‘Midnights’ is a lyrically magnificent, dark indie-pop fever dream
A few seconds into Midnights, and two things are immediately clear: (1) Taylor Swift has reinvented herself yet again; and (2) there is no working artist alive in the world like Taylor Swift, and there probably won’t be one again for a very long time.
Produced primarily by Jack Antonoff with an assist by Kendrick Lamar’s producer Sounwave, Midnights’ productions are sleek and polished, and Swift’s pop sensibilities are crafted to perfection, and her songwriting to an even higher level of perfection, if that’s possible.
Taylor’s extended her empathies for minor characters before — we’ve all heard ‘august’ and ’champagne problems’ — but never as forthrightly as in ’Anti-Hero’, where she gleefully declares herself the anti-hero (It’s me! Hi! I’m the problem, it's me!”), But she eventually loses that forced jubilee in that very same line just a few verses later, as if the joke’s run out, the self-deprecation is gone, and all that’s left is that impossible task of seeing yourself in the mirror and not hating what’s there.
Besides ‘Anti-Hero’, ‘Midnight Rain’ is an instant standout, one of her most experimental yet — reminiscent, in some specific parts, of something out of Frank Ocean’s Blonde in its melancholic trap sensibilities. ‘Question…?’, meanwhile, is the sonic equivalent of a constantly overthinking brain, asking all those “what if” questions, and then spinning them off into the stratosphere without caring to answer them. ‘Vigilante Shit’, surprisingly, never explodes into the stadium grandiose she once made her name from, but instead shimmers with a deadly control, with an attitude in the vein of Fiona Apple’s Tidal.
Midnights is a pop album, but you won’t find any of the anthemic hooks of 1989 or Reputation here, or even Lover’s bright earnestness, but it glows in its own way, dark and restrained, and content to be so. Gone are the jewel-toned fairy tales of Evermore, or the smoldering heartbreak of Red. Swift has abandoned the cardigans and twinkling forests for the exhilarating danger of late-night drives. This is Swift in her thirties, war-torn and wind-swept, but pen as sharp as ever.
And yet, this wouldn’t be a Taylor Swift album without at least a spot of tenderness. And sure enough, ‘Sweet Nothing’ is a quieter anchor, an ode to the lingering tenderness of a long-term relationship, while Aaron Dessner’s indie-folk influence adds depth to ‘The Great War’.
Swift has always been an expert in placing a magnifying glass on the most intricate of our little human idiosyncrasies when we’re in love, and in this album, she paints her observations in muted synths, programmed beats, and warps.
Folklore and Evermore, in retrospect, were so easy to love, as were her recent re-recordings for all their earnest youthfulness. But in Midnights, she does what all the best artists do — she breaks out of convention, tears it all down and creates something entirely new, simultaneously one-of-a-kind and inherently familiar. Midnights is a dark, shimmery, indie-pop fever dream, lyrically magnificent, self-subversive, and dear reader, it’s fucking beautiful.