The Taylor Swift of “Midnights” could not have existed before “Folklore” and “Evermore.”
This Swift, who has never shirked from opening a vein of vulnerability, has drilled down another few layers. On her 10th studio album, she’s not only offering us her most personal reflections – a high bar in Swift’s world – but also imparting them with poetic grace and an elevated level of storytelling.
The rapt reception to the stripped-down musicality and raw emotion on her past two albums boosted her confidence as a songwriter, and even as she returns to a pop backdrop heavy on synths and electronic drums, Swift remains our lyrical navigato.
So much of “Midnights” benefits from listening to it at the witching hour. In a darkened room with headphones on, it feels as if Swift is directly unspooling stories of her life , and her colorful wordplay (“I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say,” she sings on “Lavender Haze”) and clever enigmas (we’ve got questions about “Question … ?”) only make us listen more intently, determined to solve these riddles.
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Swift worked with longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff on 11 of the album’s 13 songs (“William Bowery,” aka Swift’s beau Joe Alwyn, gets the co-write on the unfussy “Sweet Nothing,” while Swift handles the creeping “Vigilante S—” solo). With Antonoiff’s assist, she digs into her past and leaves an enticing trail of bread crumbs.
In her online “Midnights Mayhem With Me” video series leading up to the album’s release, Swift said “Mad Men” alerted her to the ’50s-era phrase of “Lavender Haze” that meant “you were in an all-encompassing love glow.” With its gentle pulse and buzzing undercurrent, the song – which includes Zoë Kravitz as a writer – showcases Swift’s upper range as she navigates the scrutiny of a public relationship (“All they keep asking me is if I’m gonna be your bride”).
Synths stretch into a gummy swirl while adjectives and well-placed expletives abound as Swift recounts a fling with “the one I was dancing with in New York.” Her vivid imagery is striking as she recalls the burgundy on her T-shirt from a splash of red wine, the scarlet blood that rushed to her cheeks and, in one of her classically vivid lyrics, the person standing “hollow-eyed in the hallway” with “carnations you had thought were roses.”