Midnights – Moody Masterpiece or Bedroom-Pop Flop?

“Meet me at midnight,” world-renowned pop singer-songwriter Taylor Swift announced to the world via her Instagram on August 29th. Those who despised her rolled their eyes, bracing themselves for the impact of her new release, while others rejoiced and celebrated her return. But whether you love her or hate her, you can’t deny that Swift is one of the defining musical artists of our generation. Her songs dominate the charts, and as soon as any new music drops, everyone is talking about it. 

The same applies to her newest release, Midnights, which launched just recently on October 21st. This album follows her last project, the Taylor’s Version re-recordings, and is her tenth album overall. It contains 13 tracks, while the deluxe edition (“the 3am edition”) contains 7 extra bonus tracks. (I will only be discussing the 13 original tracks.) But is it really as good as the hype will have you believe, or is it just yet another album in the artist’s ever-expanding catalog?

The album starts off on a strong foot with one of its best songs, Lavender Haze. As the record’s opener, Lavender Haze does an amazing job at setting the tone for the rest of the album – something that will go on to be one of Midnights’ biggest strengths overall – and Jack Antonoff’s production really shines in this song. The soft groove and vocal effects added to Taylor’s backing work perfectly for an opener to Midnights

Lavender Haze certainly isn’t shy; it launches you headfirst into Taylor’s reflective, moody, nighttime wonderland. The whole track is doused in reverb and dream pop-shoegaze-y extravagance. It’s the kind of song that you would hear at a club for wallflowers. She takes sonic cues from artists like beabadoobee, Billie Eilish, Clairo, Cocteau Twins, and… herself? Now, I’m not trying to bring up the age-old argument of whether an artist can plagiarize themself or not – and an artist can certainly reuse old concepts from their previous works – but anyone  familiar with Taylor Swift’s discography might recognize the chorus melody of Lavender Haze from a song off her 2019 bubblegum synth-pop project, Lover, that song being I Think He Knows

This reflects a key issue with Midnights – it presents itself as new and interesting, a more mature album for a more mature Taylor. But is it really that different from everything else that she’s done? She’s painted dreamy, star-lit landscapes before on Reputation–and even Lover and 1989 – and Midnights does have an unmistakable post-Folklore/Evermore maturity to it that her other albums don’t. Is that really enough to actually set Midnights apart from the rest of her discography? 

Maroon faces a similar problem to Lavender Haze. The two songs have an incredibly similar feel and sound, albeit with different hex codes. In the end, Maroon is just, like many other tracks on the album, forgettable and same-y, like a late-night party that isn’t all that fun or interesting, but one you stay at nonetheless. (Though, Taylor’s ability to find eight different ways to say “red” in one song is mildly impressive.) The same applies to the songs You’re On Your Own, Kid, Question…?, Bejeweled (though, that one is markedly more fun and enjoyable to listen to than the others mentioned), Labyrinth, Karma, and Sweet Nothing

That said, Lavender Haze itself is very catchy, and the lyrics of the song are relatively well-written.

It is generally agreed upon that Taylor Swift’s lyrics are one of her biggest selling points. The five-star All Too Well (10 Minute Version) is a testament to this, a whopping ten minutes long and still managing to contain some of her most original and impactful lyrics yet. Even if the instrumentals or the production on any given Taylor Swift track are only okay, you can generally expect it to at least be somewhat lyrically inventive or impactful. The same unfortunately cannot be said for Midnights’ largely meh lyrical content. There are some triumphs among the stalemates (“I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this / I hosted parties and starved my body / Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss”, “I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say”), but the vast majority of the lyricism is simply underwhelming. That’s the word that I would use to describe most things on this album – underwhelming. Not particularly bad, but disappointing compared to what she’s released before. 

The instrumentals and production do very little to save the disappointing lyrical content. The main producer for Midnights is Jack Antonoff, who seems to only get more popular and in-demand with time. His production is a double-edged sword for this particular project. On one hand, its consistency helps to keep a solid and uniform atmosphere for the whole album, but on the other, it ends up making Midnights sound incredibly monotonous and similar to many other releases from this year, especially considering that he helped produce a great deal of it. This includes, but is not limited to: the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack and Being Funny in a Foreign Language by The 1975. (And so much so that track 6 of Midnights, Midnight Rain, actually sounds like it could have been a bonus track for The 1975’s new release.)

None of the tracks are particularly bad, it’s just a lot of meh for a Taylor Swift album. That said, one of the biggest highlights for me was Snow on the Beach, Taylor’s collaboration song with Hollywood-sad-girl darling, Lana Del Rey. Now, as someone who is both a massive fan of Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey, when Snow on the Beach was announced, I was incredibly excited for its release. And upon first listen, I was not impressed. Lana doesn’t get her own verse, and when she harmonizes with Taylor, she is nearly indiscernible. But after a second and third listen, this track has really grown on me. The slower pace is a nice break from the preceding track Anti-Hero. Antonoff’s simple production really works for this song and complements both Taylor’s and Lana’s vocals beautifully. It truly feels like a Christmas song for summertime, snow falling softly on the beach set by pillowy production and dreamy vocals. And Lana doesn’t need to say much for her impact on this track to be felt – her influence can be felt through the songwriting as well, with some of the most inventive and interesting lyrics of the entire album (“Are we falling like snow at the beach? / Weird but f*****g beautiful / Flying in a dream, stars by the pocketful”). Snow on the Beach is definitely the most unique song on Midnights, and I absolutely adore it. 

All in all, Midnights, true to its namesake, is mostly middle-of-the-road, stock-standard bedroom-pop, with a few highlights here and there (Lavender Haze, Snow on the Beach, Mastermind). Midnights doesn’t do anything particularly new or interesting that any of her previous works don’t, and that’s kind of okay. Was it a unique, perfect reinvention of the Taylor Swift we all know and love? No. But was it a decently fun time that I will continue to dance to during the late hours of the night? Yes.

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