At midnight on Friday, October 21st, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album, Midnights. Shortly thereafter, she supplemented the 13 tracks with the reveal of Midnights (3am Edition), which includes seven additional songs that were a part of the creative process but did not make it to the final product. The album was produced by Swift’s creative collaborator and Twitter-proclaimed “friend for life” Jack Antonoff and includes contributions from Swift’s boyfriend, Joe Alwyn (under pseudonym William Bowery), actress Zoë Kravitz, and a handful of others. The album also features a track in collaboration with Lana Del Rey.
Swift explained in a tweet, “I think of Midnights as a complete concept album, with those 13 songs forming a full picture of the intensities of that mystifying, mad hour.” In another post, she elaborated that the album is “a collage of intensity, highs and lows and ebbs and flows. Life can be dark, starry, cloudy, terrifying, electrifying, hot, cold, romantic, or lonely. Just like Midnights.” The work is a new step in the evolution of Swift’s musical voice – one taken in the perfect pair of elegant, sparkling heels. The sound is a departure from the 2020 indie-folk of folklore and evermore, approaching a more traditional pop sound. However, the step back in the pop direction is unlike her previous work in 1989, reputation, and Lover. Gone are the extensive, diary entry-specific references and the bold, dramatic callouts. Now, the lyrics exude a mature subtlety, evoking a specific, contemplative mood that occurs in the late hours of the night when one is reflecting on one day and thinking forward to the next.
“Lavender Haze” beautifully sets the tone for the songs to come, capturing a dreamlike sense of love and freedom that overcomes the negative words and presumptuous expectations of others. The opening track exudes an effortless sexiness, and in its lyrics, Swift refuses to be who anyone else wants her to be by writing off “the 1950s shit they want from me” – a huge change from her reputation days when she felt forever stuck in bad press. “Maroon” comes in next, taking pages from Swift’s old playbook in its callbacks to very specific events, including the quintessential, Swiftian spilled wine and repeated references to New York. The song’s lyrics could have been on Lover, but they are pared down and shine with understated subtlety within the new album’s sound. These two songs, both named after colors, paint the setting of the album.
But Midnights really picks up with “Anti-Hero,” which stands out the most due to its emotional poignancy. It explores Swift’s insecurity that she is her own villain as she sings, “I have this thing where I get older, but just never wiser… It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” The track’s music video features an odd assortment of scenes, including Swift hanging out with her alter ego, growing to a monstrous size and crawling through a dining room, eating food that oozes glitter, and being haunted by bedsheet-wearing ghosts. Most notably, the music is interrupted for a scene in which the artist leaves no money to her son in her will, choosing instead to build a cat sanctuary and comedically leaving her sons to fight amongst themselves and with an angry daughter-in-law. At the video’s end, she rises from the casket – after all, there are still 12 more tracks on Midnights, and despite the video’s comedic angle, the song’s vulnerability still shines beautifully in Swift’s oeuvre.
“Snow on The Beach” features Lana Del Rey and beautifully infuses the two women’s voices into a duet about unexpected love – more than anything else, the song serves as one of the album’s most atmospheric moments. It is followed by “You’re on Your Own, Kid,” which takes on a nostalgic feel as Swift has a bittersweet look at her younger self. “You’re on your own, kid. You can face this. You always have been,” she tells her in the melancholy, hard-hitting chorus line.
“Midnight Rain” picks up with a story about Swift breaking a boy’s heart back in her hometown as she seeks more for herself in her rise to fame. This retrospective look at heartbreak exudes a sense of maturity and jadedness – Swift is no longer the girl crying on her guitar or holding up signs through a window for a guy to look at. Now, she’s simply looking back and understanding why a relationship failed; why love turned into a lesson. “Question…?” continues the theme that its predecessor starts, examining conversations that were never had in past relationships and the space that silence creates for those relationships to end. “Vigilante Shit” stops that train of thought, bringing us the album’s first moment of badassery. “Don’t get sad, get even… Lately, I’ve been dressing for revenge,” Swift sings, delivering a getting-ready-for-a-night-out track for the ages. In “Bejeweled,” the story continues: Swift has won, making the “whole place shimmer” as she walks through the room and replying with “I don’t remember” when asked if she has a man.
“Labyrinth” slows things down for a moment as Swift dreamily expresses what it feels like to fall in love, only to be followed by “Karma,” a standout, better-off-without-you anthem that picks the pace back up with a reminder that she’s in charge. “Karma is my boyfriend / Karma is a god, karma’s a relaxing thought / Aren’t you envious that for you, it’s not?” she sings, showcasing the power in watching others get what they’re due when you’ve done everything right. “Sweet Nothing” returns to the sweetness heard in “Labyrinth,” with lines that evoke the feeling of coming home to experience small moments with someone you love. Finally, “Mastermind” closes the album by detailing Swift’s calculated machinations to be with her significant other. “What if I told you none of it was accidental?” she reveals, “And the first night that you saw me / nothing was going to stop me.”
Midnights presents a flawed, yet insightful version of Taylor Swift – one who is in love, but understands why past heartbreaks did not work out; one who worries that she’s the problem, but lives her life as a karmic force to be reckoned with despite what others may say. The sultry, synth-infused collection of 13 intimate stories from her life is both beautiful to listen to and representative of a new era that redefines the meaning of a Taylor Swift song. It’s an examination of what it means to exist in that liminal time under the moon, in between who Swift was yesterday and who she’ll be tomorrow.