Review | Taylor Swift finally embraces her unpolished side on ‘Midnights’ 一 because she can

By Jessica McKenzie, Culture Editor

My older cousin once told me, “Your twenties are a time where you have absolutely no idea who you are. In your thirties, you figure it out and you turn into a boss.”

I’ve been in hardcore denial of how true this is for a while 一 naturally, at 21, I’m eager to get my whole life figured out, like, right now. But Taylor Swift, who will turn 33 in December, proved this notion valid when she released her tenth studio album, “Midnights.”

Disclaimer 一 I’ve been a ridiculously dedicated Swiftie since I was 9 years old, during the “Fearless” era. I am literally wired to hype up anything Taylor Swift releases. I can’t help it.

“Midnights” is a flashback to Swift’s initial pivot from the country genre to pop when she released “1989” in October 2014 一 but the raw, imagery-heavy lyrics on this album are reminiscent of Grammy Album of the Year-winning “folklore,” which she released in 2020. “Midnights” is Swift’s declaration to the world that she finally knows who she is 一 self-loathing, ambitious, romantic and afraid to grow up.

This is by no means Swift’s best album, fine. That slot, for me, is and might always be reserved for “evermore.” But it’s definitely not her worst. “Midnights” hits us with lyrics that offer a sense of brutal self-awareness, rawness and maturity that she only hinted at in her mostly fictional storytelling in “folklore” and “evermore.” 

Swift is famous for making every single one of her albums distinct from the rest, and despite an at times overly familiar production style, “Midnights” stands out because it is her first concept album. Swift said she wrote all 13 songs on this album during sleepless nights scattered throughout her life. A theme of vulnerability and exhaustion sticks throughout the album, especially with songs such as  “Anti-Hero,” “You’re On Your Own, Kid” and, on the 3 a.m. edition, “Bigger Than The Whole Sky.”

Since she first transitioned to pop music, Swift has continuously teamed up with producer Jack Antonoff. Antonoff and Swift, after working together for nearly a decade, finally become main collaborators on this album, and it shows. 

Antonoff has a very distinct, clunky percussion production style that he used repeatedly throughout Swift’s discography, as well as with his other musical projects such as his one-man alt rock band, Bleachers. He also often distorts a singer’s voice to exaggerate the mood of a song ー he uses this technique in “Bejeweled” and “Midnight Rain” in “Midnights.”

The album’s opening track, “Lavender Haze,” is probably one of the strongest songs on the album, and, I’ll say it, the most energizing opening track on any Taylor Swift album. The approach is dancy, yet dark and edgy. Swift hits us with brutally straight forward lyrics that successfully set the tone for the rest of the album such as, “I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say/No deal/The 1950’s shit they want from me.”

Swift has never been one to tarnish her straight-laced, “nice girl from rural Pennsylvania” image, but in tracks like “Anti-Hero,” “Midnight Rain” and “Bejeweled” she rejects it completely. Rather, she paints herself as narcissistic, scheming and manipulative. It’s amazing.

“You’re On Your Own, Kid” is the best song on the album. It is also, at the end of the day, the  best track five Taylor has ever produced. While her traditional “track fives” convey heartbreak from relationships, “You’re On Your Own, Kid” conveys the heartbreak of growing up, which is the greatest heartbreak of them all. Some devastating lines include, “I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this/I hosted parties and starved my body/Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss/The jokes weren’t funny, I took the money/My friends from home don’t know what to say.”

“Midnights” is receiving some underwhelming album reviews, mostly due to the fact that many of the songs sound similar to others. For example, many fans criticize “Vigilante Shit” for sounding eerily similar to “Ka-ching” by Shania Twain and “Partition” by Beyonce. 

Despite this fact, I respect this album for offering some delightfully unexpected tracks like the very upbeat, very positive and silly “Karma,” which contains fun lyrics like, “Karma is cat/Purring in my lap ‘cause it loves me/Flexing like a goddamned acrobat.” Give it a listen — it will grow on you.

The album’s closing track, “Mastermind,” wraps the twisty album in a perfect bow. 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/This is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess/And I swear/I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian ’cause I care.” Again, Swift is extremely self-aware, but she intertwines her self-depreciation with her successfully private love life.

For those who say this is Taylor’s flop era — yes, only a few of these songs will be huge radio hits. But she has proved time and time again that she’s well past the need to produce radio hits —  ever since she dropped “folklore.” She’s Taylor Swift 一 a master of pop, folk, alternative and country music. She can’t make a bad album, and any radio would play anything she writes. “Flop” isn’t in her vocabulary.

Unlike her past albums, which explore themes of love and fictional storytelling, Swift reflects her true self on “Midnights” more than anything, including what she sacrificed to survive fame and adulthood.