Friday, February 3, 2023

Midnights Album Review: Taylor’s Bejeweling Return to Pop

by Lea Katrina Canizares | November 29, 2022

       There is no denying that midnights always get the best of us. At this time, we are held captive by thoughts that we try to ignore during the day—brazen truths and shady lies that we allow ourselves to accept as we fall asleep. It is a universal reality that as the clock strikes twelve, we give up trying to be perfect, mourn our losses, and long for the life we do not have. We are humbled by the realization that perhaps, just perhaps, we don’t have control after all, whether we are by ourselves or with warm bodies that provide us with a sense of security.

       Multi-awarded singer-songwriter and master storyteller Taylor Swift is no exception to this. She is back in the spotlight after the release of her Midnights album, which then became the most-streamed album in a single day all throughout Spotify history. With 70s-inspired sepia-toned visuals, Midnights is Taylor’s 10th original studio album that scours into “13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” It is reminiscent of her own musical influences, Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

       Taylor Swift’s repertoire contains a wide range of genres and sounds that few musicians can match between well-executed experimentation and amusing musical left turns. All the various musical elements are brought together to create one enthralling mantle owing to her particular lyrical approach, which has never fallen short of greatness during her whole career.

       With experience comes wisdom, and Taylor is living proof of this as her most recent album, Midnights, is largely introspective, if not wholly retrospective. In her new album, she decides to take us on a tour through her restless nights with a little amusement and melancholy. This is the first album that this artist, who frequently includes lyrics about staying up late, has based specifically on her inclinations toward sleeplessness, expressing in the album’s description her desire that “when the clock strikes twelve… we’ll meet ourselves.”

       Taylor asks us to “meet [her] at midnight” in the appropriately titled first track, “Lavender Haze,” and it is in this song that she introduces the album’s primary sonic identity: “Midnights” fuses the slower, more even-tempered cadence we first heard in “Folklore” and “Evermore,” with heavy use of synths and vocal effects, a reappropriation of techniques codified in “1989”.  Starting with “Lavender Haze,” Taylor gives us an album that stands apart from the rest of her discography in terms of both style and subject. She previously cited a phrase she originally heard on Mad Men as the inspiration for the moniker “Lavender Haze.” In a video she shared on Instagram, she explained, “It turns out that it’s a common phrase used in the Fifties where they would just describe being in love,”

       The next song, “Anti-Hero”, which is my personal favorite, is another outstanding pop gem that is both upbeat and depressing, and it continues the theme of living a life that is always scrutinized by others. Taylor describes her concerns and worries on a positive and catchy song, making fun of herself and her detractors in a typical Swiftian fashion with lines like “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / and I am a monster on a hill ” and “Too big to hang out / Slowly lurching toward your favorite city / Pierced through the heart but never killed.” 

      The delicate, spirited song permeated by a surreal rhythm “Snow on the Beach”—in collaboration with the Queen of Indie Pop, Lana del Rey—is the fourth track on Taylor Swift’s new album.. As Taylor described it, the lyrics in “Snow on the Beach” expresses and talks about what it’s like to fall in love with someone at the same time they are falling in love. In essence, the song encapsulates what it means to experience genuine love when you least expect it. 

       The songs on the Midnights album are thoughts and reflections that the artist has when trying to fall asleep. Some of them have her reflecting on previous relationships and why they didn’t work out. Taylor attributes the split on an unidentified, unsolved issue in “Maroon”, whereas in “Bejeweled”, she accuses her boyfriend of taking advantage of her. Taylor, though, acknowledges accountability on “Midnight Rain” where lost love is hinted at in the lyrics. “Midnight Rain,” which includes a low-pitched rendition of her own voice, is about letting go of the security of a fulfilling relationship in order to avoid settling down for good. The song’s opening line, “He wanted it comfortable, I wanted that pain / He wanted a bride, I was making my own name / Chasing that fame, he stayed the same / All of me changed like midnight,” sets the tone for the words that follow.

      Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, is indisputably the result of both her excursions searching through her back catalog to record old songs again and her ongoing artistic development as a songwriter and musician. Although it also touches on themes of love and life from her early years, it demonstrates development and maturity. Returning to her old shoes unleashed something new in her and her art—it was evident.

       This is a far more sophisticated and synth-based approach to the genre than her previous pop albums, exploring different nuances of similar sounds. Since all of the songs are played within the same soundscape, they may even initially appear to be similar to one another, but they do so in such different ways that Taylor unquestionably merits the moniker of “Mastermind.”

       Midnights does not approach its lyrics in such a conventional manner. A more lighthearted, play-on-words-heavy approach to the narration has taken the place of the previous, flowery, ornate style. Before, the words’ intensity and emotions were so palpable, but this record cloaks them in the glitz and sheen of its music. However, given the rambling lyrics’ exploration of common anxieties, insecurities, and the complexity of gender, it would be naive to dismiss the song based only on its more jovial sound and words. 

       Midnights is Taylor Swift’s self-aware album that expertly portrays both her fragile and magnificent meditations. For those whose lives have already become entwined with Taylor Swift, Midnights may easily be ranked as the finest album in her discography.

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