GRAPHIC | Tara Espinoza
It’s been a sleepless night. I stayed up, tired-eyed but somehow wired with excitement, for the release of Taylor Swift’s all-new tenth studio album “Midnights.” Unlike albums “folklore” and “evermore,” “Midnights” received a traditional anticipatory album roll-up with plenty of promotion, including the announcement at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards (during her acceptance speech for her winning “All Too Well” short film) and a TikTok series called Midnight Mayhem with Me wherein Swift revealed the record’s tracklist. As a die-hard Swiftie, I have sat up many late nights lately wondering about “Midnights” and sifting through crack-pot conspiracies about alleged secret marriages and pregnancies (I mean, come on, people), but the wait is no more.
“Midnights” includes a thirteen-song tracklist (not including the seven bonus tracks) that tells the stories of thirteen sleepless nights scattered throughout Swift’s life. Back in the studio with recurring collaborators like Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, the sound of “Midnights” is electropop and indie pop, and the mood is 1970s glamor. Icon Lana Del Rey appears on the track “Snow on the Beach” (which, at first glance, I naturally assumed would be about cocaine), and she is the only artist aside from Swift to have a feature on the album. According to Swift, the subject matter for the record was inspired by five main topics: self-hatred, revenge fantasies, the feeling of “wondering what might’ve been,” falling in love, and falling apart. All my favorite things.
The concept album kicks off with “Lavender Haze,” a song that takes its name from an episode of the AMC period drama “Mad Men” (one of my all-time favorites, Jon Hamm and January Jones, are to die for). “Lavender Haze” is about Swift’s long-term relationship with actor Joe Alwyn and how the two have had to ignore tabloid rumors and media gossip to protect their relationship. While many members of Swift’s fanbase were quick to point out that lavender has often been associated with LGBTQ+ movements (think lavender menace and lavender marriage) and subsequently theorize that Swift was going to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community; instead, Swift’s title references the 1950s slang “lavender haze” which refers to the glow and intensity of falling in love.
“Anti-Hero,” which served as the album’s first single, is about Swift’s insecurity. Instrumentally it follows kicky drums and vibrant pop synths. The chorus is deeply sensitive, as Swift pans, “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem, it’s me / … / everybody agrees.” She references it all on this track, from her fear of abandonment to her fear of aging out of stardom to her fear that her future daughter-in-law will murder her for her money. Yeah, all of it. Swift has said that Anti-Hero is a sincere song for her to have written and cited it as one of her all-time favorites.
“You’re On Your Own, Kid” and “Midnight Rain” seem to harken to Swift’s early life and albums. Both speak to Swift’s pre- and post-fame lives and her feelings about leaving what could’ve been behind her to secure this new life that she has now, although it comes with an entirely new set of difficulties. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” is sung over an electropop base track that is no-frills; her words are the star of the song, although they are sung in short rhyming couplets. “Midnight Rain” encompasses the issues that arise in a relationship when both partners have different end goals in mind. She sings that her ex-lover is the kind of man who sees their hometown as a paradise, although it is a cage to her. While he enjoys the comfort of traditionalism and the idea of marriage, she views it as stagnancy and claustrophobic. It ends with a haunting and clever couple of lines, “And he never thinks of me / Except for when I’m TV / … / And I never think of him / Except on midnights like this.” You can feel the weight of the choice that she made, and it is heavy.
The eighth track, “Vigilante Shit,” is one of the songs that immediately dates itself through instrumentation. It belongs to the “Reputation” era. It’s a direct callback to her song “I Did Something Bad.” Still, instead of doing something bad, she’s getting revenge on someone who’s done something terrible to her (it’s most likely referring to Scooter Braun, her previous talent manager who sold the master tracks of her entire catalog previous to “Lover.”) The instrumentation is very reminiscent of the EDM, and hip hop inspired electropop of “Reputation.”
My favorite track on the album is “Karma,” the full-throttle pop anthem that I’d been missing from Swift with these past few albums. It has it all, the driving percussion and the whimsical and rhythmic synthesizers pushing the song along. This song is all about how Taylor has learned to “keep [her] side of the street clean,” while the referenced “king of thieves” (read: Scooter Braun) “wouldn’t know what that means.” Swift is not afraid of karma because she knows that she is racking up the good kind. The karma that she deserves is the beautiful life that she has, belting “Karma is my boyfriend / Karma is a god / Karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend,” even bringing her beloved cats into it, singing, “Karma is cat / Purring in my lap / Cause it loves me.”
The official closer on the standard release (not to be confused with the “3 am Edition” or the “Midnights Deluxe CD.”) is “Mastermind.” In this slow and sweet song, Swift reimagines it as if she was behind their chance meeting all those years ago. It isn’t a remarkable close, not dramatic, and all-consuming instrumentally, or even lyrically, for that matter. Instead, it’s a polite callback to her love affair with Joe Alwyn and her beloved songs that considers fating the force that brought them together.
Swift put it all out there for her tenth studio album, “Midnights,” which shows us a new level of confessionalism from the typically guarded pop powerhouse. Her lack of inhibition has brought her back to a fresh and contemporary sound, allowing her to stretch out her creative wings and soar to higher heights. For a star who once thought that her commercial success would run out after the release of “Lover,” she’s again dominating the charts and speaking her truth unapologetically. “Midnights” is a treat that I recommend listening to at all hours of the day. I give it a 9/10.