Taylor Swift is probably one of the biggest stars of the 2010s. She has managed to gain and then keep millions of fans through the power of relatable lyrics that are also very detailed. She started off as a teenage country singer singing about relationships, longing, and heartbreak, and starting from 2015’s 1989 album, she made a full-time shift to pop music, which resulted in her biggest hits yet. Despite some lackluster single choices and feuds with other musicians, her fanbase, the Swifties, continued to be loyal, and her status as a megastar could not be disputed. However, with her sixth and seventh albums, 2017’s reputation and 2019’s Lover, that changed.
On reputation, Taylor started to bring her feuds and her celebrity status into her music, as well as a darker aesthetic and production inspired by hip-hop. Lover had a softer aesthetic, had a more synth-heavy sound, and was mostly about being in love, with a few songs that showed Taylor in a slightly more political direction (i.e. “You Need to Calm Down”, “The Man,” “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”). reputation wound up being fairly polarizing, and while Lover was received more favorably, it wasn’t considered to be “great.” The fans never left, but it no longer felt like Taylor Swift was infallible. I personally remember there being several moments on her songs where Taylor was clearly out of her depth, like when she tried to rap on the reputation song “…Ready for It?” and when she released the second single off of Lover, “You Need to Calm Down”, where she compared homophobes to people trolling her on social media.
Then, in 2020, she released her eighth album, folklore. This release received a lot of acclaim from fans and critics alike, thanks to its more alternative-folk sound and Taylor writing from perspectives besides her own. This combination resulted in a more mature and wiser tone and let the lyrics shine, which worked in Taylor’s favor. In the same year, she released another album, evermore, which was also well-received and proved that folklore wasn’t a fluke. With these albums, it seemed like Taylor had reached the same status in pop music as someone like Beyoncé: her legacy was set in stone. She had nothing left to prove. So, when she announced the release of her tenth studio album, Midnights, nobody had any idea what to expect. The only things anyone had to go off of were the album cover and the tracklist. That was all.
Before I start discussing my opinions on the album, I would like to clarify that I do not consider myself a Swiftie. Taylor does have some songs that I like, but I generally appreciate her more as a songwriter and a pop star than I actually enjoy her music. Even with the songs that I like, I don’t return to them very often. This means that my opinion is not going to be representative of someone who is actually a Taylor Swift fan, or anybody else for that matter. The opinions presented here are entirely my own.
Midnights sounds like a combination of reputation and Lover, and it also sees Taylor going back to singing about her own life. The album covers the theme of romance amidst scrutiny, much like reputation did. However, Midnights sounds more like Lover than reputation, with a sound that is more low-key than bombastic.
Despite the comparisons to reputation and Lover, there aren’t as many moments where Taylor sounds like she’s trying to be something she’s not. “Lavender Haze” is a really nice opener, with Taylor singing about how she’s been “under scrutiny” and how people keep asking her if she’s going to be her love interest’s “bride.” This brings up the themes of being under pressure that were also brought up in reputation. But where Taylor sounded smothered by the general public’s expectations on reputation, she doesn’t really care here, and just wants to be in love, which is what the “lavender haze” represents. This is the case throughout the entire album. The gossip and the expectations are noticed on Midnights, but it’s just background noise to Taylor’s life at this point, and she does not care to address any of it. Another song that stood out to me was the lead single, “Anti-Hero”, where Taylor addresses her public image and admits that some of her actions have made her either look bad or difficult to support. Considering that most of her songs addressing drama have her painting herself as the good guy, it’s a nice change of pace. “Snow on the Beach” is a very pleasant song as well, although I wish Lana del Rey got more to do besides backing vocals. In addition, the comparisons to reputation regarding lyrical content isn’t just about the way Taylor sings about love, but also about her enemies. “Karma” sees her singing about how consequences will eventually catch up to the people who hurt her. This might be my first time hearing Taylor openly acknowledge her status as a pop music icon on a song, and it feels deserved. Midnights is very sonically and thematically consistent, for better and worse.
Consistency is generally a good thing, but on Midnights, it gets to the point where there aren’t as many moments that stick out. Midnights has a very similar sound throughout the album, with the instrumentation sounding very repetitive. There are also little details sprinkled throughout that I didn’t like as much. I don’t like the vocal effects on the chorus of “Midnight Rain” and the end of “Labyrinth” because I felt as though they didn’t add anything to the song. “Vigilante S**t” sees Taylor fantasizing about revenge, accompanied by some minimalist-sounding percussion. Whenever Taylor tries to sound outwardly threatening or braggadocious, like on “Bad Blood”, “Look What You Made Me Do”, or “…Ready for It?” it always sounds like she’s trying too hard or just isn’t convincing, and “Vigilante S**t” didn’t do much to change that. I actually think she’s a more convincing murderer on the evermore song “No Body, No Crime”, and it’s a country ballad that doesn’t even try to sound threatening. That being said, even with the things I don’t like, it doesn’t stick out to me as much as the things I didn’t like in her other songs. It also means that the things I do like also don’t stick out to me as much. “Anti-Hero”, “Maroon”, “Snow on the Beach”, and “Lavender Haze” are all good songs, but they don’t leave as much of an impression as something like “Blank Space.”
In conclusion, Midnights is a fine album. It is pleasant to listen to and isn’t actively annoying. However, that means that it is not as memorable as Taylor Swift’s best (or worst) work. That being said, this isn’t a bad thing. Not every album has to push an artist’s creative boundaries. Sometimes, you will get an album where the artist is not challenging themselves or stretching their limits, and Midnights happens to be one of those.