On Oct. 21, after weeks of anticipation, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album, Midnights. Though it has been relatively well received by fans and critics alike, the album was somewhat underwhelming in comparison to her previous two concept albums, Folklore and Evermore.
Being a born-again Swiftie since the beginning of the pandemic, I was extremely excited about Midnights. The album is a reflection on sleepless nights throughout Swift’s life, ranging from the synth-heavy and lovestruck “Lavender Haze,” to the belligerent “Karma” to the dreamy “Mastermind.” It was advertised as having an edgier, vintage feel that I ultimately found to be lacking in the final product. Midnights is very much a return to the pop genre for Swift, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was certainly a surprise.
Perhaps the chief disappointment of Midnights is the album’s fourth track, a collaboration with Lana Del Rey titled “Snow on the Beach.” In it, Del Rey, a talented vocalist in her own right, is relegated to background vocals. Listening to the song, I could barely pick out Del Rey’s voice, leading me to wonder what the purpose of the collaboration was if not just publicity. A similar argument could be made about “no body, no crime” from the album Evermore, in which the band HAIM plays a relatively minor role in a song that doesn’t seem to befit their talent and stature in the music industry, proving that Swift is not above using other artists for clout.
As a lyricist, Swift certainly has moments of genius. But the lyrics in Midnights feel lackluster at best and laughable at worst, with lines such as “sometimes I feel like everyone is a sexy baby / and I’m a monster on the hill” (“Anti-Hero”) and “good girl / sad boy” (“Question…?”) contributing to the album’s lack of lyrical polish. The lines “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me” (also from “Anti-Hero”) and “draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man” (“Vigilante Shit”) have similar pitfalls.
As an avowed fan of Folklore and Evermore, it’s unsurprising that my favorite song off of Midnights was “Sweet Nothing,” which includes Swift’s longtime partner, Joe Alwyn (under the pen name William Bowery), as a songwriter. Alwyn famously collaborated with Swift on her previous two albums, whose more folksy and whimsical sounds are emulated on this track. But even in “Sweet Nothing,” we’re faced with jarring lyrical choices — most notably, “on the way home / I wrote a poem / you said what a mind,” in which the rhyme of “home” and “poem” feels unnatural. The song’s simplicity is its saving grace, making it an understated high point of Midnights.
Arguably since the outset of her career, Swift has been the target of near-constant sexist attacks from the media, and the difficulty and exhaustion of life in the public eye features heavily in Midnights. The emotion of the album is palpable even when the lyrics fall short, and in many ways, that feeling of intimacy is the saving grace of Midnights. Listeners can empathize with Swift, making the experience of listening more enjoyable and universal. Having some level of familiarity with the career and personal tribulations she’s singing about allows us a deeper understanding of Swift’s musical choices and grants her some level of agency over her experiences. Similar to 2017’s Reputation, Midnights is an assertion of self.Midnights is fun — listening to it is enjoyable. None of the songs are implicitly terrible. But what prevents it from being a truly great album is its lack of memorability. There are very few melodies from Midnights that I could remember at any given moment, and for a pop album, this is a substantial issue. Instead of returning to the pop genre of Taylor-past, Midnights would have been better served by the rock-centric tone she advertised. Despite my general dislike of the album, it does have many good moments, and no critic can deny that Midnights is thoroughly Taylor.