Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’ shimmers with new pop quality

Capri Scarcelli | A&E Editor | 'Midnights' propelled singer-songwriter Taylor Swift back into the pop scene.

Capri Scarcelli | A&E Editor

Oct. 27, 2022

Thirteen sleepless nights and one concept album later, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album: “Midnights.”

In glittery mysticism and vulnerable reflection, Swift brings to life the variances of middle-of-the-night-madness, interwoven between synth-pop and electronica beats that pose as a stark juxtaposition to the elevated lyricism.

Announced at the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 28 in her acceptance speech for “All Too Well: The Short Film,” Swift led fans into a series of Easter eggs for the widely-anticipated Oct. 21 release date. In her social media series, “Midnight Mayhems With Me,” Swift used a metal bingo cage to announce track titles one-by-one until the album’s release.

Of course, it didn’t end there — Swift released seven bonus tracks to “Midnights” three hours after its initial release, calling this deluxe album “Midnights (3am Edition).”

Though many fans anticipated a sound similar to her previously released “Folklore” and “Evermore,” Swift delivered an experimental genre-shift back into the pop sphere, now with a rhythmic murmur and tonal shift reminiscent of Lorde’s “Melodrama” or Lana Del Rey’s “Lust for Life.” With Del Rey credited as a co-writer and featured singer on the album, it’s clear where Swift drew inspiration — even if it felt lackluster on first-listen.

As someone who’s belted Taylor Swift ballads in the car since 2008, I think it’s fair to say that some of her discography has to grow on you, depending on what style you typically gravitate toward. For much of her fanbase, this album needed a closer reading in order to understand the true complexity of the piece, as well as the concepts she was trying to convey.

Let’s take it track-by-track:

Starting off with “Lavender Haze,” Swift delivers an RnB feel with soft pop vocals, clinging onto the feeling of love at first sight. Her breathy vocals paired with the lulling bass give off a club remix vibe, setting the tone of the album within the first three seconds. Transitioning into “Maroon,” a somber foil to track one, Swift recalls an honest love that “felt so scarlet it was maroon,” which would compare to the color symbolism she’s used to allude to true love in her 2012 album “Red” and her 2019 album “Lover.” Visualizing love as “the wine you spilled on my t-shirt” but also “the rust between telephones” indicates a relationship that started strong, but is fizzling out with long distance. These songs, however, didn’t stand out to me much.

Shifting away from love songs and into self-perception by track three, “Anti-Hero” has become one of the highest trending songs of the album thus far. With her relationship status and reputation in full limelight since she was a young teenager, Swift sarcastically used this song as a display of her insecurities and doubts, proudly taking ownership of her faults. The chorus going “It’s me! Hi! I’m the problem, it’s me!” to “I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror!” is playful and cute in true bubblegum pop fashion, even when paired with lyrics like “when my depression works the graveyard shift, all of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room.” Celebrating her vulnerability and becoming comfortable in her own skin, this anthem details Swift’s journey toward self-love and acceptance.

“Snow On The Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey)” absolutely was under Lana’s direction, but yet she wasn’t even given a verse to herself. Swift is usually generous with her collaborations, but Del Rey could only be heard in an octave or a minor third away from Swift throughout the chord progression in the choruses. This song compared to the others though was very dark in its tone, but had dreamy vocals and lyricism. The blend between Swift and Del Rey’s voices were flawless, and maybe that’s why so many believed she wasn’t even in the song.

“You’re On Your Own, Kid,” felt like a response to her first few albums as an artist, reminding her younger self that she will be okay in the end. In the bridge, she cries “I hosted parties and starved my body/Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss,” addressing rumors about her eating disorder and reliance on her love life. The upbeat tempo kept the song running like a cadence, bringing positivity and hope to these midnight thoughts.

“Midnight Rain,” and “Question…?” seemed to be the only two songs I could pin to past lovers, with the first reminding me of her relationship with Taylor Lautner, or perhaps Tom Hiddleston, and “Question…” either a spoof of Harry Styles’ “Just Keep Driving,” or commentary on best friend Selena Gomez and her ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber’s on-and-off relationship. I liked how “Midnight Rain,” felt like a pop version of her “Folklore” song “my tears ricochet,” giving a glamorized look into a love that worked almost a little too well. “Question…?” on the other hand is a skip in my eyes for the lack of quality lyricism and a somewhat monotonous beat.

“Vigilante [Sh*t],” however, feels like a jarring transition to her present self, a song that feels like it was meant to be on her album “Reputation,” or even a call-and-response to her song off “Evermore,” “No Body, No Crime.” I thought this song was genius in its simplicity in order to tell a story about revenge. The bridge builds tension in isolating the vocals, bringing the bass back in for the regular verse and chorus beat. Some believe this song is either an allusion to Kanye West or ex-manager Scooter Braun by the line “someone told his white collar crimes to the FBI.” Overall, though this song stands out on the album, it perfectly fits the concept of midnight thoughts she was going for, and ended up being one of my favorites on the album.

I felt the second half of the album to be much stronger than the first, becoming more transparent with each and every song.

“Bejeweled” was like glitter as a sound. Reminding fans of her “Lover” era, this was a song that showed her listeners that she can still shine in the pop scene. With this in mind, I thought “Karma” would be the next song on the album, but it’s wedged between “Labyrinth,” which felt like Swift was on the brink of a meltdown. That song holds as probably my third favorite because it more closely resembles her older ballads and her fear of falling in love again. The vocals felt like a hollow echo, which added to its ethereal feel.

“Karma” however needed to grow on me. I think it’s fun to dance around to, but I was disappointed by the childish lyricism. From “karma is my boyfriend” to “karma is a cat purring in my lap ‘cause it loves me,” I understood she was appreciating the life she grew for herself, but her fans have very high standards considering her lyrics are typically so intelligent and cryptic in poetic value.

Closing out the concept album, “Sweet Nothing” and “Mastermind” were easily the most complex and best-produced of the 13 original songs. “Sweet Nothing,” feels warmer and softer than the other songs, detailing her current relationship with boyfriend Joe Alwyn. The sweetest line on the whole album is “on the way home/I wrote a poem/You say, ‘what a mind,’/This happens all the time,” showing how Swift is finally appreciated and nurtured in a relationship in ways she’s never experienced before, even in small gestures.

“Mastermind” ties up this concept, showing how she’s “been scheming like a criminal ever since” for the perfect life, but it was with her all along. The 80s synth beat rushes through the buildup of the verses of “the dominoes cascad[ing] in a line,” though reflects on moments of vulnerability, especially in the lines “no one wanted to play with me as a little kid” to “I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian ‘cause I care.”

If this pulse and lyricism carried in the beginning, it would have been a no-skip album.

The “3am Edition” of “Midnights” felt more cohesive than the original album itself, delving deeper into her happiest moments and most gut-wrenching hurt.

If isolated on its own, the “3am Edition” would be a stronger album than “Midnights” itself.

“The Great War,” reveals a fight in a relationship that felt like it would never resolve, while “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” reminisces on a love that was meant to be, but will never return. “Paris” gives a peaceful, unregrettable perspective of love when no one is watching, and “High Infidelity” stands as its polar opposite, where Swift may have admitted to a cheating scandal. I thought “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” deserved a spot in the original 13, especially because it perfectly depicts the sadness midnight can bring when longing for someone you used to know. “Paris” felt like it didn’t belong in this mix, but was still a sweet song.

“Glitch” shows a love that feels so powerful it feels like an accident, where “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is an even deeper cut into the heartbreak and hurt she experienced from artist John Mayer — especially now that she is finally the age he was when they dated. The line “God rest my soul/ I miss who I used to be, the tomb won’t close/ stained-glass windows in my mind/I regret you all the time,” shows the girlhood that was taken away from her after that relationship, still healing from it over a decade later. I wish this song was included on the original 13 tracks because it is so much stronger in comparison and shows clearer imagery.

Finally, “Dear Reader” ends the album as a letter to herself, reminding her of all the love she has left to give. I like that it was written for herself and not for her audience, like a diary entry. Though it wasn’t as enchanting as some of the others, it was ending Swift’s midnights, not ours.

On first listen, “Midnights” is a 6/10. After a close read, it is now an 8/10.

To delve into what Swift considers to be “the magical hour,” stream “Midnights” to experience the mayhem for yourself.