By Hanna Ellington
A master of reinvention, Taylor Swift pivots toward reflection with her latest release, Midnights.
The album in its entirety feels similar to being at a long-awaited sleepover, where the brazen story-swapping continues long after the lights are turned out. Her 10th studio album serves as a formal departure from the imaginative stories of folklore and evermore, capturing an honest exploration of personal faults and private vulnerabilities. Accented by the return of her ever-catchy pop sound, Midnights illuminates the subtle intricacies of late-night talking and restless ponderings through its substance under the moody, synth-pop surface.
Midnights toys with what keeps you up at night, with subjects ranging from self-examination, karmic revenge, and notches in the bedpost. Combining elements of candid, late-night musings with polished and dreamy synthesized backings, Swift’s personal examination fuses her past personas and experiences to create a matured, subdued, and introspective package. Defined by her color-coded and recognizable eras, Midnights analyzes “13 sleepless nights scattered through my life,” according to her August 29 Instagram announcement, giving an intimate perspective on the inner workings of her mind and life in the spotlight.
Swift’s catalog is packed with tales of her being at the mercy of others’ whims, but on Midnights, she is the one in control. From the brooding payback fantasy “Vigilante Shit” to the calculated love story on “Mastermind,” Swift shows us how she’s the one in the driver’s seat. In parting from her vengeful character on reputation (2017), Swift takes the higher road and lets fate do the work in “Karma” as she joyfully revels in others’ deserved downfall. Self-deprecating at times—like in “Anti-Hero”—Swift deftly inspects Taylor Swift as the persona and as the person.
That isn’t to say societal expectations have evaporated. She explores what is expected of her on album opener “Lavender Haze,” scoffing at the oppressing binary of “a one night or a wife.” As the leading track of the album, Swift sets the stage to let listeners know exactly what she thinks of “this 1950s shit.” This restricting binary is probed further with morphed vocals on “Midnight Rain” as she battles between choosing a private life or a magnifying career. Reeling from the consequences of choice can be a lifelong struggle, as captured in “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” Quietly optimistic, the track builds to celebrate lessons learned through personal growth and expanding worldviews. But there is still fun to be had, with a glittering anthem of knowing your worth—complete with a classic Taylor shout of ‘Nice!’—on “Bejeweled.”
The remaining songs capture the spectrum of relationships, from falling into bliss to loss and reflection. “Labyrinth” unmasks the uncertainty surrounding a new relationship and navigating new partnerships. These romances can be “weird but fuckin’ beautiful,” as penned on “Snow On The Beach” feat. Lana Del Rey, heightened by hushed and idyllic melodies by both singers. Though it can leave your mind a bit scrambled with bouts of overthinking about what’s “second-best after that meteor strike,” as examined on “Question…?”, it can have its bonuses too. “Sweet Nothings” captures the simple bliss of a true love’s homely comforts. Jointly written with William Bowery, the codename for Swift’s longtime partner Joe Alwyn, the track showcases how Swift’s perspective has matured from the love songs of her previous albums.
Three hours after its midnight release, Swift dropped the deluxe ‘3am edition’ with seven additional songs, driven by a desire to further share her “creative process” with fans. These tracks complement the sentiments expressed in the original 13, adding perspectives from lost girlhood on “Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve” to losing oneself in uninhibited joy on “Paris.” She closes the deluxe edition with “Dear Reader,” a direct yet coy introspection of her role as the character, wrapped up as “You should find another guiding light / Guiding light / But I shine so bright.” Personal, provocative, powerful, and poised, this album illuminates the highs and lows of a life in the spotlight.
With 12 albums under her belt, including the two re-recorded ones, one might wonder what path Swift will embark on next. Though she is set to re-record four more albums—Taylor Swift, Speak Now (which fans believe is coming next), 1989, and reputation—it seems as if her artistic avenues are never-ending. Midnights fuses where she has been and where she is headed, combining evolving pop sounds with lyrical and emotional complexities that can only come from aged wisdom. What may be the biggest album of the year is a uniquely intimate portrait of the woman beyond the image, with audiences being invited to take solace in shared experiences. So, tuck in and get cozy, because Taylor Swift has a lot more to say.
Hanna Ellington (she/her) is a writer, social media specialist, and student pursuing her M.A. in Global Media Industries at King’s College London. She adores Fleetwood Mac and Formula 1, is passionate about women’s rights and representation, and can currently be found discovering the best corners of England.
Photos by Beth Garrabrant