What keeps you up at night?
If you are Taylor Swift, a multitude of things: love, past relationships, self-loathe, anxiety, and more love – in her 10th and most recent album Midnights, the lyrical Mastermind lets us in on some of her sleepless nights.
A record created in an almost exclusive partnership with Grammy-Award-winning and old-time collaborator Jack Antonoff, Midnights carries some of Antonoff’s most interesting production trademarks. From the synth-pop approach in tracks like ‘Anti-Hero’ and ‘Question…?’, to the avant-garde modulation of Swift’s voice in ‘Midnight Rain’ to name one, it’s Antonoff’s analogue approach to production that confers a timeless edge to the album. A collection of 13 tracks, the original announcement of Midnights’ release left Swifties – Swift’s most devoted fans – all over the world in a disoriented state as given how extensive Swift’s most recent albums have been – Red (Taylor’s Version) surpassed the 2-hour mark – a 44-minute-long album from the singer now feels like nothing more than an EP; but in true Taylor Swift fashion, three hours after the album’s release, the singer-songwriter announced an extended version of the record, Midnights (3am Edition), featuring 7 bonus tracks.
The only feature on the album is track four, ‘Snow On The Beach’, which borrows nothing more than vocals from fellow American singer Lana Del Rey to bring depth to Swift’s delicate voice; arguably not the kind of collaboration fans were expecting from the two, both Swift’s and Del Rey’s voices blend so nicely together, it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other one’s begins.
As someone who has become very secretive about her current relationship, Swift has once more proved that when it comes to her music she won’t shy away from the truth: as the opener ‘Lavender Haze’ establishes indirectly, a multitude of tracks on Midnights ponder on the highs and lows of her romance, perhaps one of the things that most keep her up at night. It’s songs like ‘Maroon’, ‘Paris’, or the lullaby-like ‘Sweet Nothing’ that showcase how deeply Swift cherishes the comforting balance of her relationship, a place where she can find peace and quiet (what she refers to as ‘shade’) amidst all the chaos that surrounds her outside of her walls (shade, but “the kind that’s thrown”).
Not short of classic Swift symbolisms, Midnights is yet another example of why the artist’s lyricism has been subject to constant praise throughout her career from critics, fans, and casual listeners. By the time we reach the bridge of the shady self-celebrating-anthem ‘Karma’, Swift reminds the listener how she will always triumph in the end, her voice not-so-metaphorically shining through as she sings “Ask me why so many fade, but I’m still here” – in a less subtle way, it’s in ‘The Great War’ that Swift uses some of her best imagery. A track where she compares an event that could have caused the end of her relationship to the First World War, ‘The Great War’ is brimmed with British symbolisms to reference her partner, English actor Joe Alwyn. From the use of snare drums – typically used as battle drums – to establish a battleground-like feeling within the listener, to the war imagery utilized throughout the entirety of the song, Swift manages to paint a picture so clear it plays like a movie before your eyes – one where the war isn’t lost, isn’t won, but simply survived by the end.
Another thing Swift is good at is dusting her songs with irony, something that reads like a snarky remark in ‘Vigilante Shit’, ‘Bejeweled’, and the aforementioned ‘Karma’. It also lifts some gravity off the extremely honest and relatable ‘Anti-Hero’, where Swift self-deprecatingly reflects on her worst tendencies as she ironically introduces herself as if she were attending an AA meeting – “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me” – and hisses like a snake after acknowledging how “everybody agrees” she is, a clear hint at her reputation era and the drama surrounding her persona back then.
What could be described as Swift’s most personal and darkest song is buried deep into the album, hidden at the bottom of Midnights’ C side: ‘Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve’ is an intimate insight on the weight Swift was left to carry at 19 after the ending of her relationship with fellow singer-songwriter John Mayer who, at the time, was a “promising grown man” aged 32; hearing a now 31-year-old Swift sing “give me back my girlhood, it was mine first” is a privilege the listener has to earn by making their way into Swift’s psyche and the rest of her restless nights.
The 3am Edition of the album is closed by ‘Dear Reader’, a list of survival tips Swift herself has learned throughout her life that come with a clear warning: do not come to her for advice, as if you really knew who she is, you wouldn’t want to take her advice anyway – “never take advice from someone who’s falling apart”.
All in all, Midnights is a reflection of the circumstances that led to its creation: as Swift embarked on the journey of re-recording her oldest albums, Midnights acts as a tool for her to process emotions that may have resurfaced in said process; which would explain why so many of the tracks feel like they are their own little easter eggs, referencing previous releases whether it be lyrically – “they’re bringing up my history, but you weren’t listening” in ‘Lavender Haze’ references the line “and here’s to my baby, he ain’t reading what they call me lately” from reputation’s ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ – or by interpolating her 2014 hit ‘Out Of The Woods’ in the opening line of ‘Question…?’.
A piece of work scattered with a sense of guilt towards her earlier moments in life and yet so much security in her present, Midnights is an introspective collection of thoughts that can only go down as yet another classic in Swift’s ever-growing catalogue.
Written Benns Borgese // photography by Beth Garrabrant