Meet Us At “Midnights”
Issue 5, Volume 113
“I thought it might be a fun moment to tell you that my brand-new album comes out October 21.”
Taylor Swift teasing her 10th studio album at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards was all too fitting for the music industry’s queen of surprises. When the clock struck 12:00 a.m. on October 21, 2022, Swift’s 10th studio album “Midnights” made its appearance. A compilation of “13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [her] life,” “Midnights” is a collage of the formative moments of Swift’s life.
Crafting a decemvirate of exceptional studio albums is no easy feat, and in the quest to do so, “Midnights” falls short.
Along with its numerous Spotify and Billboard-breaking records, “Midnights” sports one of Swift’s most heavy pre-release promotion campaigns to date. The weeks leading up to the album’s release were filled with many sleepless nights for fans. In preparation for the album’s release, Swift took to TikTok to post track title reveals, drumming up excitement (and thousands of fan theories). Yet despite its unmatched anticipation, the album’s dull lyricism and the hyper-similarity of the tracks render it one of Swift’s weakest projects.
“Midnights” is somewhat of an experimental album. Almost all of the tracks feature techy synthesizers, upbeat rhythms, and bright melodies—a sound Swift hadn’t delved into in her prior albums. Given Swift’s penchant for genre-hopping, especially in her most recent original projects “evermore” (2020) and “folklore” (2020), a continuation to the artist’s long history of pop hits makes the project feel less impactful. Despite this initial letdown, “Midnights” is sonically refreshing with an edgy sound through strong drumbeats and prominent bass lines, indicative of the evolution Swift has gone through in the music industry. Swift’s intentions with “Midnights” are clear—it’s a culmination of her entire career, summed up in 13 tracks.
But the gripe that many fans have with “Midnights” is that it just does not feel as climactic as expected. It is reminiscent of Swift’s style on “Lover” (2019); some songs are too on-the-nose while others are undercut by their over-the-top production, causing moments of sincerity to be few and far between. Swift writes self-deprecatingly about herself in the album’s most-streamed track “Anti-Hero,” but the vulnerability of the song is obscured by banal lyrics like, “It’s me / Hi / I'm the problem, it’s me.” “Vigilante [EXPLETIVE]” has a similar problem: it begins with an interesting beat, but the build-up ebbs and flows, leaving listeners unfulfilled.
“Midnights” does have some redeeming tracks, though. The first song, “Lavender Haze,” is a classic Taylor Swift pop ballad, down to its vibrant, uplifting chord progressions, synth usage, and not wholly original but inspired lyrics about new love. Unfortunately, “Lavender Haze,” along with the album’s second track, “Maroon,” are the only songs on the album that stand out and live up to the project’s high expectations. Most tracks sound so repetitive that the 13 sleepless nights, each record being emblematic of a “midnight,” blend into one excruciating nightmare.
Swift’s collaboration with co-producer Jack Antonoff was highly anticipated following their massive success with “folklore” and “evermore.” However, this partnership ultimately disappoints, as Antonoff and Swift’s attempt to recreate their past sound in a somewhat formulaic manner resulted in monotony. Listeners get a reprieve from the techno-pop undercurrent in “Snow on the Beach,” which features alternative-pop superstar Lana Del Rey. Del Rey’s sparse vocals are lost in the background of Swift’s voice, leaving Swifties underwhelmed by one of the most long-awaited collaborations of the decade.
However, the worst part of “Midnights” is its poor lyricism. Swift is known for authentic, poetic, and thoughtful songwriting; her success comes from her ability to draw listeners into her songs with her magnetic storytelling. However, with superficial lyrics such as saying she’d “draw a cat eye sharp enough to kill a man,” many find themselves far removed from the poignant lyricism and narrative descriptions that characterize the rest of her discography. It doesn’t stop there; Swift has a tendency to sprinkle in disruptive profanity in places where expletives distract from her message, making songs like “Question…?” almost repellent to the listener. “Anti-Hero,” a track with a strong, deep message about the scrutiny and brutality of the music industry, is soured by lyrics like “I disguise as altruism like some kind of congressman,” which rips listeners out of their listening experiences. Swift leaves little room for interpretation—her lyrics are so direct that they become cringey—a fault that plagues the entirety of “Midnights.”
Taylor Swift has been in the music industry for so long that she can afford to experiment with her musical style, with a loyal fanbase that will seemingly always support her material. The 13 sleepless nights she shares are evidently valuable to her on a personal level. Swift is producing music for herself, not the charts, as she attempts to express frustration and anger with society, her inner conflicts, and their manifestation. It’s difficult to continually produce music that fulfills everyone’s expectations, especially to the standard that Swift’s previous works have set. As a result, Swift tends to fall back to old formulas, attempting to rejuvenate them with new production or lyricism. “Midnights” is not a bad album; it’s just far from what we as an audience remember Swift’s music to be and what we stayed up all those midnights for.