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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Confidence is the best revenge: A review of Taylor Swift’s “Midnights”

Taylor Swift has made her return to pop music with the most self-assured, focused music of her career with her triumphant tenth studio album, “Midnights.”
Taylor Swift has made her return to pop music with the most self-assured, focused music of her career with her triumphant tenth studio album, “Midnights.”

Taylor Swift simply can’t not top herself, and she proved that on her synth-pop-focused 10th studio album, “Midnights. How can she out-do the most awarded country and pop albums of all time, a historic three Album of the Year wins at the Grammys and the highest grossing U.S. stadium tour in history, you ask? Well, she does it by doing what she’s always done: writing razor-sharp lyrics paired with carefully-curated production elements to develop ever-evolving bodies of work, each one more exciting than the last. Many people felt she couldn’t possibly improve upon the emotionally-ambitious, indie-folk surprise albums “folklore” and “evermore,” but with “Midnights, she proved that emotional depth and intelligent songwriting don’t have to be sacrificed at the cost of upbeat pop production. 

It’s no secret that Taylor Swift has a star power unlike anyone else on the planet today. “Midnights” sold over 800,000 copies on its first day alone, Billboard reported, already making it the highest selling album of 2022. It also has the biggest overall week in equivalent album units since Swift’s own “reputation” in 2017, and it is projected to be the first album to debut with over a million copies in the post-bundling era, in which a rule change forced artists to rely less on pure sales and more on streaming. Somehow, she accomplished all of this with nothing but hype, since she didn’t release any singles before the album dropped in its entirety at midnight on Oct. 21.

A perennial facet of Swift’s catalog is her uncanny ability to sing the most dramatic lyrics with unflinching confidence, so that instead of coming off as corny or melodramatic, they are self-assured and absolutely sincere. Remember, this is the woman who scored one of her first big hits with a song analogizing a teenage fling to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in 2008’s “Love Storyand declared that the “Old Taylor” is dead in 2017’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” On “Midnights,she sings, “karma is a cat, purring in my lap ’cause it loves me” with her whole chest, and it actually works, making track 11, “Karma,” my current favorite on the album. Rivaling “Karma” in my rankings is track 8, “Vigilante Shit,” where she sings her most Instagram caption-worthy lyric in years: “I don’t start shit but I can tell you how it ends.” It doesn’t take a music theorist to see that the song’s sizzling dark production almost certainly takes inspiration from Billie Eilish. On previous albums, track 5 has always included Swift’s most vulnerable writing. Yet on her most uplifting track 5 to date, “You’re on Your Own, Kid” she sings, “make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it.” But behind her words is a certain melancholy, making this advice not that of a sunny-eyed schoolteacher, but of a young woman living with regret.

One of the most remarkable feats of this record is how realistically Swift portrays the human experience of self-love. No matter who you are, everybody hates themselves sometimes, and Swift captures this perfectly with lyrics like “I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror” and “I wake up screaming from dreaming someday I’ll watch as you’re leaving” in lead single and consummate earworm “Anti-Hero.” Complex vocal layering in this track makes these late-night confessions feel like a warm hug to anyone who’s ever spent their midnights regretting life decisions. Fortunately, Swift understands that this uncertainty is completely natural, and she owns it in album closer “Mastermind,” where instead of hiding her self-proclaimed Machiavellianism, she embraces it, singing “No one wanted to play with me as a little kid, so I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since.” Swift also goes to emotional places she hasn’t dared venture before in thumping indie-rock ballad “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.” She cries “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first” with her most emotional vocal delivery since 2010’s “Last Kiss.”

I must discuss the controversial elephant in the room that is track 4, “Snow on the Beach.” Sure, it is a bit of a letdown that we didn’t get a proper duet between Swift and featured artist Lana Del Rey, but the extreme negative reaction this song is receiving is disrespectful to Del Rey’s talent. Any fan of Swift or Del Rey knows that songwriting is both’s top priority. To suggest that this song is an utter failure because Del Rey doesn’t sing her own verse ignores what this song set out to accomplish: a meeting of the minds of two of the best songwriters of this generation. They crafted this song together, meaning Del Rey had input on how much she sang on the track. If she felt sidelined, she would have stepped away. It is abundantly clear that Swift has nothing but respect for Del Rey, and hopefully we get another collaboration sometime in the future. 

In true Swiftian form, attention to detail is really what brings the “stories of 13 sleepless nights'' theme to life. In the outro of track 10 “Labyrinth,” distorted vocals create a dream-like state as she sings about her fears of falling in love again. Lyrics like “you would break your back to make me break a smile” are a huge loss for single people everywhere, but a win for Swift, who is clearly more in love than ever before. As the reliable narrator she is, however, she is always sure to include the darker shades of her relationship. On track 6 “Midnight Rain,” she hearkens back to an old flame: “I never think of him except on midnights like this,” wondering what could have been. On track 9 and album standout “Bejeweled,” she feels compelled to remind her lover that she could drop him at any moment should he fail to recognize just how powerful she is. Somehow, this message feels like more than just a warning to her boyfriend: it’s a reminder to fans and haters alike about how she’s standing stronger than ever before after over 16 years in the music industry. 

Eric Burchill

Eric Burchill '23 (he/him/his) is the Digital Director for the Campus. He previously served as a copyeditor and online editor. 

Eric is from Palm Beach, FL and is majoring in Psychology with minors in Japanese and Religion. He loves horror movies, pop music, animals, Oreos, and Survivor.