Taylor Swift – Midnights

She's consistently confessional, but 'Midnights' finds Taylor Swift at her most human.

Label: EMI
Released: 21st October 2022

“Midnight, you come and pick me up”. “2am, and I’m cursing your name”. “Lit through the darkness at 1:58”. “4am the second day”. Taylor Swift always becomes someone else when the clock strikes twelve.

The middle of the night is when she confesses her deepest secrets, indulges in her impulses and drives herself crazy overthinking. Staying up into the next day with someone is Taylor’s love language, but it’s also when she’s out for blood. On her tenth studio album, we spend the night with an artist who often lets you know everything and nothing at the same time as she ruminates on the things that keep her up at night. “Meet me at midnight”, she invites. Any time, Taylor.

After spending her last two albums in the forest, writing whimsical part-fact, part-fiction fairytales and dropping them at a moment’s notice, ‘Midnights’ signals Taylor’s return to the pop world, picking up where ‘reputation’ and ‘Lover’ left off. Largely pulling thematically from tracks like ‘Call It What You Want’ and ‘End Game’, as well as exploring themes in a song that had, until now, only been revealed in her Netflix documentary Miss Americana

Ushering in the era with ‘Lavender Haze’, it’s the most sultry track she’s done since ‘Dress’, the themes following those introduced on ‘reputation’, a storyline where Taylor can ignore the slating if she’s got her other half. ‘Maroon’ follows suit, keeping that buzzy, lamp-lit instrumental but twisting it more melancholic. The ways Taylor layers her vocals and practically harmonises with herself has always been a strong suit, but with the production here so pulled back, it really stands front and centre.

The chopped, warped vocal on ‘Midnight Rain’ adds a new layer of interest to an otherwise pretty sparse instrumental, again bringing the songwriting to the forefront. The allusions to her own fame fill ‘Midnights’ middle section, peaking at the lyric “he never thinks of me, except when I’m on TV”. Matty Healy might’ve joked that Taylor would never have him on her album, but that hasn’t stopped her nabbing his train of thought style of lyricism on ‘Question…?’, playing the verses out like tipsy slurring down the phone in the early hours. 

She snatches a couple of ‘gotcha’ moments (RIP Scooter Braun) – once on ‘Vigilante Shit’, which wouldn’t be out of place as a ‘reputation’ ‘(From The Vault)’ track and has the most unfortunate opening lyric on the whole album (she’s allowed to do cringey lyrics sometimes though, she’s earned them), and once on ‘Karma’, the ultimate carefree “Look! I got what I wanted in the end!” number. 

The record’s softer moments feel like they were born in the ‘folklore’ sessions and grew into something poppier. Although Lana Del Rey only seems to provide a backing vocal on ‘Snow On The Beach’, the track still harnesses a twinkly magic only the two of them could create. Then there’s ‘Sweet Nothing’, a quiet delight that has the same warmth and intimacy of ‘reputation’s ‘New Year’s Day’; it’s the small hours’ admissions of affection to the person who is home to you. When the horns blossom in its final third, it’s the sun cracking through the blinds.

Obvious standouts are ‘Anti-Hero’ and ‘You’re On Your Own, Kid’, two of her most personal songs ever. The latter, a slow-burning, almost autobiographical look back at her own life, feels like a response to ‘Red’s ‘The Lucky One’ written ten years prior, in which she’s become its titular character. ‘Anti-Hero’, on the other hand, takes a more upbeat, on-the-nose approach. It’ll rocket into all-time top tens, a Frankenstein of the best Taylor-isms: the self-analytical, satirical lyrics that made tracks like ‘Blank Space’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ so fun, the Jack Antonoff modern retro production that arrived with ‘1989’, the stripped back pop learned from the ‘folklore’/‘evermore’ era, polished off with a new, reflective, grown-up approach just when you thought she might’ve run out of things to write about.

It’s always the little things that make Taylor Swift’s albums extra special. Cheesy quirks like the cheers in the last chorus of ‘Question…?’, and the “nice!” in ‘Bejewelled’, you’re hard-pressed to think of another major pop star who’d get away with that. There’s the double-entendre on “tea time” in ‘Anti-Hero’, nodding to the rather British way of saying ‘dinner’ (she’s dating a Brit, you see) and referencing ‘spilling the tea’ as it were.

She knows her devotees will listen to the record front to back, so of course there’s a link in the final track right back to the lead single (catch the “scheming like a criminal” in ‘Mastermind’ and the “you’ll get tired of my scheming” in ‘Anti-Hero?). There are the callbacks to previous records; “splashed your wine into me” on ‘Maroon’ recalls the “you’re all over me like a wine-stained dress” from ‘1989’s ‘Clean’ (and note the ways she avoids saying “red” here too), likewise the “I remember” in ‘Question…?’ seems to be pulled directly from ‘Out Of The Woods’.

What sets ‘Midnights’ apart from its predecessors – ‘1989’, ‘reputation’ and ‘Lover’ – is how it’s not deliberately capital P pop. It’s pared back, leaning into its title as a late-night record and delivering an album’s worth of the hazy, fluorescent moments that peppered her big pop trio before. 

Ahead of its release, Taylor teased that the record was inspired by self-loathing, revenge, wondering what could’ve been, falling in love and falling apart. She’s consistently confessional, but ‘Midnights’ finds Taylor Swift at her most human.

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