4.5 out of 5 stars
When you’re Taylor Swift, the world waits at your doorstep with bated breath and keen ears to listen to whatever you’re going to put out next. Inevitably, a sense of pressure must flare up as you try to one-up yourself time and time again—especially after more than a decade in the music industry. But, luckily— you’re Taylor Swift—so the above goal seems to never be out of your reach.
Midnights is the first album full of completely new material from Swift since 2020 when she gave us two monumental records from seemingly out of the blue—folklore and evermore. Arguably, her most stunning bouts of songwriting ever, whatever material was to follow those up would need to bolster that streak of excellence for fear of getting stuck in their shadow.
Swift used a string of sleepless nights as an untapped source of inspiration for Midnights. Each of the 13 tracks stemmed from her wandering mind, with her eventually finding clarity long enough to land on a few key subjects—Self-hatred. Revenge. Love. Given how the album was made, it seems only fitting that it should be consumed in the same space—into all hours of the night with a sense of introspection—and that’s exactly what we did. The result was a rich listening experience, as Swift flew past the mark she set for herself with ease, daring to look further inward than ever before.
Even sonically, the album sees Swift take a self-reflective turn. In many ways, Midnights feels like 1989‘s grungier sister who lets the expletives fly freely and imbues a sense of maturity that leaves the prior work in the dust. The same glittering, pop flavors found in her 2014 blockbuster album are well accounted for here, but instead of retro glamour and diamonté two-pieces, she’s making use of last night’s make-up and throwing perfection out the window.
Her own faults are a major theme of the album. In track 3, “Anti-Hero” (which she previously credited as one of her favorite songs she’s ever written), Swift paints herself as the unwitting villain of her own story. I’m the problem, she declares in the chorus, allowing for a moment of self-loathing.
Elsewhere in “Vigilante Shit,” she once again scurries into the darker corners of her mind and gives into her desire for revenge. You say looks can kill and I might try, she reveals. Swift has never been one to sugarcoat her thoughts, but that honesty is all the more impressive when it’s shining a light on her rough edges.
Elsewhere she mulls over past relationships and their accompanying mistakes. She ponders missed connections in “You’re On You’re Own, Kid” and things left unsaid in “Questions.” All-too-familiar faces in our late-night thoughts.
It’s not all clouds and rain though. She does leave room for some romantic notions in “Maroon” and “Snow On The Beach” alongside Lana Del Rey. “Sweet Nothings” is a simple gem on the album and sees Swift at her most loved up. While most of the album feels like Swift is looking at the world through a wary eye, “Sweet Nothings” feels buoyantly carefree and delightfully naive.
Swift’s songwriting was forever changed by the folklore/evermore combo. She rarely takes the simple route these days and instead opts for something far more prosaic. It’s oh-so-enticing to see her apply those tendencies to something heavily steeped in the pop world.
Midnights is a golden thread tying where Swift has been and where she’s going—referencing her old material while still making leaps and bounds forward. Because it’s Swift, we have to assume that all of that was by design. As she remarks in the album’s closer, “Mastermind,” none of it was accidental.
(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for MTV/Paramount Global)