In an age of ghosting, situationships and several phone calls with my girlfriends about dating in 2022, the one thing that we held on to was the knowledge that Taylor Swift would soon give us a space to really get into our feelings.
Prepared to get into my feelings and draw obscure connections to my date from her lyrics, I hit play on Friday morning. After nine studio albums, the most recent ones being a flirtationship with different genres (I say flirtationship because the success rate here was varied) I wasn’t surprised to see that Midnights was an amalgamation of these past endeavours. But, the writing of the songs strayed far from Swift’s usual artistry. Her raw emotions in classic albums like Fearless and Red were able to evoke the emotions — good or bad — that you felt in your gut. Understandable, considering Midnights is marketed as an album that is akin to Swift’s late night stream of consciousness, when feelings of love, heartbreak, anger, agony, and self-loathing all creep out.
The album has a promising start with Lavender Haze and Maroon; the former having a synth-pop base, layered with smooth lyrics encapsulating the speculation that swirls around (really, all of her relationships) but in this case, her six-year old relationship with actor Joe Alwyn. With familiar themes and lyrics like, “The only kinda girl they see is a one-night or a wife,” and “I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say,” the track is exciting, and smoothly transitions into Maroon which echoes her Red era with more synth and sensuality, although that might also have to do with the song’s name.
The build-up of the first two songs should have enhanced what is expected to be the album’s lead single, Anti-Hero, an honest and unfiltered lyrical list of all the things that Swift dislikes about herself. In a time when self-love and positivity tutorials are shoved down our throats, the song could have been a fresh take on her battle with herself. Instead, the awkward pairing of upbeat pop, and even more awkward lyrics (“Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby”) makes it really hard to root for the “Anti-Hero.”
Hoping for an improvement, and a dose of the stabbing pain of heartbreak, comes one of the most hyped songs on the album Snow on the Beach, featuring one of music’s original sad girls, Lana Del Rey. What we get instead, is a Taylor Swift song, with some of Del Rey’s vocals reverberating like a shadow in the background. The song reeks of untapped potential that could have easily induced the “love spiral” she refers to in Lavender Haze. Instead, the best we get is, “Weird, but fucking beautiful,” the most basic description of what snow on the beach would look like.
Things pick up again with Midnight Rain, which brings a hint of maturity to Swift’s usual heartbreak anthems, with a level of self-reflection that shows that yes, she was “making [her] own name,” while, “He wanted a bride… he stayed the same.”
Midnight Rain also launchpads the second half of the album into a revenge playlist, but this doesn’t mean all of it makes sense. For example, in Question…?, Swift coos, “Did you ever have someone kiss you in a crowded room; And every single one of your friends was makin’ fun of you; But fifteen seconds later, thеy were clappin’ too? Then what did you do?” I want to know the answers to all of these questions, because why were this man’s friends laughing? Is that why he broke up with her?
Maybe the laughing is what led Swift to write Vigilante Shit. Think Better Than Revenge, a la Speak Now era, but with a whole lot of cool girl energy, (and more feminist). Refreshingly, the track has hard hitting lyrics, sung with a raspy, funnily-enough Lana Del Reey-esque flair. It’s a palate cleanser, before returning to the upbeat energy that will surely make its way into Instagram captions for the rest of the year.
Karma, another surefire fan favourite (which could have been the album’s lead single) brings out the Swift we all love, with clear infusions from Reputation and 1989 and, well, Midnights, because the lyrics are… “Spiderboy, king of thieves.”
It’s not until the 12th track that I finally find the sad ballad that I expected/needed from Swift. “All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothing,” she sings, delicately, on Sweet Nothing, against a pitter-patter, electric keyboard-like beat, making it sound like a melancholy lullaby. Her voice manages to soothe, while her lyrics (finally) manage to pull at the heartstrings that come with the confusion and then the clarity that comes with the end of a relationship.
The album ends with high-energy Mastermind, a liberating track, showing who has been in charge this whole time (hint: it’s Taylor). It leaves you with spirits lifted, and the hint of a smile on your face, as the beats build-up, and reverberate around her voice.
For die-hard Swifties, the album gives enough to make them cry a little, laugh a little, light a candle and look out at the night’s sky. While it doesn’t have the cohesion and effortless mastery of some of her former albums, it continues to show her growth as an artist, even though, it’s increasingly apparent that she will lyrically soon have to decide what audience she’s catering to: those who are falling in love for the first time, or those trying to grasp onto a semblance of like in 2022.
Midnights is out on all major streaming platforms