When international superstar Taylor Swift announced her 10th studio album “Midnights” in late August, fans were unsure of what to expect given the wide range of her discography, which has blended seamlessly between country, pop and alternative genres.
Coming on the heels of two highly acclaimed albums, “folklore” and “evermore,” fans were divided into two camps – some hoped for a return to pop, while others longed for the stunning lyrics and vivid storytelling Swift achieved while recording alternative music during COVID-19 lockdowns at the Long Pond Studio in New York. With the release of “Midnights” Friday, Swift appeased both groups by detailing 20 sleepless nights throughout various stages of her life on 13 tracks and seven bonus tracks on a “3am Edition,” paying stylistic homage to past records like “Lover,” “reputation” and “folklore.”
“Meet me at midnight” are appropriately the first words fans hear at the start of the album’s hyperpop opening track “Lavender Haze” – a line that Swift frequently teased leading up to the album’s release. The track’s synth pop production is reminiscent of songs like “I Think He Knows” on Swift’s most recent pop record, “Lover.” The electric chorus captures the euphoric feeling of being in love, but for Swift, these feelings come with the drawback of public gossip and tabloids. In “Lavender Haze,” she addresses the constant rumors about her alleged engagement to longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn with the lyrics “All they keep asking me / Is if I’m gonna be your bride / The only kinda girl they see / Is a one night or a wife.” Despite the constant speculation that follows her relationships, Swift chooses to “stay in that lavender haze.”
The track list continues with “Maroon,” a pop ballad that many quickly associated with the title track of her fourth studio album “Red,” a motif she has used in songwriting to describe love and lust throughout her career. The song employs various shades of red as a lyrical technique – maroon, wine, burgundy, scarlet and ruby – acting as a parallel to songs like “Red” and “All Too Well.” These signs in the track point to the high-profile relationship between Swift and actor Jake Gyllenhaal more than a decade ago. Swift and Gyllenhaal’s relationship made headlines again in late 2021 after Swift re-recorded her “Red” album, which featured a 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” widely speculated to be about Gyllenhaal.
“Anti-Hero,” the highly anticipated third track accompanied by the album’s first music video released the next morning, details Swift’s inner thoughts and self-doubts. Swift called the upbeat-yet-introspective song “a guided tour through all the things I tend to hate about myself,” which include insecurities about her weight and perceptions of her status as a public figure. “I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror / It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero,” she laments as she delves into one of the album’s overarching themes of self-loathing.
Swift continues the self-reflective mood on “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” the latest of her infamous “Track Fives” – like “All Too Well,” “my tears ricochet” and “The Archer” – known among her fans to be some of the most heart-wrenching songs on each of her albums. Fans were quick to recognize that her commencement address at New York University last May featured a hidden Easter egg about the song when Swift told the Class of 2022, “The scary news is you’re on your own now. The cool news is you’re on your own now.” The wistful nostalgia of the song ends on a comforting and uplifting note as Swift sings, “Everything you lose is a step you take / So make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it / You’ve got no reason to be afraid.”
“Midnights” balances themes of self-loathing with revenge, most notably in tracks like “Vigilante Shit” and “Karma,” each widely speculated to be about her public feuds with Kanye West, music producer Scooter Braun and their now ex-wives, Kim Kardashian and Yael Cohen, respectively. Swift muses “Now she gets the house, gets the kids, gets the pride / Picture me thick as thieves with your ex-wife / And she looks so pretty / Driving in your Benz / Lately she’s been dressing for revenge,” which many believe to be in direct reference to Kardashian’s severed relationship with West. “Karma,” co-written by actress Zoë Kravitz, provides a more lighthearted take on Swift’s many disputes with figures like West and Braun with the lines “Karma is my boyfriend / Karma is a god / Karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend / Karma’s a relaxing thought.”
The standard edition of the “Midnights” album closes out with “Mastermind,” a revealing track diving into Swift’s romantic relationships and creative process and reckoning with her own image in perhaps her most personal track yet. Swift echos sentiments of songs like “mirrorball,” “The Archer” and “Anti-Hero,” confessing that “No one wanted to play with me as a little kid / So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since / To make them love me and make it seem effortless.”
The “3am Edition” tracks reveal increasingly personal details about Swift, particularly in songs like “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.” Swift re-examines a past relationship with a large age gap, which many listeners attribute to musician John Mayer because of her references to being 19. Swift was 19 and Mayer was 32 when the two dated. Lines like “If I was a child, did it matter / If you got to wash your hands” and “Give me back my girlhood / It was mine first” provide a deeper view into Swift’s retrospective feelings about the inappropriate relationship now that she is 32.
The album concludes with “Dear Reader,” an ode to Swift’s longtime fans that often look to her music for advice or support. This track urges her followers to “Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart,” “Find another guiding light,” despite their loyalty to the acclaimed musician.
“Midnights,” like each body of work Swift has released, encompasses a wide range of emotions from heartbreak to regret to self-doubt to revenge. The album differs from her previous nine records with the vast sonic variations in each track that jump between various stages of her life. Swift has created her most personal album yet in “Midnights,” and with the Easter eggs she has left behind pointing to forthcoming albums, it is clear that fans still have more to expect from the magical world she has created.