As the clock struck midnight on Oct. 21, I—along with millions of other fans—eagerly pressed play to stream Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated 10th studio album “Midnights.” The album tells the story of 13 sleepless nights throughout Swift’s career. As a chaotic surprise in typical Swift fashion, three hours after the album’s initial release, the pop princess released an additional seven bonus tracks on “Midnights (3 a.m. Edition).” Needless to say, it was a wild night for me and fellow “Swifties” worldwide. “Midnights” is now Swift’s 11th number one album on the Billboard 200 chart, entering the chart with a jaw-dropping 1.578 million album units, as reported by Billboard. On top of this, Swift currently occupies all top 10 slots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—the first artist ever to do so. All of this suggests that Swift is back and better than ever, entering what could be her most successful era yet. But, does the album have the star quality and commercial success that we’ve come to expect from Swift?
In Aug. 2022, while receiving the Video of the Year Award for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (from The Vault),” Swift announced that she would release “Midnights” on Oct. 21; I was ecstatic. I followed Swift’s virtual TikTok segment “Midnights Mayhem with Me,” which she created to announce song titles. With all of Swift’s carefully crafted publicity, I had high expectations for the album. Personally, I am a huge “folklore” and “evermore” fan—two of Swift’s albums that I consider to flaunt some of her best lyricism. Upon hearing the opening track “Lavender Haze,” I realized that Swift was doing a 180 from the softer, folk-inspired sounds of those two albums. At first I was disappointed, but as I listened to the funky synth and deliberately dramatic auto-tuned backing vocals, I understood the importance of this sonic switch. Swift’s new sound on “Midnights” is bombastic, confident and powerful: a far cry from the more restrained style fans had become so accustomed to on her recent work. This switch makes perfect sense in the context of Swift’s career. Infamously, Scooter Braun acquired the master rights to Swift’s albums from her debut through “reputation” when he bought Big Machine Label Group. That acquisition prompted Swift to embark upon the ambitious task of re-recording her entire early catalog of work. Other factors in Swift’s life and career, such as her longstanding feud with the ever-controversial rapper Kanye West, have also influenced Swift’s newfound assertiveness, which shows through on tracks such as “Karma,” “Bejeweled” and “Vigilante Shit.” These energetic tracks serve as a reminder of the magnitude of control Swift now has over the music industry. As a listener, it is enjoyable to hear her relish in the conquests of her career.
Other songs, in contrast, are less compelling because of their familiar sound. While listening to the album, many elements of the songs seemed all too similar to previous Swift tracks. The chorus of “Lavender Haze,” for example, is nearly identical to the climax of the 2019 “Lover” track, “I Think He Knows.” And, the vocal sample, echoing the words “I remember” on “Question…?” sounds exactly like the vocal sample on “Out of The Woods” from “1989” with the same lyric. These similarities make “Midnights” seem like a hodge-podge of previous Swift albums, most notably “1989,” “reputation” and “Lover.” Considering that Swift has used the same producer, Jack Antonoff, for all of these albums, some similarities are bound to show up. But the sheer number of comparisons slightly diminishes the overall merit of “Midnights.” The album even resembles Antonoff’s previous work with other artists, such as Lorde’s most critically acclaimed album, “Melodrama.”
Despite the somewhat-recycled nature of a few songs on the album, there are still unique moments beyond the catchy and highly tourable tracks that allow Swift’s mastery of her craft to shine through. “Labyrinth,” for example, with its raw, honest lyrics and sporadic synth is a standout on the album: “You know how much I hate that everybody just expects me to bounce back, just like that,” Swift croons in the pre-chorus. She continues to experiment with synth and steady-backbeats in the post-chorus, exhibiting a dreamy, alternative flair previously not present in her work. “Sweet Nothing,” co-written with Swift’s actor-beau Joe Alwyn under the pseudonym “William Bowery,” is evocative of a child’s lullaby. The track is hypnotic, intimate and downright adorable. The bonus tracks on the “Midnights (3am Edition)” LP, produced with the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner, are especially poignant. “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” is a heart-wrenching glimpse at what I interpret as Swift’s loss of her younger self. Similarly, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is a powerful, emotional stab at the confining and degrading nature of being in a relationship with an emotionally manipulative older man (perhaps her notorious ex-boyfriend John Mayer, who was 13 years her senior).
All in all, there are very few disappointments on “Midnights” (with the notable exception of the unfortunately almost undetectable backing vocals from Lana Del Rey on the highly anticipated collaborative track “Snow on The Beach”). Swift artfully balances high-energy pop with carefully-crafted ballads, managing to break new ground while simultaneously building on the proven appeal of her previous albums. Although Swift’s return to more mainstream pop might be disappointing for some, it may well be a necessary change that will usher in a much-needed breath of fresh air, allowing her joy and resilience to shine through in the upbeat nature of the tracks. This energy will coincide perfectly with the recently announced 2022-23 Taylor Swift: The Eras Stadium Tour—proving that Swift’s return to pop is both timely and ever so logical. While high energy tour-ability may take precedence over seamlessly crafted lyricism—as in previous albums “folklore” and “evermore”—Swift has successfully executed what she seems to have intended to do: She made a fun, catchy, confident and empowering album to showcase during her stadium tour return. She has put aside isolation and heartbreak in favor of dazzling her fans and relishing in her success. After years of hearing Swift sing about turmoil and heartbreak, it is refreshing to hear Swift own being a “Mastermind,” capturing the attention of her “Sweet Nothing.” While “Midnights” might not go down as Swift’s magnum opus, it reminds the whole world that she is still our “Bejeweled” pop princess, and when she walks into a room, she sure as hell can still make the whole place shimmer.