Taylor Swift sleeps to dream on the moody, intimate ‘Midnights’
Despite the restless-slumber concept that drifts through its songs, a serene acceptance lurks beneath the singer’s 10th studio album.
By Marc Hirsh Updated October 21, 2022 at 06: 00 PM EDT
For all of her gloss, gleam, careful Easter-egg teases, and oh-so-deliberately rendered musical concoctions, the first decade-plus of Taylor Swift‘s career was marked by a distinct chaos: the hormonal teen angst that formed her lyrical focus; the heady swirl of her rapid country and pop ascendancies (and the friction between the two); the gossip-rag aspect of her relationships and the way they found their way into her songs via blind items; the feuds (real or ginned-up) with the likes of Kanye West; her industry battles for control over her masters. In recent years, though, the singer has settled down and radiated a sense of calm, with two releases of wintry, burbling electro-folk (2020’s Grammy-winning Folklore and its companion, Evermore) and two reimagined albums (last year’s “Taylor’s Versions” of Fearless and Red) that reclaimed her past by recasting it as the present.
Midnights is her fifth album in three years, a pace practically unheard of in modern pop music. But just like its immediate predecessors, nothing about Midnights sounds rushed. Despite her drifting song lyrics, Swift’s serene acceptance hides behind her fluttering eyes. Swift’s brain may be generating random memories, good and bad, in the twilight before sleep, but she isn’t agitated or disturbed by it. She’s simply processing. It’s a warm murmur wrapped up in a blanket.
Midnights Taylor Swift 2022
| Credit: Beth Garrabrant
That’s the case even when Swift banks off themes she’s explored before. Opener “Lavender Haze”, continues Swift’s obsession with other people’s obsessions with her. But she is only as obsessed with herself as she is with the swoon of her love. She adds more red-lip imagery to “Maroon”, though the lips are not hers for once. In the blank, spacey, and self-aware “Anti-Hero,” she turns the line “Hi, I’m the problem, it’s me” into a hook and casually imagines she’s not only dead but looking up from hell. It’s much more fun than it sounds. “Midnight Rain” is a similar story, a clear-eyed analysis of a relationship by someone who might not have the right temperament.
But that was Swift younger. Most of Midnights is about quieting the noise in her head, and the music — co-produced and mostly co-written with longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff — drills down in that direction, employing textures used by the likes of the xx and Holly Humberstone: bedroom-beat intimacy, electronically enhanced vocal doubling, fluttery blips, and maximalist minimalism, all planted two inches deep in the listener’s skull. The sonic signature of the album may even be a little too consistent; the excellent, Goldfrapp-y “Karma” is arguably the biggest banger here purely because the extra snap in the snare gives the characteristically muted beat a touch more danceability than any of the tracks surrounding it.
Still, if the songs on Midnights aren’t her stickiest, it doesn’t much matter while they’re playing, given how effectively they generate a mood and paint their pictures. Some, such as “Vigilante S —-,”, are not exactly nightmares but definitely uneasy. Some show Swift learning to accept what her partner gives and her willingness to receive it. “Sweet Nothing” is a sweet and simple electric-piano confession of gratitude and devotion to someone who doesn’t expect much from her.
Swift is the final cut that ties all the threads together, “Mastermind.” She blurs the lines between fate and happenstance and direct manipulation and looks back at how she and her man became something. “And now you’re mine / It was all by design,” she sings, aware of her own unreliability as a narrator but ending Midnights on a note of grace nonetheless. No one sees the contradictions in dreams. B
Midnights is out now.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.