Bop or flop: Taylor Swift’s “Midnights” album divides audiences

Image from DALL·E.

On Friday October 21, 2022, Midnights became the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify history. Three hours after the initial album release, Swift released an extra 7 songs on Midnights: 3am Edition. Produced in tandem with Jack Antonoff and some unexpected names like actress Zoë Kravitz, this album has created quite a buzz. 

Swift opens with a synthy “Meet me at midnight,” her voice electronically distorted, and a dreamy, chill-pop rhythm washes over the words. Advertised as songs from “13 sleepless nights” throughout the singer’s life, the album comes across as surprisingly confessional despite rather cryptic, ambiguous lyrics. In general, Swift’s lyricism in this album is a departure from her two previous albums Folklore and Evermore, which showcased a profound depth of storytelling. Those two albums were constructed with sparse, organic instrumentals and soft, lulling melodies, delivering us prose-like lyrics like “dwindling mercurial high” and “incandescent glow.” It was quite the shock to see Swift turn to one liners like “me and karma vibe like that,” which in some ways felt like cheap, cop out lyrics.  Still, Midnights is filled with plenty of Swift’s trademark metaphors like “don’t put me in the basement when I want the penthouse of your heart” from track 9, “Bejeweled.” It appears she hasn’t lost her touch in writing lyrics, but on songs like “Anti-Hero” the chorus simply didn’t match the tone of the rest of the song. Admittedly, different listeners see the album differently. In an informal survey, Husky listeners have rated it anywhere from 3/10 to 1000/10. Gillian Kaplan, who has been a Swiftie since the days of iPods, puts it bluntly: “This album is for fun people only…if you don’t like it, you’re just not fun.”

Personally, on my first listen I thought the songs blurred together and were all too similar to some of her previous works. After a few full listens, although I still stand by the fact that she used very similar beats and instrumentals from albums like Lover and Folklore, the album did start to grow on me. The understated moody, woozy flow of these songs is an entirely different side of Swift that simply takes more time to be appreciated. The lyrics are steeped in self loathing and an unnerving level of self awareness that could be overlooked on first listen (a trap I believe I had initially fallen into). This is the most mature album of her discography not in terms of content, but in terms of her perspective. Swift is assessing and absorbing her past personas and past mistakes through wise but vulnerable expression.

Scattered throughout the Midnights haze, a few specific songs stick out. Track 2, “Maroon,” showcases a curiously intimate narrative of love against the backdrop of hollow, echoey instrumentals. It was a personal favorite of mine; I enjoyed Swift’s addictive, syncopated cadence while singing this track. Track 3, “Anti-Hero” is a vulnerable confession juxtaposed against a bumping, pop-heavy instrumental. For me, “Anti-Hero” missed the mark, too upbeat for the lyrics, but I’ve heard very polarized opinions on this one. The music video for “Anti-Hero” had Alice in Wonderland-like allusions, delivering visuals with a sense of unreality, which made the song more interesting to me, but not by much. A highly anticipated collaboration with Lana Del Rey, titled “Snow on the Beach,” left fans hoping for more from the duo; Del Rey’s background vocals were barely audible. Swift released a campy music video to accompany Track 9, “Bejeweled,” filled with vibrant, tooth rotting visuals. Chock full of hints towards a possible re-recording of her pop country album Speak Now, the “Bejeweled” music video harkened back to Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and “You Need to Calm Down” music videos. It was a fresh, captivating video that improved my opinion of the song greatly.  If you’re going into Midnights expecting the indie, woodsy folk music of her recent years, or if you’re expecting her pop anthems of the 2010s, the album is an adjustment. Swift is exploring how people view her and how she views herself. The tension between these narratives was hard to swallow at first, but makes the album that much more powerful in the end.

Ava Paine is a current senior at Washington High School; this is her first year at The Hatchet. Born and raised in Fremont, she is interested in reviewing local restaurants and books. Ava is varsity captain of the girls tennis team, participates in varsity cheerleading, and is president of WHS Interact and WHS Model UN. In her free time she loves to bake, take care of her houseplants, play with her labrador retriever, read, and listen to Taylor Swift. In the future, she hopes to study international relations or law.

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