Oh, she’s in her Era Era: A 'Midnights' Review
By Olivia Baisier
Taylor Swift’s “Midnights,” released on October 21, wraps a bow around the first sixteen years of Swift’s musical history, with a brilliant composition of stunning poetry, irresistible beats, infectious melodies, and an extensive amount of easter eggs to be unpacked. As a devout Swiftie, I can say this is a masterpiece. But when held against her other work, it seems like they’re not calling it “MIDnights” for nothing.
Coming off of the release of her tenth original studio album, “Midnights,” and the recent announcement of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” it’s clear that Taylor Swift is in her era era. “Midnights” was described by Swift as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” The album includes an impressive rollout of visuals that expand the quintessentially-Swift lore surrounding the music itself. Almost every song on the album is directly inspired by her earlier work, either lyrically or sonically, as the songs are modeled after the era during which she experienced the sleepless midnight. “Lavender Haze,” “Anti-Hero,” “Karma,” and “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” stand out as the album’s strongest tracks, drawing upon the infectious beats of “1989” and the lyrical prowess of “folklore.” As I correctly predicted in my piece in our October issue, “Midnights” is a stellar example of nostalgia marketing and self references, a work of art only a legend like Swift can pull off.
Just like the nine opening tracks before it, “Lavender Haze” encapsulates the album’s overall upbeat and lyrical tone. Its melancholic, angsty lyrics are juxtaposed with an upbeat, dancey backing track, which was sampled from “I Think He Knows” from her 2019 album, “Lover.” It’s a testament to Swift’s greatest strengths: artful songwriting, strut-worthy pop beats (with some help from producer Jack Antonoff), and hidden surprises for her biggest fans to uncover. Other tracks on the album further this self-referentialism. “Maroon,” the album’s second track, directly parallels the second track of Swift’s “Red” album. Swift loves color imagery, referencing “Red” in a track on “Lover,” “Daylight,” saying that “I used to think love would be burning red, but it’s golden, like daylight.” Here, Swift expands upon what I assume is her favorite color, as “Maroon” literally and lyrically describes a darker, richer, and more passionate love than “Red.” “Question…?,” the album’s queerest track (I’ll get to that later), directly samples “Out of the Woods,” of Swift’s 2014 release “1989.” “Mastermind,” the final track on the original release of “Midnights,” provides a lyrical contrast to “folklore”’s “invisible string,” rejecting the notion that fate brought Swift to her love as “it was all by design.” Track after track, “Midnights” proves that Taylor Swift has weaved a continuous cloth through sixteen years, ten albums, and four genre switches.
I would need an entire issue to mention every wonder “Midnights” puts forward, but it’s important to explore its disappointments too. I adore all of Jack Antonoff’s pop girlies, so I was over the moon when Swift announced she’d be recording a track with Lana del Rey on this album. Criticized in the past for using female collaborators as mere backup singers, Swift changed her ways on “Red (Taylor’s Version)” in a breathtaking duet with Phoebe Bridgers. As a bigger fan of Lana than Phoebe, I was anticipating a heartbreakingly beautiful track in their duet, “Snow on the Beach.” I can say with confidence that Lana’s almost unnoticeable presence in the song is one of the greatest pitfalls of Swift’s entire career. For years I have envisioned the earth-shattering collaboration between two of the greatest female lyricists and vocalists alive, and I am irked indescribably by the fact that LDR’s mic could have literally been turned off with no impact. Maybe her verse was just on that laptop that was stolen from her car.
It’s easy to draw a comparison between “Midnights” and the sister albums preceding it, “folklore” and “evermore,” but it’s important to note that “Midnights” isn’t meant to be a direct continuation of a seemingly concluded indie Taylor era. Many fans became Swifties during this poetic era and are disappointed by how corny Taylor jumped out in some songs, namely “Vigilante Shit.” There is a preponderance of beautiful and thoughtful songwriting on “Midnights,” my favorite being “Bigger Than the Whole Sky.” But even if there wasn’t, music doesn’t need to be deep or even lyrically decent to be incredible. What disappoints me about the album is the amount of skippable songs it features: “Sweet Nothing,” “Paris,” “Glitch,” and “Dear Reader.” Snoooooozefestsssssss! Considering how Swift has more than one objectively flawless album (“Speak Now” and “1989”) and a few other subjectively flawless albums (“Fearless,” “Red,” and “Reputation”), I find it hard to rank “Midnights” in the top half of her albums, despite the fact that I would still consider it a homerun.
As all Swifties are, I am a borderline conspiracy theorist and private investigator when it comes to decoding hidden messages in her lyrics and album rollouts. Because “Midnights” is an inspired amalgamation of the nine albums that came before, there is more lore to unpack in it than any of its predecessors. Most importantly, “Midnights” is a win for me and my fellow Gaylor Truthers. While there is over a decade’s worth of evidence that Taylor Swift is queer, she hints in this album to her romantic relationship with Karlie Kloss in the “1989” era. In December 2014, the two were recorded kissing at a The 1975 concert, which thus became the inspiration for “Question…?” The chorus of the song repeats “Did you ever have someone kiss you in a crowded room? / And all of your friends started making fun of you,” an obvious reference to the fallout of Kaylor Kissgate. Whether you’re a Gaylor Truther or Gaylor Denier, the song is incredible and no other artist brings conspiracy theories to the forefront of their music like Swift.
“Midnights” is a masterpiece that perfectly embodies Taylor Swift—her history, her talents, her growth over the last ten albums, and above all, her ability to give back to her fans. I have been a Swiftie since I was five years old, and I’m now twenty. Although it’s only been out for less than two months, the album's sentimental value transcends that of any of her other newer works. I have grown up beside her, with my eras coinciding with hers, and to listen to “Midnights” is to open a box of treasured memories.