new genre to her discography, Swift expertly manages to maintain her renowned authenticity; weaving whimsical metaphors and soft-toned mantras into a blanket of electronic sounds, completely anomalous to her previous work.
The concept album opens by tackling Swift’s dichotomous life, drawing a line between her status as an undisputed pop sensation and her simple desire to be dazed by romance. ‘Lavender Haze‘ embodies the album’s thematic focus of sleepless nights by honing in on the overwhelming feelings synonymous with being in love, a theme revisited in her later track ‘Midnight Rain’. With these soft, romantic tracks, a casual listener is guided to the idea that this album is yet another attempt at simply exploring the female experience with dating and the deep, profound feelings that come with that sensation. But how is it that Swift manages to completely subvert this expectation while maintaining her usual stance on the difficulty of relationships?
The answer lies in her turn to intimacy and self-contemplation in a masterful attempt to push the boundaries of relationship-oriented music. Rather than discussing the men with which she is so infamously associated, she turns the tables on herself, discussing loneliness and insecurity in both ‘You’re on your own, kid‘ and ‘Anti-hero‘. The standout of the two, ‘Anti-hero’, expresses such raw emotion and rich self-analysis that it is only predictable that this could be Swift’s magnum opus. The track is a genius depiction of the male gaze disguised as an anthem of self-criticism, perhaps portraying the negative image created of her by the media. Swift’s reference to the sitcom 30 Rock with the phrase ‘everybody is a sexy baby’ provides a nuanced approach to tackling the issues of the male gaze and employs much more of an implicit criticism than in her Reputation album.
Rather than discussing the men with which she is so infamously associated, [Taylor Swift] turns the tables on herself, discussing loneliness and insecurity in both ‘You’re on your own, kid’ and ‘Anti-hero’
Despite obvious stylistic choices which differentiate Midnights from previous albums, it is almost impossible to ignore the interwoven lyrical parallels which expertly embed the album into Taylor Swift’s discography. The colour symbolism that defines ‘Maroon‘ could perhaps be traced back to her 2012 hit ‘Red’, denoting a development from an unpredictable, exciting love to one that is deeper and more mature. Similarly, Swift’s fascination with philosophy and Romantic literature was so prominent throughout Folklore that it has prevailed in the album’s final track, ‘Mastermind‘. In the thirteenth track of her collection of tales of ‘thirteen sleepless nights’, Swift refers to herself as ‘Machiavellian ’cause I care’, drawing on the philosophical and literary influences that underpin ‘Folklore’ as a whole. While these small details are seemingly insignificant, it is these nods of acknowledgment to her previous work that define Taylor Swift as a genius of the music industry, and satisfy fans who are unequivocally keen to look for links between her different works.
A brilliantly versatile piece of art, Midnights encompasses both revenge-driven tracks like ‘Karma‘ and ‘Vigilante Shit‘ and subdued, pensive numbers like ‘Labyrinth‘, ‘Sweet Nothing‘ and ‘Question…?‘. The album’s only featured artist, Lana Del Rey, provides her signature exploration of melancholia and wistful romance in ‘Snow on the Beach‘, perfectly complimenting the rest of Swift’s mesmeric anthology. With such a range of emotion and atmosphere explored in this album, fans are left to wonder what could possibly be left for Swift to delve into in her next creative endeavour. It is likely that her lyrical prowess will never be exhausted, as every time fans think she has reached the peak of her career, another stunning project is revealed which once again flips the world on its head. While it could be argued that Midnights somewhat lacks the poetic eminence of its immediate predecessors (sister albums Folklore and Evermore), the album marks an impactful return of Swift to the pop music scene. The track which most embodies this return, ‘Bejeweled’, can only be described as an exuberant expression of self-love and positivity: an antidote to the self-deprecating lyrics of the aforementioned ‘Anti-hero’.
In considering the tales of sleepless nights told through this album, we return to the overarching thematic excellence displayed in each and every song. While the synth-pop sound makes its debut into her discography, there is no question that the themes which Taylor Swift so habitually returns to will never grow old to her audience. With that in mind, it is evident that Midnights can be considered the work of a mastermind, and nothing less.