An honest “Midnights” review, from a fan

Although Taylor Swift has always found inspiration in her life, her tenth studio album isn’t just a snapshot of her most recent thoughts


Lauren Hayes

“Midnights” was released on Oct. 21.

Lilah Kimble, Photography Editor

In Taylor Swift’s social media posts accompanying her unexpected announcement for her tenth studio album at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards, she describes “Midnights” as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [her] life.” This theme is quietly and simply referenced in each song. Throughout the album, Swift tackles a variety of topics, including: anxiety, self-hatred, eating disorders, love and social distrust. Swift, known for her storytelling abilities, does not disappoint on “Midnights.” Each of the thirteen songs tells a story or conveys a feeling that might keep Swift up at night. However, unlike the two most recent original albums that Swift released over quarantine, “folklore” and “evermore,” “Midnights’” storytelling echoes the sentiments of previous albums, particularly 1989 and reputation, in which the stories clearly revolved around Swift’s own life and experiences.

“Midnights” is still composed of gorgeous lyrics, but Swift likely chose to sacrifice some of the literary qualities of the previous folklore-evermore era in order to transition back to the pop genre. For example, in “Snow on the Beach,” the fourth song on the album that includes pop-icon Lana Del Rey with backing vocals, Swift sings of the transcendental happiness she has in her current romantic relationship. Each verse inspires beautiful imagery, whether it be the lights she looks for within her partner, “I searched ‘aurora borealis green,’” or how her partner made her slow down in life, “And time can’t stop me quite like you did.” The entire song, embedded with quiet plucking and layered with an echo of Swift’s voice, feels mystical. “Stars by the pocketful,” Swift sings. Ultimately, the alignment between descriptive lyrics and music that matches the tone set by the lyrics contributes to the beauty of “Snow on the Beach.”

The chorus, however, feels predictably common, even cheap—especially the lines, “And it’s like snow at the beach. Weird, but f****** beautiful.” Sometimes using a curse word in a song effectively displays emotion. In this song, though, it comes across as a lazy way to fill in the chorus. It’s possible that Swift decided to curse more than she’s ever done before because this album is supposed to represent those “thirteen sleepless nights,” and people do usually get lazier when speaking as their exhaustion grows. Cursing also just doesn’t fit the mood. The romantic lyrics present a magic, idyllic, strange scene of “snow on the beach,” but the repetition of this curse word ruins the pace. I actually prefer the clean version of this song just to avoid the emotional dissonance brought about by the chorus (Swift sings “weird but it was beautiful” instead). On the other hand, “Maroon,” a title which might reference the Red era, uses the same curse word effectively. “That’s a real f****** legacy to leave,” Swift sings bitterly. In this case, the word contributes to the resentment built up over the course of the story.

There are some dissonant details throughout the album—the most notable being the lower automated monster-like voice that makes up half of “Midnight Rain.” It also appears at the very beginning of “Lavender Haze,” and in the last repeat of the chorus during “Labyrinth.” This is Swift singing, but her voice was changed in the production process. The song begins with no music as the voice begins, “Rain, he wanted it comfortable. I wanted that pain.” This voice itself causes a little bit of pain because it’s a startling change in sound, especially coming after the subtly anxious beat of “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” Since this album is supposed to be a collection of Swift’s late nights, maybe this unnerving singing represents Swift’s own anxiety-ridden voice deep within herself surfacing like a monster. In which case, it is then woven through parts of the album to make it more cohesive. Regardless, one thing is for certain: it is jarring to listen to if you know and expect Swift’s usual sound.

In contrast, “Anti-Hero,” which is the first single on “Midnights,” is very classically Taylor Swift. Its lyrics are fearlessly honest. She sings of “[her] depression work[ing] the graveyard shift,” which is the first time Swift has publicly admitted to having a mental health issue. Since Swift first became famous, she has been criticized by the media for only writing songs blaming her exes (which, frankly, has never been true). People have commented that she should write a song called, “I’m the problem,” which is one of the reasons why “Anti-Hero” is clever. “It’s me. Hi! I’m the problem, it’s me,” Swift sings during the chorus, turning the sexist criticism she’s received throughout her successful career into another hit. She even holds out the “s” sound while singing “everybody agrees,” which casually references the symbolism of her reputation era. 

But one lyric in “Anti-Hero” seemed to make a lot of people immediately uncomfortable. “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby, and I’m a monster on the hill,” Swift sings during the second verse. At first listen, the phrase “sexy baby” is not only confusing, but grates against the ears. It has been suggested that Swift might be referencing the sitcom, 30 Rock, where a particular episode sees Tina Fey’s character disgruntled with a female character who over-sexualizes herself. Eventually Fey uses the term “sexy baby” to describe the woman. This backstory means that in this seemingly awkward phrase, Swift critiques the over-sexualization of women and fetishism of youth. She also reveals more insecurities–her height and her fame. “Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favorite city,” she sings of her monster-like qualities. Whether you like these lyrics or not, the music in “Anti-Hero” is laced with a heavy beat and synthesizers throughout the transitions between lyrical sections, effectively making it an upbeat song about some of Swift’s deepest anxieties. 

On the thirteenth and final song of “Midnights,” “Mastermind,” Swift once again spins one of the caricatures of her created by the media—being sneaky and calculating. Instead of directly attacking the media’s portrayal of her, Swift gives the title word context. She sings of her current love story’s evolution from a chess-like game, “Checkmate, I couldn’t lose,” to being in an honest relationship with a partner who recognizes who she truly is. The beat gradually builds as Swift admits to her partner that she meticulously planned how to bring them together because “nothing was gonna stop [her].” Finally, there is musical resolution once Swift realizes that her partner “knew the entire time.”

The cohesiveness of “Midnights” is based in the hopes and fears that Swift sings of throughout every song. Although Swift has always found inspiration in her life, her tenth studio album isn’t just a snapshot of her most recent thoughts. Instead, it is a broad overview of who she is as a person. 

She sings of the “Lavender Haze” love she wants to linger in during the first track and then the same love she goes home to in “Sweet Nothing.” She returns to a simpler relationship that she needed to leave in order to grow in “Midnight Rain,” and faces some of her worst nightmares of body image and public perception in “Anti-Hero” and “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” “Midnights” may have some questionable qualities, such as the over-filtered voice or the controversial “sexy baby” lyric, but the choices behind them contribute to the album’s honesty. Swift isn’t trying too hard to be cool, which wouldn’t be true to the theme. We are our most vulnerable at night.