By Riley Dauber
Pop singer Taylor Swift lied when she said “not a lot going on at the moment.”
On Aug. 28, Swift announced that her new album, “Midnights,” would release on Oct. 21. The announcement came as a surprise to many fans, since Swift has been busy re-recording her first six albums.
Needless to say, fans were expecting an announcement about a new re-record; instead, “Midnights” consists of thirteen original songs.
“This is a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams. The floors we pace and the demons we face,” Swift said in an Instagram post.
Leading up to the album, Swift dropped TikTok videos announcing each title track. The advertising technique makes sense, since many of the tracks on the album sound like over-produced, shallow TikTok songs.
None of the tracks stick out, with many blending together despite the album’s lack of cohesion.
Swift knows how to toe the line between sonic cohesion and all the songs sounding homogenous, proven on her indie-pop albums “Folklore” and “Evermore.”
“Midnights,” unfortunately, does not live up to Swift’s previous work.
Perhaps fans’ expectations were too high going into Swift’s new endeavor. After all, Swift never stated what genre she would explore next. Would she return to pop? More indie? Or a new genre, like rock?
The album ends up sounding like the weaker tracks on her last two pop albums “Reputation” and “Lover.” She is certainly having fun experimenting, but listeners are begging her to put the synthesizers down and pick up the guitar that everyone knows she can play.
One could call the album campy, but that is not always a good thing. It is certainly theatrical, with interesting lyrics and confusing musical beats.
The album starts off decently, with upbeat tracks like “Lavender Haze” and “Maroon.” The former is about hiding a secret lover, and its dreamy production makes one want to speed down the highway with the volume up and the windows down.
Then there is “Anti-Hero,” a deeply personal track that sounds like pages were ripped out of Swift’s diary.
According to Alexis Petridis for The Guardian, “‘Anti-Hero’ offers a litany of small-hours self-loathing set to music that feels not unlike the glossy 80s rock found of Swift’s ‘1989,’ but with the brightness turned down. There’s an appealing confidence about this approach, a sense that Swift no longer feels she has to compete on the same terms as her peers.”
The same can be said for the nostalgic “You’re On Your Own, Kid” which hits on many important moments in Swift’s life. She is back to writing about her personal life — since most of “Folklore” and “Evermore” — were fictional which tends to appeal to fans.
However, the album’s main flaw is covering up these sentimental reflections with synth and electronic production, giving the emotional tracks a pop-dance edge.
The juxtaposition of the personal lyrics and the noisy over-production makes for a confusing listening experience; the tone is all over the place, and listeners are not sure whether they are supposed to dance or cry.
“Snow on the Beach,” Swift’s collaboration with Lana Del Rey, is boring and forgettable. The harmonies are nice, but Del Rey’s voice is pushed to the background.
“Labyrinth,” one of the slower tracks on the album, is messy, with a bunch of different ideas and sounds blended together.
Perhaps the biggest offense on the album is “Karma,” a cheesy, silly dance song that includes such lyrics as “Karma is my boyfriend.” This cannot be the same woman who wrote 2020’s “Cardigan,” but then again, Swift did co-write “Spelling is fun!” in her 2019 single “Me!” with Brendon Urie.
“Karma” is not the only song with corny lyrics. The songwriting throughout the entire album is mediocre, a surprising twist given the expert storytelling on Swift’s prior albums. She relies on too many cliches instead of introducing any new or interesting ideas in the tracks.
“Don’t get sad, get even,” she sings on “Vigilante S–t,” a track that would fit right in on “Reputation.”
Many moments in the songs sound like slam poetry, with Swift emphasizing each word. In an attempt to focus on the lyrics instead of the over-the-top production, she sings each word like its own sentence, but they end up sounding choppy.
“Fans will thus experience deja vu at ‘Midnights’’s fast, ‘Ring Around the Rose’ style cadences. They’ll easily anticipate the minimal-into-maximal journey many of its arrangements take,” Spencer Kornhaber said for The Atlantic.
As for Swift’s voice, she does seem to have a better handle on her lower and higher registers. She sounds great, but the lack of acoustic tracks ruins what could have been.
The whole album feels like a hodgepodge of her prior styles, pulling from her pop albums in an attempt to create a coherent work.
“What’s distinct about her return to synth pop is just the flavors she stirs in: oozing bass, surmountable melancholia, and the same type of confession and awkwardness that appears 45 minutes into an office happy hour,” Kornhaber said. “Transcending expectations is its own expectation, and ‘Midnights’ makes clear, with modest poignance, that Swift has burned out on her own hype.”
“Midnights” is messy and middling, with no stand-out tracks and lyric and production choices that leave listeners scratching their head.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo caption: In 2020, Swift took home “Album of the Year” at the Grammys for her album “Folkore.”