There’s nobody else who knows her magic like Taylor Swift.
It’s a repeating cycle: Swift will bring us into a fantasy that we have no choice but to fall into, leave us, and then come back to us again. None of us seem to be bothered, though–not when she’s transported us out of bounds in her lyricism about teenage daydreams, cotton candy cloud nines, and autumn forests. Now in Midnights, she takes us back to a melancholic yet calming world where she outdoes herself once more.
Clinging to a deceptively simple theme, Swift once again tickles the curiosity of her huge population of avid listeners. But this time, the emotional vulnerability in Swift’s lyricism, which has always been the magic in her potion, struck deeper chords of the self-resentment, fixation, regret, and nostalgia we feel during those sleepless nights.
All by design
The indelible mark Midnights leaves on its listeners is that it is both so familiar and novel at the same time. Simply put, Midnights is the nucleus where all of Swift’s prior works meet: the scathing vengeance of Reputation reveals itself in Karma and Vigilante S***; the star-crossed romanticism embedded in Lover finds a home in Mastermind, and the electric synths harnessed by 1989 are shrouded in Lavender Haze and Bejeweled.
Still, there remains something so wonderfully untapped about what Midnights holds. It can be said that Swift is more candid and introspective than ever before. In Midnights, she departs from the third-person storytelling that encapsulated Folklore and Evermore, returning to the autobiographical lyricism that so firmly distinguished her as an artist. Following a meta-commentary on her own narcissism in Anti-Hero is You’re on Your Own Kid, where she imagines her hometown friends’ glaring disapproval of what she has become.
Thematically, Swift’s nocturnal self-reflections later morph into nostalgic memories of the past. Midnight Rain, Question…?, and Maroon faithfully delineate a retrospective account of forsaken relationships—Question…? longs for a resolution to a fling, Maroon appreciates the aftermath of a chaotic romance, and Midnight Rain detachedly recollects the divergent paths of two flames. Illustrating the depths to which her mind travels at the ungodly hours, the lyrical diversity of the three songs is quintessentially Swift–presenting the complex, inconsistent spectrum of human emotion.
What truly perfects Midnights’ delivery of these messages is the production that matches it. Labyrinth, a hauntingly raw track tackling Swift’s demons in a new relationship, is marked by a sonic journey through her anxiety, with vocal layers and pulsating drums gingerly representing her mind’s disarray. Snow on the Beach feels almost psychedelic as surrealist and hazy vocals accompany Swift and Lana del Rey’s portrayal of a “weird, but beautiful” new love.
Vulnerability is the core of Midnights, climaxing in its standout track Sweet Nothing. Eloquently describing the respite she finds in her partner Joe Alwyn, Swift–accompanied by delicate harmonies and a soft piano tune–avows her indifference to the industry maelstrom at her doorstep. A refreshing breather from the raging melodrama inherent to Midnights, Sweet Nothing stunningly depicts a certain type of peace and serenity the album had not previously seen in her previous croons and melodies.
From the recesses of the night
But while midnight is a time for reflections and memories, a person’s deepest and most honest secrets and feelings are often laid bare in the stillest hours of the night, and Swift is no exception. At no less than three hours past midnight, fans found themselves unable to sleep as she brought out a new surprise: Midnights (3am Edition), an extended version that featured seven tracks that would’ve and could’ve made it to the final cut of the album.
With The Great War, Bigger Than The Whole Sky, Paris, High Infidelity, Glitch, Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve, and Dear Reader raising Swift’s lucky 13 tracks into a whopping 20, listening to the extended album in its entirety encapsulates the wild, self-contemplative journey that only begins when the world falls silent. Just as how people’s thoughts get more unfiltered through the night, these 3 am tracks showcased a rawer side of Swift’s emotions: the surprise and fear that came with an unexpected romance encompassed in Glitch, the insistent waves of ever-present what-ifs in the undercurrent of Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve, and the regret of a love lost in High Infidelity.
Contrary to the tranquility left by Sweet Nothing at the end of the base edition, Dear Reader allows the theme of the extended album to come full circle. Swift seemingly gives advice to her listeners but takes it back with a warning that culminates the feelings of defenselessness that lingered in each song of the album: “Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart.”
To the delight of her fans, Swift also released her self-written and self-directed music video for the lead single Anti-Hero—a dark yet comical and whimsical display that contrasts the song’s vulnerability. From numerous references alluding to her past experiences and music eras, Swift was able to weave realism and fantasy as she faced her deepest fears and insecurities alongside the anti-hero version of herself.
Diamonds in my eyes
There’s no singular feeling to capture how we see ourselves at midnight. Sometimes we feel self-frustrated or regretful; sometimes, we’re egotistical, but other times we’re empathetic. Swift’s willingness to let her guard down–unmasking self-pity, egoism, frustration, and mawkishness—and the ability to translate the ungodly hours into deep and meaningful creative work, shows how bewitching Swift’s works always are.
In a career spanning almost two decades, Swift has always been intentional in her self-presentation. Taking the flight risk in Midnights, Swift’s magic not only lies in her spectacle but in her maturity and vulnerability as a songwriter. For whatever’s yet to come, we remain seated to willingly be spellbound by her again.