Pop Taylor Swift is back!

“Midnights” marks the beginning of another chapter in Taylor Swift’s discography


Midnights Album Cover (Spotify)

Taylor Swift ended 2019 pretty badly. After two mediocre albums, while she was still the biggest name in pop music, she wasn’t the seal of quality or relatability she once was. This somehow motivated her to return to the drawing board and reinvent her sound, because her electronic era had not worked out. The integrations were lazy and tasteless, while the songs ranged from forgettable to annoyingly catchy.

Moving forward a little, we see Taylor Swift quietly hinting towards a new album in 2020, and “Folklore” was a fantastic comeback. Critics liked it, it ruled the charts, and Swifties devoured it. Add to it the brilliant cousin album “Evermore”, and multiple old Taylor albums, re-recorded and re-released, Taylor Swift had the entire world watching her, at arguably the peak of her relevance, and producing some of the best music she’s made, all waiting for the imminent release of her newest album, “Midnights”. I was a Taylor Swift defender for the most of her career but her electronic era shifted my stance on her, as I became more or less lukewarm on her. “Folklore” and “Evermore” were two of my favorite albums from last two years but as Todd in the Shadows put it, ‘I’m sure pop Taylor will return soon enough, but if she wants to keep using this time to keep making indie folk records, then it was time well spent’, and old Taylor has, indeed, returned.

After sitting on “Midnights” for a full week, I have some thoughts. But, first, the album rollout was probably the best Swift has ever pulled off. The mystery, no single, and instagram posts made it very intriguing to follow. 

Now, let us consider the sonic palette Swift explores in “Midnights”. It is definitely not as organic and folky as the last two albums; it sounds synthetic. However, it is not the obnoxious synthetic sound that you get from “Reputation” and some parts of “Lover”. It is more atmospheric, more tasteful, and incorporates more vocoder effects, components, soundscapes and layers than her past albums, resulting in a much more pleasant and enjoyable listen. 

There’s parts of “Midnights” with drum and bass influences, there’s parts of the album that sound like they could have been on a Billie Eilish album. Do not get it twisted, this is a pop album, just a tastefully crafted pop album with carefully curated influences. Jack Antanoff really outdid himself here. On “Labyrinth”, a breather between two excellently produced and performed tracks, “Bejeweled” and “Karma”, the spacey production is at its best. The droney synths and subdued chorus makes it one of the best executed songs on the album. Interestingly, “Sweet Nothing” achieves a similar aura with a very different instrumental palette, with the electric guitar plucks and sax lines playing perfectly on top of each other.

Swift posing with a Grammy’s award (billboard.com)

“Question…?” And “Vigilante Shit” are two of the most powerful tracks on “Midnights”, and it is an interesting decision to put them right next to each other in the track list. It is not all roses, however, as some parts of the album feel stretched out, even though this is one of the more concise albums Swift has released. “Maroon”, for example, feels like a filler, even with more than good enough production and an untouched narrative, just because it feels stale sonically in the track list. 

After all of this, “Midnights” is still a Taylor Swift album, and the most important aspect will, obviously, be the storytelling and the narratives. Swift says that the album is about the things that made her experience sleepless nights, and that ranges from revenge to love. “Anti-Hero” has an interesting narrative, where she talks about herself as the anti-hero and it is filled with great lines, for example, ‘I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror’, elevating the song to one of the best on the album.

“Bejeweled” is a fun little detour and an ego boost for Taylor as she speaks about how she’s still ‘Bejeweled’, with witty lines like, ‘They ask,”Do you have a man?” I could still say, “I don’t remember”’ making it a very fun listen. The album closer, “Mastermind”, is perhaps the best written song on “Midnights”, definitely my favorite part of the album, and more than sufficiently compatible as a song too. The talk about how she conspires to make men love her, a design to make it seem organic while it really just was a plan of hers all along. The manner in which she combines the voices in her head with her interaction with the man she is in love with and the realization that he was always aware of her plan is just a joy to witness, it is songwriting at its finest, Swift’s forte, perhaps. 

Is it good, then? It certainly is. While “Midnights” does not do anything new, it does almost everything well. And while some songs feel a little similar, it is not a dealbreaker, and it is still filled with less blabber than many pop albums released in the streaming era. There are no glaring problems with the production, the writing is excellent and the performance is more than passable. I had never been a Swiftie, but I appreciate her as an artist and as someone who tried to make the best music she could, while being relatable to her target audience. Some of her albums, like “Folklore” and “Red” are some of the best pop music released that year in my opinion and “Midnights” is similarly elite and I expect it to end up in many year-end lists. That is not to say it is a new wave of sound; it is simply a redoing of an older sound. Swift’s inspiration and work are fresh enough to warrant an album, and she took full advantage of it. Another positive addition to Taylor’s discography, “Midnights” is worth a listen if you have an ear for pop music.

Rating: 7.25/10

Email Mohit @[email protected] or follow on Instagram @mamercier10. 

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