Taylor Swift “Midnight” (Republic Records)
“Everything about me changed like midnight,” admits Taylor Swift halfway through her last album, the aptly named and moody Midnights. It’s a moment on the electric “Midnight Rain” that puts lyricist Swift at her best and reminds you of her unparalleled ability to make every emotion seem universal.
The song’s chorus begins, “He was sunshine, I was midnight rain.” And continues, “He wanted comfort, I wanted that pain. He wanted a bride, I made my own name. Chasing that glory. He stayed the same.” Then these lyrics: “Everything about me has changed like midnight.” The sound feels experimental for Swift, opening with her own vocals artificially downtuned to an almost unrecognizable tone. It’s among the most sonically interesting of the album, an indie-pop beat reminiscent of her producer Jack Antonoff’s work on Lorde’s “melodrama” but also fresh and engaging.
Swift and Antonoff’s song’s words are steady and detailed, but not distracting—allowing you to dive into the rhythm, flow, and feel it with her.
Across the 13 tracks of “Midnights,” a confident Swift demonstrates her ability to evolve. For her original 10th album, the 32-year-old pop star approaches the themes she wrote about growing up – love, loss, childhood, fame – with a maturity that’s reflected in sharpened vocals and lyrics that focus more on her inner life focus as an external personality.
“Midnight Rain” could be a thesis statement for the project, which she has described as songs written during “13 sleepless nights,” an appropriate approach to the concept album for someone with a long-standing lyrical appreciation for late nights (think She on “Style”: “Midnight, you come and pick me up, no headlights…”) Of course, she has previously centered her work around themes – on “Red”, an ode to the color and emotions she represents, Reputation, a vengeful reconfiguration of herself, and most recently on Folklore and Evermore, quarantine albums that expressed vulnerability in a way only isolation could.
But Swift presents “Midnights” as something else: a collection of songs that don’t necessarily have to go together, but do go together because she’s declared them products of late-night inspiration. Positioning listeners situationally—in the quiet but reflective darkness of the night—rather than thematically feels like a natural creative experiment for a songwriter so prolific that her albums have become synonymous with the zeitgeist of pop culture.
And with that comes a tone that’s a little darker, a little more experimental, and always electric.
Track one, “Lavender Haze,” combines a muted club beat and high backing vocals from Antonoff with a standout, inviting melody from Swift. “Maroon” is a grown-up and weathered version of “Red,” a plunge into lost love with rich descriptions of rust, spilled wine, red lipstick—images Swift revisits with more bite.
“Labyrinth” makes it clear she’s taken the best of her earlier pop experiments – the synth from “1989” and the softer alternative sounds of “Folklore” – as she admits, as only a songwriter can, that a heartbreak ” feels just so raw now, lost in the labyrinth of my mind”, at the top of a Bon Iver-style electronic trill track.
Swift shines when she’s able to marry her signature lyrical thoughts with this new arena of electronic beats. And while this isn’t another album with acoustic indie sounds like “Folklore,” it’s clear that Swift has made a step forward in the indie pop genre — even if it’s a step in a different direction.
The album’s weaker moments are the ones where that balance doesn’t feel. “Bejeweled” is a little too cute, with lyrics that feel like an updated, glittery version of “Me!” The highly-anticipated “Snow On The Beach,” starring Lana Del Rey, is poetic, pretty and at times sassy, but not as emotionally deep as the lyricists’ combined power might suggest.
Even in those moments, Swift is comfortable in her musical skin on “Midnights,” revealing the strengths of a perceptive and ever-evolving artist, blinking through ever-cryptic allusions to her very public life or subtle quirks scattered amidst lyrical confessions (see: “Anti-Hero” and “Mastermind”) and captivate even the casual listener with a seductive and perhaps surprising beat.
But like the love-soaked “Lover” and the intimate “Folklore” and “Evermore,” “Midnights” feels like both a confessional booth and a playground created by every version of Taylor Swift we’ve met so far and the new Taylor Swift to shine. And as always, we’re only there for the exciting night drive.
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