Review: ‘Midnights’ is a testament to transformation

With her latest album, “Midnights,” Taylor Swift captures a new sound and aesthetic vision, emphasizing the artist’s unique ability to constantly change.

by Elle Muller | 10/24/22 2:05am

midnights
by Lucy Handy / The Dartmouth

Like many others, I have grown up with each new Taylor Swift album. Her new album “Midnights,” released on Oct. 21, is no exception. With “Midnights,” Swift transitions out of the acoustic sound which characterized her three most recent releases. The album felt different from my expectations, but upon the second listen I genuinely enjoyed it. It’s a unique sound and aesthetic for Taylor Swift, establishing a truly new era. The songs span a wide variety of topics so that nearly everyone can relate to something in the album. 

With each album release, Taylor Swift has proven a rare ability to “stop time.” For a moment, everyone seems to talk only about Swift’s new songs. “Meet me at midnight” was echoed all day on Oct. 20 by those anticipating the new album. At 12 a.m., “Midnights” was released with 13 tracks. Then, at 3 a.m., Swift dropped the surprise “Midnights (3am Edition)” with seven additional tracks, creating a 20-track album. Her rationale for the extra songs, she wrote in an Instagram post, was that the album’s 13 tracks form a complete concept album, but she wanted to share more from the “Midnights” writing process, similar to her “From The Vault” tracks in her re-recorded albums. 

Since the album’s announcement on Aug. 29, the album has been marketed as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights.” While Swift never directly alluded to the sound of the album, her recent albums— “folklore,” “evermore” and “Red (Taylor’s Version)”— and the 70s-inspired marketing and visuals led me to anticipate a feeling similar to Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” The actual sound of the album did not match this expectation. In my mind, the marketing clashed with the synth-heavy tracks, as I had previously envisioned a stripped sound, especially with her recent songwriter acoustic feel. Although different than expected, after a second listen, I can start to see how the album’s aesthetic and sound are coming together to create a brand new tenth original album and era for Taylor Swift. 

The song “Midnight Rain” was especially surprising. Swift’s edited vocals in the intro shocked me because the level of distortion and synth was so unlike her previous work. While I can’t say I wholeheartedly enjoyed the edited vocals and synth or the general lack of instrumentals in the album, I do remember having similar uncertain feelings about how different past releases had been from their predecessors, such as, “Shake It Off” with 1989’s release and “Look What You Made Me Do” with Reputation’s release. With “Midnights,” seeing new interpretations of specific lyrics on social media has helped smooth this transition. TikTok especially helped me better appreciate “Midnight Rain,” as certain videos highlighted lyrics that I had missed because I wasn’t sure how I felt about the production.

There’s something for everyone in this album: a variety of dance songs, revenge songs and sad songs with fun synth beats. While not the initial sound I expected from a late-night insecurity-filled album, the songs have grown on me tremendously — and surely will for other listeners as well. Taylor Swift’s specialty is her adaptability, frequently shifting into a new era. It’s understandable — if not necessary — that each new sound takes some getting used to. That being said, I did have some instant favorites. 

I was immediately drawn to “You’re On Your Own, Kid” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.” “You’re On Your Own, Kid” describes the desire to be wanted followed by a sense of isolation. Swift is notorious for her bridges, and this song does not disappoint. She tells the listener to continue to live vibrantly, even if people will be lost along the way: “Everything you lose is a step you take. So, make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it. You’ve got no reason to be afraid.” This song feels like a beautiful reassurance, in which Swift tells her listeners: you’re on your own but it’ll be okay.

“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” uses religious imagery to describe a past relationship characterized by lost innocence. For Swift fans, this song feels resonant of her 2010 “Dear John,” as both feature mentions of being nineteen. In “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” Swift describes the long-lasting repercussions of dating an older man as a young girl, including lost innocence and lasting regret. She sings, “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first. And I damn sure never would’ve danced with the devil, at nineteen.”

“Maroon” describes love similarly to songs in her past albums “Red” and “1989.” The chorus changes from “And I chose you” to “And I lost you” over the course of the song. At once, this song rings classically Swift and still fits seamlessly into the new album. “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” also feels reminiscent of Swift’s past eras like “folklore” and “evermore.” The peaceful yet heartbreaking atmospheric mood captures saying goodbye to someone or something. 

In both “Anti-Hero” and “Mastermind,” Swift spotlights vulnerability. Swift described “Anti-Hero” as “one of my favorite songs that I have ever written.” In the song, she reflects on how her life has become too large for her to manage. Specifically, she mentions fear of her own fame and hints at her inability to look at herself in the mirror. The mirror could refer to her eating disorder that she’s previously shared about or a fear that she doesn’t reflect on and grow from her past. Overall, she captures the feeling of self-blame. Repeating the phrase “It’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it’s me. At teatime, everybody agrees. I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror.” In “Mastermind,” she sings “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.” Both of these songs are heartbreaking, together they capture a universal feeling of having to work to make people like you. 

“Dear Reader,” the closing track to “Midnights (3am Edition),” feels like an open letter to Swift’s fans and listeners in general. She attempts to give advice, while also cautioning her advice. With the lyrics, “Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart,” “You wouldn’t take my word for it if you knew who was talking,” and “You should find another guiding light, guiding light. But I shine so bright,” Swift alludes to the fact that she’s just as broken as the people who might look up to her. I found this song especially beautiful because she humanizes herself while also critiquing the tendency of a fanbase to idolize artists. 

I especially appreciated the song’s lesson, “And if you don't recognize yourself, that means you did it right.” As a songwriter and a person, Swift embraces change, shifting constantly into new versions of herself. This lesson can be translated to everyone, particularly when major life changes occur. “Midnights” encapsulates this feeling of change and growth, even if that comes with loss.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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