By Kara Koblanski, November 3 2022—
As the clock struck midnight on the day Taylor Swift turned exactly 12,000 days old, the star’s 10th studio album Midnights was released. This allusion to the numbers on a clock, or to the number 12 symbolizing midnight, demonstrates Swift’s subtlety as an artist. Midnights, which narrates 13 sleepless nights throughout the singer’s life, explores a new moodier sound for Swift as she refreshingly experiments with 1970s synth, vocal distortions and electronica while remaining true to her lyricism and diaristic storytelling. Midnights serves as a symbolic step forward for Swift, not only in her career but also for herself.
After a blowout release week, Midnights has already received substantial critical acclaim, along with multiple records broken merely days after the singer released the album. According to Billboard, Midnights became the top-selling album of the year in just one day of sales, with “estimates currently having [the album] amassing between 1.4-1.6 million units in its first week,” which, if correct, would be Swift’s biggest debut for an album ever. Only four days after its release, the album has already had the biggest streaming week of the year. Swift’s Midnights holds the record for the largest streaming week ever for a female artist’s album.
It is difficult to find a dry spot in the album as each track demonstrates an element of Swift’s artistry and talent. The sole collaboration on the album “Snow On The Beach” features Swift and Lana Del Rey softly singing about “falling in love with someone at the same time as they’re falling in love with you,” through a juxtaposition of snow on a beach. Fans were ecstatic over the collaboration and it is notably a standout on the album as Swift takes a page out of Del Rey’s vocal playbook.
Swift applies her signature diaristic style in the lead single “Anti-Hero” where she candidly voices her self-consciousness, confiding in the opening line, “I have this thing where I get older, but just never wiser.” She noted this song as one of her favourites ever, describing it as a “real guided tour throughout all the things I tend to hate about myself.” Previously when Swift discussed her insecurities, there was a distance between her vulnerable lyrics and herself, whereas “Anti-Hero” lays them all out openly at the forefront. Rather than fighting against the public narrative that has been crafted for her, she plays into it through the peppy chorus where she openly sings “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem, it’s me.” The final track “Mastermind” additionally sees a vulnerable Swift as she reveals how she schemed to date longtime partner Joe Alwyn, referring to herself as a mastermind. She confesses her reasoning by singing “No one wanted to play with me as a little kid / So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since / To make them love me and make it seem effortless.”
“Lavender Haze” details how celebrities must learn “the act of ignoring [tabloid drama] to protect the real stuff” as Swift and her lover reside in a state of lavender haze — a term coined in the 1950s about being in love. “Sweet Nothing” is written by Swift and Alwyn under the pseudonym “William Bowery,” where Swift utilizes the idiom “sweet nothings” to emphasize how comforting it is to have a partner that expects nothing from you when the world expects everything. She sings in a nursery-rhyme manner, “Everyone’s up to somethin’ / I find myself runnin’ home to your sweet nothings / All that you ever wanted from me was sweet nothin’.”
Despite Midnights’ acclaim, it has still faced harsh public backlash. Many stated how it felt recycled — a critique antithetical to an artist who reinvents herself with every album. Swift commented on the notion of reinvention in her 2020 documentary Miss Americana where she stated that “Female artists have reinvented themselves twenty times more than male artists. They have to, or else you’re out of a job.” Midnights demonstrates a step forward from this attitude as Swift proves that she has reinvented herself into an artist who no longer feels the need to do so. In Midnights, she shares her deepest inward thoughts in an increasingly authentic way, demonstrating a newfound sense of genuineness. Although her ever-changing eras and branding can be fun, this new choice generates more authenticity from Swift.
Midnights develops Swift as an artist rather than stagnating or regressing her. She undertakes new sonics while reflecting on old experiences, allowing her to provide advice to listeners and confront her wrongs lyrically or personally. The album reflects how Swift can recall prior moments of her life and craft something new out of them, seeming the most comfortable herself.