Snow On The Beach feat. Lana Del Rey
You’re On Your Own, Kid
When Taylor Swift announced to her eager fanbase the release of her 10th studio album Midnights, the question on everybody’s lips was, What is ‘Midnights’ going to be like? Dealing with an artist as innovative and ingenious as Swift, means you can never be quite sure what you’re going to get whenever she announces a new album.
From conquering the country world with her first four records, to crossing over to a shiny pure pop sound with her next three, to releasing two back-to-back indie-folk smashes, and then having to go back to her archives to re-record two works off of her country repertoire, the singer-songwriter has never been one to shy away from venturing into new sounds.
Between well-executed experimentation and whimsical musical left-turns, her discography possesses a wide array of genres and sounds few artists can measure against. And thanks to her distinctive lyrical style – which has never been one notch short of excellent throughout her entire career – all the different musical pieces are stitched together to form one captivating mantle.
Hence the question – What is ‘Midnights’ going to be like? As the singer did not release any single or give any real hints regarding the direction of the record in the 53 days after its announcement (and yes, I did the math!), those words kept lingering in everyone’s head until this morning.
So, what is ‘Midnights’? Is it a continuation of her indie-folk saga or is it a new polished pop product? Is she going back to her roots or is she dipping her toes into a new genre altogether? All things considered, the answer is that Midnights is actually all of the above.
The maturity and confidence which denoted folklore and evermore are tangible here, but the synths-based production (courtesy of Jack Antonoff) is closer to the pop trilogy of 1989-reputation-Lover – only this time it’s much more glittery yet mysterious at the same time.
The confessional and open-hearted approach to the lyrics is very much present (as always), but the style is less flowery and more cheeky, further reminiscent of the records from the early days of her career. Yet, the fictional quality and character-driven narratives of certain songs is notably evocative of the indie-folk twin records.
Combing through the midnights
Opening track Lavender Haze is a sleek pop force featuring various collaborators other than Swift and Antonoff, such as some of Kendrick Lamar’s musical associates and Zoë Kravitz. Lyrically, the song is about attempting to remain in a state of “all-encompassing love glow” despite the negativity and criticism from social media, a theme that is not new in the star’s catalogue.
But unlike previous tracks about holding onto love throughout the noise of fame, she approaches the situation with much more nonchalance and calm than ever before, dismissing the remarks by saying “Talk your talk and go viral […] / Get it off your chest / Get it off my desk”.
The production is undoubtedly pop but it deviates from the bombastic feel of some of her previous pop tracks, such as Me! and Shake It Off. This time, it’s much more sleek and subtle – but that is perfectly in line with the sheer quality of the rest of the record.
The narrative of living life under constant public scrutiny is kept in track number three, Anti-Hero, another stand-out pop gem that is as fun as it is sad. On an upbeat and catchy tune, Swift details her insecurities and anxieties, poking fun at herself and her haters in a classic Swiftian manner, with lines like “Too big to hang out / Slowly lurching toward your favorite city / Pierced through the heart but never killed”.
The majority of the record focuses on the singer’s anxieties and other life speed bumps, especially the ones encountered in relationships. For instance, in Question…? she reckons a love that was lost and left with bubbling questions, while in Labyrinth she wonders how she was able to fall in love with someone so quickly after being broken.
But in spite of having such a laser focus on insecurities and vulnerability, three songs on the album bring back the usual confident and vindictive side the singer is known to have. In the ninth track – Bejeweled – Swift expresses frustrations against a lover who undervalues her, saying that even though he doesn’t seem to be taken by her, she can still dazzle up the place.
In the salacious dark pop Vigilante Shit, Swift tells the story of helping a woman get revenge on her good-for-nothing husband, whereas in Karma she pens the bubbly version of the story, by rejoining in seeing her nemeses getting what they deserve. “Karma is my boyfriend / Karma is a god / Karma is the breeze in my hair on the weekends / Karma’s a relaxing thought / Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?”, she sings over a cheerful melody.
Continuing the pop soundscape, we have the fifth song on the list – You’re On Your Own, Kid – which is your classic run-of-the-mill Swiftian track number five – i.e., emotionally gut-wrenching. The song follows a youngster who falls in love but then realises their beloved never truly cared, so they have to grapple with the fact that they are on their own. The track is nostalgically heartbreaking, and contains several ‘punch-you-in-the-gut’ one-liners, such as the brutal “I hosted parties and starved my body / Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss”.
Curiously, the following track seems like the opposite of its predecessor – in Midnight Rain, it is the narrator (Swift) who is doing the heartbreaking, leaving behind a small-town boy to focus on her music career. We are left to wonder about the potential autobiographical quality of this song, and whether it is a figment of her imagination or a memory from Swift’s past that she chose to rehash.
Speaking of blasts from the past, track number two – Maroon – seems to be a reference to her past song Red, but approaches the idea of tying love to a colour through more mature lenses. Instead of comparing it to a “bright and burning red”, she uses a dark crimson shade – harsher, allowing for more complexities and honesty.
The two most tender tracks of Midnights are found one at the beginning and one at the very end. Hazy pop fourth track Snow On The Beach narrates the story of falling in love with someone right when they are falling in love with you, and how there is such beauty in that banal weirdness. This song also represents the only feature in the record, as it hosts Lana Del Rey as well – although her presence (or lack thereof) on the track might be its only drawback.
At the (almost) very end, track number twelve offers an ode to pure tender love once again. Penned with boyfriend Joe Alwyn, Sweet Nothing is about the magic of being in love with someone who does not expect anything from you, but simply loves you as you are.
At last, Midnights caps off with Mastermind, a song that is as perfect a description for Swift as they come. In the track, she sings about crafting a detailed scheme to get her crush (Mr. Alwyn) to fall in love with her. This is a cheeky counterpoint to her past songs about the start of their relationship, which she previously depicted as something orchestrated by fate and destiny. But in Mastermind, she claims the opposite, joking about her own “cryptic and Machiavellian” ways.
Behind the glitter and shine
Midnights is clearly a product of both Swift continuing to evolve as a songwriter and artist, but also of her escapades combing through her catalogue to re-record past works. It shows growth and maturity, but also touches upon themes of love and life from her early days. Slipping back into her old shoes clearly unlocked something fresh in her and her craft.
Compared to her other pop records, this is a much more sleek and synth-based approach to the genre, exploring different nuances of similar sounds rather than doing abrupt full 180’s mid-album. In fact, the songs may even seem similar to one another at first listen since they all play within the same soundscape, but they do so in such diverse ways that make Swift earn the title of ‘Mastermind’ without a doubt.
But while Midnights would likely come as an expected next step in Swift’s discography to those who have been fans for several eras, to those who joined during the folklore/evermore time lapse it might come as a surprise.
Unlike the indie-folk package, Midnights does not take up such a traditional approach to its lyrics. The flowery, aureate approach to the storytelling has been replaced by one that is more tongue-in-cheek and relying upon play-on-words of common phrases. Whereas before the density and emotions behind the words were so tangible, this record hides them behind the glittery and shiny exterior of its sound.
But given the unruliness of the lyrics in which she explores universal feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and the complexities of womanhood, it would be foolish to brush it off just because of its more playful sound and lyrics. And after all, not everything needs to sound like it was written in Victorian English to be good – sometimes, all that glitters is gold, and Midnights is a glittery heaven.
Verdict - 10/10