Taylor Swift “Midnights” (Republic Records)
“I’ve all changed like midnight,” Taylor Swift confesses halfway through her latest album, the aptly named and moody “Midnights.” It’s a moment on the electric “Midnight Rain” that lyricist Swift finds at her best, reminding you of her unparalleled ability to make any emotion feel universal.
The song’s chorus begins, “He was sunshine, I was midnight rain.” And continues: “He wanted to be comfortable, I wanted that pain. He wanted a bride, I made my own name. Chasing that fame. He stayed the same.” Then, that text: “Everyone changed like midnight.” The sound feels experimental to Swift, opening with her own vocals artificially lowered to an almost unrecognizable note. It’s one of the most sonically interesting on the album, an indie pop beat reminiscent of her producer Jack Antonoff’s work on Lorde’s “Melodrama”, but also fresh and captivating.
The song’s words, by Swift and Antonoff, are steady and detailed, but not distracting – allowing you to sink into the rhythm, flow and feel it with her.
On the 13 tracks of ‘Midnights’, a confident Swift shows her ability to evolve again. For her 10th original album, the 32-year-old pop star approaches the themes she wrote about — love, loss, youth, fame — with a maturity expressed in honed vocals and lyrics more inwardly focused. life beyond outer persona.
“Midnight Rain” could be a thesis statement for the project she has described as songs written during “13 Sleepless Nights,” a fitting approach to the concept album for someone who has long had a lyrical appreciation for late nights (think ” Style”: ” midnight, you’re coming to pick me up, no headlights…”). Of course, she’s rather centered her work around themes – on ‘Red’, an ode to the color and the emotions it represents, ‘Reputation’, a vengeful reconfiguration of her own, and most recently on ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore,’ ” quarantine albums that express vulnerability in ways that only isolation could.
But Swift presents “Midnights” as something different: a collection of songs that don’t necessarily go together, but fit together because she’s declared them products of late night inspiration. Positioning listeners situationally—in the quiet yet thoughtful 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 pop culture zeitgeist.
And with that comes a tone that’s just a bit darker, a bit more experimental and always electric.
Track one, ‘Lavender Haze’, combines a muted club beat and high backing vocals from Antonoff with a striking, beckoning melody from Swift. ‘Maroon’ is a mature and weathered version of ‘Red’, a dive into a lost love with rich descriptions of rust, spilled wine, red lipstick – images that Swift evokes with more bite.
“Labyrinth” makes it clear that she carried with her the best of her earlier pop experiments – the synth of “1989” and the softer alternative sounds of “folklore” – as she admits, as only a songwriter can feel a heartbreak “only this “raw now, lost in the labyrinth of my mind”, on top of a track with Bon Iver-esque electronic thrillers.
Swift shines as she combines her signature lyrical musings with this new arena of electronic beats. And while this isn’t another album of indie acoustic sounds like ‘folklore’, it’s clear that Swift has taken 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 right. “Bejeweled” is a little too gooey, with lyrics that feel like an updated, shimmery take on “Me!” The long-awaited “Snow On The Beach”, starring Lana Del Rey, is poetic, beautiful and at times brutal, but not as emotionally deep as the combined strength of the lyricists might suggest.
Even in those moments, “Midnights” finds Swift comfortable in her musical skin, revealing the strengths of a sharp and ever-evolving performer who can wink through ever-cryptic allusions to her very public life or subtle self-possession scattered between lyrical confessions (see : “Anti-Hero” and “Mastermind”) and engage even the casual listener with a tantalizing, and perhaps surprising beat.
But like the love-infused “Lover” and intimate “Folklore” and “Evermore,” “Midnights” feels both like a confessional and a playground, crafted by all the versions of Taylor Swift we’ve come to know so far for a new one. Taylor Swift to shine. And as always, we’re just along for the thrilling nighttime ride.