In her 10th studio album, “Midnights,” Taylor Swift takes a step back from reinventing her image in the present and instead shifts to reflecting on the past. Her introspective angle invites listeners to join her on a contemplating — and at some points self-loathing — journey.
Early in October, the singer-songwriter took TikTok by storm with an unconventional tracklist reveal for “Midnights” by releasing track titles at, well, midnight. Swift admits to having a “habit of dropping cryptic clues and Easter eggs.” She is not here to “deny” such claims but rather to “defy” them with the new series she dubs, “Midnights Mayhem With Me.” In typical Swift fashion, Swift completes the series 13 nights before the official album drop, which was on Oct. 21. The artist incorporates the number 13 in her work often because “whenever a 13 comes up in [her] life, it’s a good thing.”
The new album, “a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams,” as described by Swift, returns to her previous autobiographical approach, which the singer had strayed from with albums “Folklore” and “evermore.” Swift’s lyrical artistry proves her ability to display a wide range of emotions, and her discography remarkably covers many music genres, as the singer-songwriter has dabbled in country, pop, indie and even soft rock. This distinction has earned Swift both praise and criticism for her groundbreaking work and trendsetting pattern.
Meanwhile, “Midnights” separates from the precedent set by Swift’s other genre-conforming albums. Instead, the collection bounces around, embracing an array of references to her previous work. The album is meant to show us the what-ifs and the what-could-have-beens. Swift relives moments at a crossroad. Life may work out in the present moment, but what if she had made another small yet monumental choice?
The album begins with the track “Lavender Haze,” a phrase which represents an “all-encompassing love glow.” Singing over a synth pop beat, Swift expresses from the get-go that she is not here for any of that “1950s shit they want” from her.
Swift illustrates the feeling of love again in the highly anticipated collaboration with Lana Del Rey in “Snow On The Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey).” This time, the two explore the rarity of true love. The track itself is very Lana-esque; “Weird, but fuckin’ beautiful” has Del Rey written all over it. It would have been nice to hear more of Del Rey’s signature melodic voice. She undoubtedly adds another eerie dimension to the song, and it’s not hyperbole to say the track would be incomplete without Del Rey’s backing vocals. She brings a depth to the song that Swift would not be able to achieve on her own. Another landscape, perhaps like the “aurora borealis green” mentioned, would be more conducive for snow, but instead, Swift and Del Rey choose to set the scene at the beach, a place typically seen as tropical and warm. Like “snow on the beach,” true love is not impossible, and that’s the beauty of it all.
In a more confrontational approach, Swift sasses the media with “Karma,” a track that emulates more of her dramatic lyricism reminiscent of the “reputation” album and boasts over-the-top synths. She warns those who indulged in watching her downfall that “it’s coming back around.” The tables have turned — or they will, at least. In the meantime, Swift acknowledges her cats and her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, who both play integral characters in her snappy comeback: “‘Cause karma is my boyfriend … karma is a cat / Purring in my lap ‘cause it loves me.” “Vigilante Shit” and “Bejeweled” — three and two tracks before “Karma,” respectively — run parallel to the fuck around and find out attitude.
On the flip side, the track “Anti-Hero” earns the privilege of being the insecurity anthem of the album. Swift dubs it “one of [her] favorite songs [she’s] ever written.” She thinks “it’s really honest,” thereby reaffirming that honesty and reflection are the hallmarks of this album, and the other songs follow suit.
While morphed vocals in “Midnight Rain” echo the melody of “1989” song “All You Had to Do Was Stay,” the lyrics take on a new perspective of a similar story. The previous song had chastised a lover for not staying and instead leaving her behind, but in “Midnight Rain,” she’s the one doing the leaving. After the release of her fifth studio album, “1989,” Swift was undeniably catapulted into stardom, and she admits her prioritization of her career: “He wanted a bride, I was making my own name / Chasing that fame, he stayed the same.” After reconsidering the fate of an old love if she had stayed, she concludes that “we all get / Just what we wanted … And [she] never think[s] of him / Except on midnights like this.” That line, right there, is the whole point of the album.
The following track “Question…?” references “Out of the Woods,” another “1989” song, with the intro, “I remember.” Swift also makes the connection through color, declaring that the “rest of the world was black and white / But we were in screaming color” in the earlier song, and revitalizing the theme in “Question…?” with “before you / painted all my nights / A color I’ve searched for since.” Swift’s references to her old styles is one of her strong suits, and she capitalizes on it at the core of this album. The rest of the lyrics continue to mirror each other, framed in questions that allude to the failure of a relationship. Both songs ask questions that Swift doesn’t have answers to, so it looks like we won’t be getting answers any time soon either.
What we do get — three hours after the album release — is “Midnights (3am Edition),” which contains seven bonus tracks. Just like her “From The Vault” tracks, Swift decides to gift us with more songs that almost made the album. They, of course, show the same wistful side of Swift. “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” stands out among the tracks, as it takes another angle on her midnight fantasies. Swift admits, “I wish you’d left me wondering / If you never touched me, I would’ve / Gone along with the righteous.” She laments her girlhood, taken by a regretful relationship. She doesn’t need to play out a what-if scenario for this song; she already knows the ending, and she doesn’t like it.
The contemplative style is balanced with the more intimate “Sweet Nothing,” co-written by Alwyn. Swift paints a picture with a mundane yet affectionate anecdote, singing about a poem she wrote. In response, Alwyn supposedly responds, “What a mind.” The twinkling notes combined with the quotidian lyrical word choice describe her day-to-day life. If all the other songs contemplate alternate timelines, “Sweet Nothing” encapsulates the current one Swift is on — and she seems to be perfectly content with that outcome.
“Mastermind” continues the same train of thought from “Sweet Nothing” but more like a precursor to the love story. Swift claims to be a “mastermind,” orchestrating the whole affair from the beginning. She starts to sound remorseful, almost as if there would be no relationship without her meddling. Swift then adds a twist in the last chorus. Her lover has actually seen through her ploys: “You knew the entire time / You knew that I’m a mastermind.” In the last track, Swift’s desire to be seen and accepted culminates into the ending of a reverie and the album; her life is a dream come true. “Mastermind” leaves “Midnights” — and us— on a satisfactory note.
At the end of the day, we still find ourselves staying up in the middle of night rethinking our choices in those pivotal moments. We can’t restart our stories like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books; there are no redos. We just sit there watching the clock hit midnight and wonder about the life that could’ve been.