As the clock struck 12 a.m. on Oct. 21, Taylor Swift emerged from the darkness like a mythological sorceress casting a shimmering, sultry spell with her latest album, Midnights.
Back in 2020, the acclaimed singer-songwriter meandered into an intricate indie-folk fantasy, told through twin albums Folklore and Evermore. During the following year, she traversed down memory lane, reimagining her past with re-recordings of the much-beloved records Fearless and Red.
Now, Midnights, Swift’s 10th studio album, sees Swift confidently return to her confessional pop roots. However, abounding with often jarring lyrics and Jack Antonoff’s characteristic glossy synths, Midnights obscures her stylistically familiar path in a mesmerizing yet moody mist.
Midnights’ opener, the R&B-adjacent “Lavender Haze” encapsulates this atmospheric appeal. Although the track is reminiscent of Lover’s “False God,” its pulsating beat further intoxicates with steamy electricity. “I been under scrutiny/ You handle it beautifully,” murmurs Swift before breaking into a sultry falsetto during the chorus. While praising her current partner’s resilience, Swift underscores the difficulties of existing in the public eye.
Other tracks continue to build on this edgy allure, further steeping Midnights in a dusky, electropop soundscape. In “Maroon,” Swift’s breathy vocals are contrasted against echoing percussive notes as she continues her trademark lyrical tactic of recalling past relationships through various shades of red. Later, Swift’s warped vocals might cause listeners to do a double take in the opening moments of “Midnight Rain,” but the track quickly eases into slow-burning, synth-driven groove.
Nevertheless, as Swift’s insomnia-driven contemplations run into the dead of night, she remains in a state of stasis. As she wanders through the liminal period between sunset and daybreak, Swift never reduces her artistry to tedium, nor truly expands her experimental horizons. Consequently, much of Midnights settles snugly in a niche that’s comfortable, yet borders on too safe.
This issue presents itself in “Snow On the Beach,” the highly anticipated collaboration between Swift and Lana Del Rey. Amid glistening synths and strings that meld to create the track’s ethereal instrumentalism, Swift and Del Rey soar together, yet never fully achieve ascendency. Instead of being spotlighted in a verse, or even the bridge, Del Rey’s vocals melt into the background. Meanwhile Swift — sometimes criticized for the lack of female features on her albums — takes center stage, crafting a song that’s less of a sufficient collaboration and more of an unsatisfying harmonization.
Further, though Swift typifies the diaristic lyrical genius, her storytelling sensibilities frequently fade into the darkness on Midnights. In the Billie Eilish-esque “Vigilante Shit,” Swift seeks to wear revenge like a slinky second skin: “Draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man,” she sings in the first verse, accompanied by a suspenseful, reverberating bassline. This laughable lyricism pervades the track, shaping Swift’s attempt at edginess into masquerade. Later, although intentionally bombastic, “Karma” suffers from a similarly jarring ridiculousness when it makes the claim that “Karma is a cat/ Purring in my lap ’cause it loves me.”
Both lyrically and sonically, Swift is at her strongest when constructing her own metanarrative, untangling perceptions of herself, her relationships and her public image. Perhaps most notably, “You’re On Your Own, Kid” sees excruciating childhood memories coalesce with feelings of loneliness and nostalgia, accumulating in a frenzied bridge and lasting triumphant realization of independence: “Yeah, you can face this.”
Unfortunately, this intimate process of reconciliation is seen only in fleeting glimpses. Instead, as she stumbles through sleepless nights, Swift frequently forgets to illuminate her path with consistency. Bounding from the minimalistic “Sweet Nothing” and transcendent “Labyrinth” to the incendiary “Anti-Hero” and the electrifying “Question…?,” Swift lures listeners further into a haphazard haze.
With Midnights, rather than reinvent herself through a new tale, Swift strives to rediscover her identity through strikingly vulnerable reflections. And, though she beckons all to meet her at midnight, Swift is often the one left in the dark.