Aanji Sin ’24
Unless you live under a rock or go to Harvey Mudd, you might’ve heard about a little thing released last weekend called Midnights by Taylor Swift. The popstar released her milestone tenth studio album on Oct. 21, consequently crashing the Spotify app and doing what Swift does best: dividing the Internet. Midnights is her return to the pop mainstream, a synth-rich, murky deep blue record — a far cry from the woodsy austerity of folklore and evermore, yet still lyrically, honestly, Taylor Swift. The album has largely been a critical success; however, even as a self-proclaimed Swiftie since adolescence, I can be honest about exactly where Midnights succeeded, and where it fell short.
Midnights may have been Swift’s move back to her comfortable pop parameters, but it’s a vastly different monster from her past works. Each track is deeply reflective, electronically pressurized and sensuous in a way that only a few scattered Swift songs across albums have previously embodied. It nearly sounds her age — I say nearly because Swift will never fully shake that vaguely cringe, cat sweater, Facebook mom selfie angle, millennial energy, and we would never want her to — she’s almost graduated from the vapid bubblegum, easy radio hits that infest every one of her past albums, and is exploring deeper themes. That and the 29 (29! She’s all grown up!) swear words across 13 tracks signal a new era of Swiftian songwriting.
However, Midnights is almost … too cohesive. The record as a whole has a very distinct, tenacious sonic theme that hinges on electronic synths, reverb, heavily edited vocals, and the same kick drum effect. While the songs lyrically touch on a wide variety of subjects, they all sound jarringly similar. It’s cohesive, yes, but it lacks sprawl, electronic motifs growing more and more tiresome on the ears as the album progresses. Missing are the poignant piano ballads, the slow and the simple, the raw acoustic touch where Swift has her roots. As a result, listeners of Midnights can miss out on its genuinely captivating messages and sentiments, turned off and emotionally uninvested in the syrupy layer of glitter and synth that pervades each track. Why change the formula when it’s already been perfected nine times over?
This is, ultimately, a blunder on the part of Jack Antonoff, Swift’s close collaborator and main producer on Midnights. One would expect that Antonoff’s close involvement on a sizable majority of Swift’s previous records and his gorgeous work on folklore and evermore meant that we could trust him to deliver another satisfyingly empirical, authentic Taylor Swift album, instead of an overproduced reiteration of sounds that Swift has already explored and perfected. Antonoff produced eleven of the thirteen tracks on Midnights, and you can tell which ones are his and which ones aren’t — and not in a good way. He seems to stick to the same 3-5 production techniques on each song, occasionally throwing in the stray vocal effect that can warp Swift’s voice into indistinguishability and pluck you straight out of the zone.
With the album good and humbled, I must specify that despite whatever misgivings I have, I do love Midnights. I would even say that lyrically, it’s one of her strongest. folklore and evermore still take the cake, but Swift’s ever-evolving writing style has taken on more contemporary, clever, experimental skins, continually proving herself to be one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
Swift consistently excels with songs that examine herself in reality, the one that the world doesn’t get to see, verus the metanarrative: Taylor Swift, global pop star sensation, polarizing public figure. She’s startlingly hyper self aware: “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism, like some kind of congressman?” she sings in “Anti-Hero,” the first single off of Midnights, described by Swift as the song that delves the deepest into her insecurities. In the album’s closer, “Mastermind,” paints her villain origin story as something of a scheming overlord, a control freak who just wants to be loved. It’s that perfectly paced, unfolding narrative that Swift has always excelled at: building herself up to be the manipulator the world sees her as, waiting for her lover to realize that he’s been tricked into a relationship he doesn’t actually want, only to realize that he saw her trap from the getgo and loved her because of it — she isn’t the mastermind she always thought she was.
The main thing we can come away from Midnights with is that, regardless of how much you actually enjoyed the album, it’s a Joe Alwyn record at its core — sorry, Gaylors. I want to see her kiss Dianna Agron as much as the next bisexual, but six years is an unbelievably long time to fake a beard relationship. Sure, he’s unbearably British, but he loves her for her mind! And if she keeps putting out albums as iconic as Midnights about him, then really, what more can we as her fans ask for?
Image Source: Entertainment Weekly