Taylor Swift – ‘Midnights’ review: a shimmering return to pure pop

The pop titan's tenth record pivots away from her mellow lockdown creations and recent re-recording project, offering up brighter, future-facing sounds

‘Midnights’ is, as Taylor Swift explained in a statement when her tenth studio album was revealed, “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life”. A collection of songs “written in the middle of the night”, the announcement of this album came as something of a surprise. Currently in the midst of re-recording her first six albums in order to take back the ownership of her earlier projects – we’ve already had ‘Taylor’s Version’ of both ‘Fearless’ and ‘Red’ – another original album felt distant, particularly after the release of sister albums ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ amidst the pandemic.

Since her announcement for this record in August, details have been closely guarded and drip-fed. The Midnights Mayhem with Me series on TikTok, a string of short clips where Swift revealed the track listing of the album song by song, also saw her divulge that Lana Del Rey would be appearing on the record. Choice lyrics have since been shared on a New York billboard, while Jack Antonoff and Zoë Kravitz were announced as collaborators on the project; even a long-awaited UK tour seems to be confirmed, her first since 2018. Clues for the content within, however, had been scant.

This we know, for sure: she’s never been one to stick to any specific sound, with experimentation and musical left-turns a recurring theme. First emerging as a country crossover smash, the projects that have followed have been varied, Swift’s distinctive songwriting the one through-line.

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The country roots she revisited on her re-recorded albums is nowhere to be found, and folk influences of her lockdown projects are largely absent. Instead she spins these new stories through sleek synth-pop, in common with ‘1989‘ or ‘Lover‘, but the razor-sharp production of these albums is more subtle this time around. If the aforementioned is the album stuck on for pre-drinks before going Out-Out, ‘Midnights’ is what plays in the rideshare home, city lights swirling past when the night is winding down but you’re on the hunt for the afters.

‘Lavender Haze’ evokes The Weeknd’s 2016 album ‘Starboy‘, shuffling beats and muted vocals supporting Swift’s lyrics that rail against intrusive questioning: “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”. ‘Anti-Hero’, with its breathless chorus (“It’s me/Hi/I’m the problem, it’s me”) that depicts the sort of late night reflections we’ve all fallen victim to, is typically good-humoured, sitting alongside ‘Blank Space’s zinger “Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane” as one of Swift’s sharpest, wittiest lines.

Lana Del Rey collaboration ‘Snow On The Beach’ is the closest the record veers towards the lush indie-folk of ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’, interweaving Del Rey’s distinctive vocals with Swift’s. Other eras are sonically referenced, too. ‘Vigilante Shit’ embraces the industrial sounds of ‘Reputation‘, the bouncing beats similarly evoking Billie Eilish‘s game-changing debut ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’.

And while she’s known for narrative-driven songwriting, ‘Midnights’ could possibly see Swift at her most candid, taking us through the sorts of revelations that only come to light – or can be vocalised – in the wee hours. On album closer ‘Mastermind’s bridge, Swift lays herself bare: “No one wanted to play with me as a little kid/So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since”, she sighs over cinematic strings. She adds: “To make them love me and make it seem effortless/This is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess”.

‘Anti-Hero’ is similarly open. “I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser”, later adding: “When my depression works the graveyard shift/All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room”. There’s a newfound confidence in the words, Swift unashamed to share every side of herself.

The confidence sees a level of self-assurance too. “Best believe I’m still bejewelled/When I walk in the room/I can still make the whole place shimmer”, she asserts on ‘Bejeweled’. A moment of recognition, perhaps, to the place she now holds in musical history, but also a statement that could apply to ‘Midnights’. After a foray into a different sonic world, on Swift’s return to pure pop she still shimmers.

Details

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Taylor Swift - Midnights artwork

  • Release date: October 21, 2022
  • Record label: Taylor Swift/Republic Records
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