“Ask me why so many fade, but I’m still here“- Taylor Swift on “Karma”
Midnights is a gritty New York City night, filled with lonely dance floors, glitter eye shadow, shots of patron, and a tinge of self-loathing. It’s a shimmering mirror ball sparkling above your head as you mourn the innocence that was once yours. It’s that perfect night in with the one you love when you realize that this is all you could ever wish for in this life. And most notably, it’s Taylor Swift’s finest album to date.
Taylor Swift has dominated the charts and all of our hearts since her debut album was first released in 2006, winning countless awards and breaking records with every consecutive release- and yet she somehow still remains underrated. A chameleon in her craft, she effortlessly subverts expectations of genre and dominates every single one of her peers with her immaculate songwriting. It can’t be appreciated enough just how insane it is for an artist of her caliber to still be at the top this deep into her career.
The collaboration between Swift and longtime friend and producer Jack Antonoff is literal heaven- shifting the nuanced storytelling of folklore and evermore, into this synth-pop dreamscape that carries the torch gorgeously from the two previous folk influenced records. A concept album, Midnights is a collection of confessional stories influenced by sleepless nights that take us on a journey through self-criticism, falling in love, the wondering of what could have been, and the feeling of falling apart. It’s songwriting of the highest degree- so let’s break it all down!
Opening track “Lavender Haze” is a groovy introduction to the new soundscape, synth heavy with a tinge of R&B which builds beautifully into a chorus that is the textbook definition of pop perfection. Taylor’s falsetto is mighty refined- layered masterfully with the stellar production and euphoric sensation of its melodies. “I feel the lavender haze creeping up on me, Surreal, I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say. No deal, the 1950s shit they want from me, I just wanna stay in that lavender haze,” she wants to focus on the passion of the love between her and longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn so they can put aside the pressures that society and the media puts on their relationship. Taylor once again succeeds in making a song personal to her own situation while also targeting the societal pressure and hypocritical expectations that women are often persecuted with compared to their male peers.
“Maroon” transports you into a trance like state with a melodic flow so gorgeous that it’ll stay with you long after the first listen. Like a more mature sequel to “Red” which described the all-encompassing emotions associated with the color red- love, anger, etc- “Maroon” isn’t quite as straightforward. It’s a more mature look at love and just like the color maroon- it isn’t just one thing. The complexities of the relationship are given to us in the tiniest of details that make the track so cinematic. “When you splashed your wine into me, and how the blood rushed into my cheeks, so scarlet it was, the mark they saw on my collarbone, the rust that grew between telephones, the lips I used to call home, so scarlet it was maroon,” the chorus feels so classic, as if it has simply existed for the last 30+ years. It’s so damn good.
In pure Taylor fashion, “Anti-Hero” addresses her self-criticisms and self-hatred in a tongue in cheek manner. Sonically, it’s bright and shiny but when you break down the lyrics- it might be one of the saddest songs on this record. “I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror. It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero,” Taylor is at her most vulnerable here, laying out all of the qualities she hates most about herself and stating that she would understand if those who support her grew tired of doing so when she continues to make the wrong decisions. It’s heartbreakingly raw and quite a poignant moment to think on the fact that the biggest singer in the world suffers from the same negative thoughts as we do- and it’s ultimately what makes Taylor the best in the game.
The long-awaited collaboration between Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey has finally graced our ears and it is absolute perfection. “Snow On The Beach” is the epitome of two artists at the top of their game making a masterclass in songwriting. Comparing the feeling of having the person you’re in love with falling in love with you as well to snow falling on the beach is a gorgeous sentiment about the rarity of their relationship. Their voices blend together like they’ve always been one, with one of the most gorgeous melodies I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. “And it’s like snow at the beach, weird, but fucking beautiful, flying in a dream, stars by the pocketful, you wanting me, tonight feels impossible, but it’s coming down, no sound, it’s all around,” the chorus is so hauntingly beautiful that I’ll overlook the fact that Lana never gets a verse to herself.
“You’re On Your Own, Kid” is track five which unless you’re living under a rock in the Taylor Swift Extended Universe, means it is the most emotional track on the album- but this one hits a bit differently than previous ones. By the time we hit the bridge, there’s a sense of positivity- an ascension out of the darkest moments when she reminds us that we’ve all always been on our own and even if we never noticed it, we’ve always been brave. It’s the warmest of hugs in the moment you needed it most and as Taylor says on the track “Everything you lose is a step you take“.
“Midnight Rain” was an instant favorite for me from the moment the pitched down vocals hit. It’s sonically one of the most experimental moments on the record and Swift’s cinematic storytelling is front and center. Telling the story of an old love that would have wanted to be her husband, she saw a different path for her story and decided to pursue her career. “He wanted it comfortable, I wanted that pain, he wanted a bride, I was making my own name, chasing that fame, he stayed the same, all of me changed like midnight,” Jack Antonoff’s production choices are spectacular here, with the vocal effects placed on the breakdown of the chorus- highlighting the depth of the storytelling and giving it a dream like sensation. This is immaculate pop music.
Continuing the cinematic feel of the album, “Question…?” left me with an entire movie scene playing out in my mind. Her ability to tell a rich story in 3 and a half minutes is simply astounding as her mind races through a specific memory of a relationship that is no more. Like many of us, she goes over the questions that race in her mind and wishes she could ask that one person all that keeps her up at night. It feels like a late-night conversation underneath the stars as she sings “We had one thing goin’ on, I swear that it was somethin’, cause I don’t remember who I was before you painted all my nights, a color I’ve searched for since“.
Taylor sets her eyes on revenge with “Vigilante Shit” another track that shifts gears into a completely different place sonically with a sultry, dark pop production that would have fit perfectly on her 2017 album Reputation. While it is nowhere near my favorite track on this record, I can definitely foresee it becoming a song that will rise up in my ranking with time. Some of the lyrics are so pointedly fantastic, I can also foresee them becoming a part of the culture which Swift is no stranger to (ex: “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22” anyone?!”).
Speaking of pop perfection, she gifts us “Bejeweled”- a sparkly, video game like banger about being undervalued by your partner. The confidence she exudes on this track is absolutely contagious, both empowering and danceable with a production that actually sounds like sparkling (I know how it sounds but just go with it, okay?). “Familiarity breeds contempt, so put me in the basement, when I want the penthouse of your heart, diamonds in my eyes, I polish up real nice,” she sings on the chorus- reminding us all of her pen game. How does she expect us to focus on the lines that follow when she writes like this??? One also cannot talk about this song without giving “And I miss you, but I miss sparkling” the love and attention it deserves.
“Labyrinth” is another trance like track that just leaves you mesmerized in place, or one might say- right where you left me? * wink, wink*. The track is about falling in love again not long after a heartbreak, and you’d be correct to assume that it’s a stunner. Sonically, the way it builds throughout the song is simply gorgeous in the best Antonoff-ian fashion. Exploring the true nature of how terrifying falling love can be, Taylor unpacks that emotional baggage and leans into the love. Letting yourself fall in love is a beautiful thing- creating a legacy that can last an entire lifetime, which ultimately outweighs the fear that once kept you in place. “I thought the plane was goin’ down, how’d you turn it right around,” she sings on the hook in her lowest tone which is just…… *chefs kiss*.
Okay, okay, okay- let’s just get this straight. “Karma” really is THAT song, okay? Featuring some of the most playful lyrics that Taylor has ever written- the track explores the fact that karma really has been a friend to her throughout her life and career. Unfortunately, Taylor has faced a lot of backlash over the years and warranted or not, she’s always come out on top. “Cause Karma is my boyfriend, karma is a God, karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekend, karma’s a relaxing thought, Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not? Sweet like honey, karma is a cat, purring in my lap ’cause it loves me, flexing like a goddamn acrobat, me and karma vibe like that,” the chorus is instantly iconic and if you disagree, I feel extremely sorry for you. I hope Karma treats you well.
Joined by her collaborator in both life and now music, Joe Alwyn, Taylor gives us “Sweet Nothing” which is the embodiment of what true serenity sounds like. A simple, stripped back track, it represents a love that is both mature and healthy. Following Taylor is like watching your favorite character develop beautifully on your favorite television show- filled with full circle plot developments and a love that they deserve. It’s a pleasure to have watched her find the kind of love she had often wished for when she was 17 years old and it’s clear that his presence in her life has given her a security that the loves she used to write about clearly lacked. This track feels like a gorgeous followup to folklore‘s “peace” which was about her anxiety surrounding their relationship and if what she brings to it is enough to make him stay even in the moments filled with turbulence. “Outside, they’re push and shovin’, You’re in the kitchen hummin’, All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothin’,” she sings on the chorus- self-assuredly answering her previous questions that she will always be enough for him. God I am so single.
The final track on this standard edition, “Mastermind” is a how to guide on how to get the man of your dreams. Just kidding….. But anyways, it is how Miss Tay landed her longtime boyfriend. What she once said was purely accidental was, in fact, a scheme she had hatched to land him and with a major degree of trust in her relationship- she reveals this to him after all of these years. “I laid the groundwork, and then, just like clockwork, the dominoes cascaded in a line, what if I told you I’m a mastermind? And now you’re mine, it was all my design, ’cause I’m a mastermind,” she reminds us that there is nothing wrong with being proactive in your life- taking the wheel and going after what will bring you happiness. Her ability to understand the origin of her motivation is astounding, bringing an unforeseen depth to the lyrics in the bridge when she sings that “no one wanted to play with me as a little kid, so I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since.”
Midnights is triumphant in its blend of pop centric synth and the nuanced storytelling of Taylor Swift’s previous 2 albums- making for a first listen so pleasurable that you’ll be sure to instantly restart it all over again from the beginning. Like all of her best records, Swift is effortlessly relatable with her self deprecative tone and inane ability to craft perfect melodies. The record itself feels like a culmination of her journey, taking in the best qualities from all of her previous albums and crafting an album with a masterful level of freshness as it makes its way through unexplored facets of the human experience.
Just hours after the album’s release, Swift dropped 7 more tracks on the deluxe edition titled Midnights (3.AM Edition) which are simply illegal and require their own exploration in the days to come. Stay tuned for my breakdown of the deluxe tracks in the next few days!
I’ve also ranked the songs on this Standard Edition over on my Instagram so come say hey and let me know what your favorite Midnights tracks are too!