On her tenth studio album Midnights, Taylor Swift shares her most vulnerable self with listeners – both lyrically and sonically. Swift invites us to meet her at midnight, and revisit “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [her] life” through her synth-pop.
Its concept calls for darker lyrics, isolated in a blue musical landscape composed of slower tempos and melancholic instrumentals. It is not an album curated for radio-play, but a space of self-reflection, interiority, and intimacy, indicating she is further exploring both her personal and musical boundaries.
Speaking of pushing boundaries, Swift is currently in the process of re-recording and regaining the rights to her musical catalogue, after her ongoing feud with Scooter Braun. After the success of her most recent rerecording, Red (Taylor’s Version), fans have anticipated her next move, hunting out the cryptic clues left in music videos, interviews, and on social media. Pausing to release a brand-new album wasn’t expected, but as the self-confident penultimate track, ‘Mastermind’, encapsulates: “It was all by design / Cause I’m a mastermind.”
Except, it’s not the final track. Exactly three hours after the release of Midnights, Swift announced that an extra seven tracks were available on an alternate edition, cleverly called Midnights (3 am Edition), claimed to have been written on the “journey to find that magic 13”.
The track ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve’ features on the extended edition, and is undoubtedly one of the strongest songs on the album. The repetitious notes of the backing track build louder verse by verse and eventually swell to a climax beneath her emotional vocal performance.
The lyrics “And I damn sure / Never would’ve danced with the devil / At nineteen” suggest that the song focuses on the turmoil that came from her relationship with John Mayer, who was 32 years old whilst she was just 19. Conveniently, it is also track number 19 on the album. Swift truly is a ‘Mastermind’. It is the mature sister of her heart-wrenching hit, ‘Dear John’, which also deals with the sensitive sphere, and inherent vulnerability, that comes with significant age gaps in relationships.
The opening track, ‘Lavender Haze’, is liberating and dance-worthy as she tells the story of how she found refuge in her relationship with Joe Alwyn, in a magical, fable-like manner. Opening with an explicit track also sets the precedent of the matured voice in this body of work.
It is immediately followed by ‘Maroon’, a track that truly feels like Swift is dragging us into the space of the insomniac. Her beautiful storytelling is embellished with emotional outrage. Here, there’s a real resemblance of folklore (Grammy album of the year 2021) and evermore, and thus the influence of long-term writing and producing partner Jack Antonoff.
Despite the beauty of Swift’s dark, cryptic lyricism scattered throughout the entire album, it is disappointing to realise that in the highly anticipated collaboration with Lana Del Rey, ‘Snow On The Beach’, Del Rey features merely in the backing vocals. This is, unfortunately, all too common in Swift’s female-collab history, and can be seen with The Chicks, in ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, and HAIM, in ‘no body, no crime’. Phoebe Bridgers had a lucky escape from this pattern in ‘Nothing New’, featured on Red (Taylor’s Version).
To release Midnights and Midnights (3 am Edition) was not enough for Swift. She also dropped the music video for what seems to be the initial fan-favourite, ‘Anti-Hero’, which she both wrote and directed, as she proudly proclaims in the opening shots. It is a cinematic masterpiece, battling with topics of crippling self-doubt, and how you can often be your own worst enemy. She simply sings “I’m the problem it’s me,” which rings true to many in a tenaciously playful and catchy manner.
Whilst it is likely that the surprises will continue, it is important to enjoy the moment. We are all in Taylor Swift’s moment, as she puts out the music that she wishes to, not confining herself to others’ demands. She continues to dominate the industry as a female singer-songwriter, with Midnights breaking the record for the most-streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. Whether you love or hate Midnights, you must admire Ms. Swift!
You can buy Midnights from Taylor’s official store here.