About the Album:
On Folklore and Evermore, Taylor Swift’s pair of alternative folk albums from 2020, she “stepped away from autobiographical songwriting and found new depths of feeling in fictional narratives.” PF On Midnights, she not only returns to a full-fledged pop endeavor, but one “addressing the central conflict of Taylor Swift, the individual and the persona.” PF She described the snyth-pop-driven concept album as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life,” WK “a real guided tour throughout all the things I tend to hate about myself.” BZ She explores anxiety, regret, and self-loathing in what Kitty Empire of The Observer describes as “an album of fascinating small-hours contemplation.” WK
“Taylor Swift is a gifted wordsmith adept at the art of pop hooks” PM and here she “places herself firmly in the conversation as her generation’s counterpart to luminaries like [Joni] Mitchell and [Carole] King.” PM Musically, “if Swift’s previous recordings were full-blown productions with radically distinct aesthetics, this one would be best staged in a black-box theater.” PF Previous collaborator/co-producer Jack Antonoff “has accentuated Swift’s ambitiously vivid storytelling [in the past] with expressive technicolor syntho pop. Here…they explore moodier, more subdued hues. Built around vocal effects and vintage snyths, it’s an understated sound more interested in setting atmosphere than chasing trends.” PF This is “her messiest and possibly most vulnerable work.” BZ
Lucy Harbron of Gigwise praised the album for its reinvention and experimentation. WK American Songwriter’s Alex Hopper described Midnights as “a grungier 1989 with the lyrical proficiency of Folklore and Evermore.” WK Ellen Johnson of Paste said Midnights has some of Swift’s “sleekest pop tunes yet.” WK Elamin Abdelmahmoud of BuzzFeed News says this is Swift’s “best and most ambitious album since her megapop turn” BZ with the aforementioned 1989, released in 2014.
The album set the record for the most streams in a day on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. WK It amassed 700 million streams on Spotify within a week, making it the fastest album to reach that mark. WK It became Swift’s eleventh chart-topper on the Billboard 200 and the first album since Swift’s own Reputation in 2017 to reach a million sales in a week. PM It also became the first album in history to lock down the entire top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The other three songs on the album’s original version reached the top 15.
This “infectiously danceable tune” PM “kicks off with a hazy, drum-machine club beat” PM It is about the tabloid rumors about her relationship with Joe Alwyn. It takes after the phrase “in the lavender haze” from the television drama Mad Men. WK It was the official second single from the album.
Here Swift “engages in color wordplay within a moody dream-pop beat.” PM The song explores “missed-chance romance” WK reading “like an ongoing reflection on Red, which in its own deeply confessional singer-songwriter tracks is…itself a nod to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, a glimpse at both Taylor Swift’s influences and her legacy ambitions.” PM
The album’s lead single, Anti-Hero, spent seven weeks at #1, tying it with “Blank Space” as her biggest chart-topper. It became the best-selling song of 2022. WK It’s “equal parts perfect earworm and emotional ice pick to the heart,” PM delving into Swift’s “insecurities, such as struggling with not feeling like a person” WK and looking “meaningfully into Swift’s relationship with self-loathing.” BZ The video premiered eight hours after the album’s release. She described it as a depiction of her “nightmare scenarios and intrusive thoughts.” WK
“Snow on the Beach”
This is a “hazy dream pop ballad” WK that “sketches an image of strange beauty” PF “about falling in love with someone at the same time as they’re falling in love with you.” WK The song is a collaboration with Lana Del Rey, who “is reduced to the background” PM which “leaves the listener wondering what could have been had the full vocal stylings of the two interacted more completely.” PM
“You’re on Your Own, Kid”
You’re on Your Own, Kid is “an alternative rock song” WK in which Swift “guttingly reframes a time when we thought she had it all” BZ by reflectin on “her struggles during [her] rise to fame, such as her eating disorder.” WK “One imagines the earnest protagonist of ‘You Belong to Me’ from Fearless, whose steadfast longing for completion looks like self-harm in the rearview mirror: ‘I hated parties and starved my body / Like I’d be saved by the perfect kiss.” PM
Midnight Rain is about “an old relationship that was forestalled by her professional ambition and ambivalence about settling down.” WK “Exaggerating her natural uptalk, the production morphs her voice into a dramatic slant: ‘He wanted comfortable / I wanted that pain.” PF
This song “asks rhetorical questions about ‘blurry’ memories.” WK She even samples herself here, drawing from “Out of the Woods” from 1989. It was released as a promotional single.
Vigilante Shit is “built around bubbling beats, swirling synths, industrial elements, and snare drums. It is a ‘noirish’ vengeance declaration, taking aim at an enemy and encourages other women to do the same.” WK It’s “a throwback to the Reputation era of ‘Look What You Made Me Do.’ But here…she owns her full agency to wreak havoc.” PM
This is “a disco tune…with lyrics recognizing Swift’s self-worth.” WK She sings about “straining against the frequent tendency of relationships to expect a dulling of one’s self in service to the pair.” PM She “flexes her autonomy” PM and “checks any attempt to clip her wings for the sake of a relationship.” PM “Cue Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’ and give it some glitter.” PM
This “is a steady synth-pop song” WK “about the anxiety over falling in love again.” WK “The production mirrors the ice melting around her heart, each synth quiver a pump of new blood.” PF It “stretches Swift’s sound as it exudes some distinctly Phoebe Bridgers’ vibes in the vocals.” PM
This “is a playful, electroclash and chillwave diss track with elements of new wave, alternative pop and techo.” WK It features “comical lyrics” WK in which Swift “conjures her sassy, shit-stirring alter ego in a less vindictive mood, luxuriating in her rivals’ inevitable comeuppance.” PF
Sweet Nothing “is a relaxed love song driven by saxophone and electric piano, emulating 1970s ballads. It is an ode to Swift’s calm romantic relationship inside her house, as opposed to her hectic stardom outside.” WK Alwyn co-wrote the song under the pseudonym William Bowery. The song also shows how Swift knows “the strengths and limitations of her voice…Swift is not Adele, nor does she attempt to be…Her abilities to enunciate and play with the emphatic accent falls become rhythmic instruments.” PM
On the album closer, Swift satirizes her image as calculating by spinning a tale of “a lover who is aware of her schemes and wants to be part of them anyway.” BZ She confesses the “trauma that often manifests as an obsession with control” PM but makes the listener ask “is she a manipulator, or is she a planner in order to avoid the worst outcomes?” BZ She also addresses “the experience of surviving as a woman in a patriarchal world.” PM
Ultimately Midnights is Swift’s “attempt to play with what she has already written. Some of these songs scan as precise edits that bolster or challenge stories we already know. Others register as attempts to undo established narratives about Swift and replace them completely.” BZ It “is a cohesive and at times stunning development for a songwriter who has made evolution her signature.” BZ
Notes: The Midnights – 3am Edition added the songs “The Great War,” “Bigger Than the Whole Sky,” “Paris,” “High Infidelity,” “Glitch,” “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” and “Dear Reader.”
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