Album Review: Taylor Swift - Midnights

The post header image, featuring the text ‘?J Pop Album Review’ and a shot of a vinyl of Taylor Swift’s album ‘Midnights’.

Lemme tell you something about my journey with Taylor Swift. Because it truly has been somewhat of a journey. And I feel this is important information to impart before I get into Midnights. There is a point to me sharing this with you. You’ll see. Hopefully. So walk with me through my method of madness.

So, initially I wrote a whole paragraph about how I came across Taylor Swift and had an awareness of who she was. It started with a recollection of hearing “Love Story” everywhere, but not knowing who the song was by, or who Taylor Swift even was. It then ended with me fully knowing who Taylor was by the time “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” came out. But then I realised that there was a big ol’ event in between that REALLY made me aware of who Taylor Swift was. And that was her moment with Coonye West at the VMAs. THAT was when I actually started to know who she was. And as popular as Taylor already was by this point, I think it was this unfortunate incident which contributed massively to Taylor Swift becoming a household name, even if they weren’t familiar with her music. Because I honestly couldn’t tell you what music video she was even winning the award for, although I recall Coonye was mad that Beyonce didn’t win for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”.


This VMA incident is when I became more aware of Taylor Swift, and began being able to identify her songs when I heard them. But the turning point of me actually taking an invested interest in her music was with her album 1989.

1989 was the first Taylor Swift album that I went out of my way to listen to. And I liked it. And the more I listened to it, and jumped back into some of Taylor’s older material, the more I gained an understanding of her style and what made her popular. This also coincided with a period in Taylor’s life where she was in the news with far more frequency for things not related to her music - one of the repercussions of that infamous VMA moment. So I ended up having something going into Taylor’s future releases which I didn’t have prior. Context.

Context plays a huge part in Taylor Swift’s music. She has many a song which require no context or knowledge to be able to appreciate them as just good songs. But knowing the context does add an additional layer to her music. Especially her albums, which are almost always contextual as bodies of work. And this is important when it comes to Midnights, because it’s the first Taylor Swift album which isn’t really contextual at all, and it suffers in part because of that.

Taylor Swift lying on a sofa, in a mustard coloured dress, with gold and silver sequins on it.
Taylor Swift - Midnights | © 2022 Taylor Swift / Republic Records, Universal Music Group

Despite Taylor’s very detailed account of what Midnights is in the album inlay, the songs alone don’t really paint any narrative arc or feel like a package in any way. It is not always necessary for an album to have a narrative, per se. But Taylor is an artist who has always released albums which have had some semblance of one. But more-so than this, each album also felt like an encapsulation of a moment in Taylor’s life. Midnights does not. Midnights just feels like an album for the sake of it being an album. Something new to package with a tour. Something to remind everybody that Taylor does good radio pop, after two wholly downtempo, folk style albums.

But even if Midnights’ was something which was required by the label, and Taylor herself felt the need to put something out, Midnights should have just been a cute, six song EP. Most of the material on this album is middling as hell. But even so, culling seven songs off of the standard edition would have made for a much tighter package. There was not enough good material on this album for it to warrant having been an album. But Taylor has increasingly become an artist who lives for excess. So I guess we ended up with an album.

Taylor Swift sat in a white ribbed sweater against the wall, with her hand to her head.
Taylor Swift - Midnights | © 2022 Taylor Swift / Republic Records, Universal Music Group

Midnights at times even seems unsure of the type of album it actually wants to be. And this sentiment is also split across both versions of the album. The standard edition of Midnights feels like it kinda wants to be one thing. But the 3am Edition has 7 additional songs which feel like a whole other thing, which does a better job of evoking the album theme than 7 of the songs that made the standard edition tracklisting. Three of these songs are co-written and produced by Folklore and Evermore collaborator Aaron Dessner, whose touch was far more prominent on both of those albums than Jack Antanoff’s was. And there is not a single song on the standard edition of Midnights which features Dessner, which also speaks to the clear line drawn between the standard edition cuts and the 3am Edition bonus cuts.

Taylor Swift sat in a living room during daylight in a striped T-shirt and jeans.
Taylor Swift - Midnights | © 2022 Taylor Swift / Republic Records, Universal Music Group

Midnights isn’t able to truly speak for itself the way that Taylor’s previous albums were able to. Especially an album like Folklore. In 2020, Taylor found herself in a state of uncertainty as a result of the pandemic, as we all did. And in chartering what was completely unknown territory, she managed to find herself in a creative space which took her back to her career beginnings, of writing fantastical songs which were more about the world and the people around her, and less about her. There’s an interesting parallel there, where stillness appears to expand Taylor’s story telling. Because 2004 and 2020 were the only points in Taylor’s life where the magnitude of her career, the quality of her personal life as a result of it, and the expectations of others did not hang over her. But the difference is clearly Taylor being older in 2020, and experiencing more of life to be able to write songs about things that 14 - 15 year old Taylor hadn’t yet lived, witnessed or had any idea about. Taylor also gave us a wordy account of what Folklore was, but we didn’t need it. The songs spoke for themselves. And it’s funny that in this day and age, artists feel the need to have to explain their music, rather than letting the music speak for itself first. A byproduct of the growing reluctance to do press I guess. But Midnights has so little to say that Taylor hasn’t already said in some form and said better in the past.

When listening to Midnights, I feel like I’m listening to Taylor say the same thing over and over. So many of the songs on Midnights sound the same, and feature the same production and arrangement choices. If I had to describe the sound of this album, it would be wholly monotonous. Monotonousness is not always a bad thing. I’d describe Folklore as pretty monotonous, but there was beauty in its monotony, and the stories that Taylor was telling were compelling enough to cut through it. With Midnights, the songs are just boring, and so few of the stories captivate. Half of the songs on Midnights don’t even sound complete. There is just a very half-baked approach to most of the songs on this album. There’s long been a debate over the mediocrity of Taylor Swift, and Midnights doesn’t do much to debunk this.

Taylor Swift in a white T-shirt with her hair down and smoky eye shadow.
Taylor Swift - Midnights | © 2022 Taylor Swift / Republic Records, Universal Music Group

The only two songs on the standard edition of Midnights which stick out to me for the right reasons are “Anti-Hero” and “Snow on the Beach”.

“Anti-Hero” is just a great song. The sound. The vibe. The lyrics. It’s the first Taylor Swift song that I can actually relate to, which makes it hit differently for me. But “Anti-Hero” also works as a song because you don’t have to know a great deal about Taylor to understand why she is singing this song. It’s one of the most honest and frank songs she’s put out. And despite it being so personal and specific, it’s not so specific that you can’t relate. “Anti-Hero” marks one of the first Taylor Swift songs that I found myself genuinely able to identify with. Taylor lays all her shit out and says ‘This is me and what I’m dealing with right now’ and the song is amazing for that, and just happens to be packaged into a memorable, radio friendly pop song. And if we wanna bring in the context, “Anti-Hero” shows a lot of growth for Taylor. Because grown, rational Taylor who was not in her own feelings and wanting to feed the trolls would have put out a song like “Anti-Hero” instead of “Look What You Made Me Do” and “Bad Blood”.

“Anti-Hero” is very much the hero song of this album, and the poster child for Midnight. Understandably so. But unfortunately, so little of the greatness of “Anti-Hero” carries through into the rest of the songs, many of which feel like lesser drag and drop versions of songs we’ve gotten from Taylor before. “Vigilante Shit” sounds like a Reputation leftover from a variant version of Taylor Swift who cosplays part-time as Billie Eilish. “Bejeweled” and “Midnight Rain” sound like they could be songs on 1989. “Sweet Nothings” sounds like a Joe Alywn co-write which wasn’t quite good enough for Folklore or Evermore.

“Snow on the Beach” is a great song because the production and the style in which the song is sung really does evoke the feeling of being so in love that you can’t quite believe it. The whole thing is so ethereal, that it’s easy to get lost in. “Snow on the Beach” features Lana Del Rey, something the Internet meme’d to hell on Twitter because she doesn’t have a dedicated verse. But when you know the song has Lana Del Rey on it, you can hear her all over the hook. “Snow on the Beach” sounds more like a Lana Del Rey song than a Taylor Swift cut. It sounds like it was plucked right off of Fucking Norman Rockwell, which was also produced by Taylor’s new partner in crime, Jack Antanoff; who actually did a better job with Lana than he did on Taylor’s Lover and Midnights.

Taylor Swift sat in the dark, wearing a red tank top with a diamond motif.
Taylor Swift - Midnights | © 2022 Taylor Swift / Republic Records, Universal Music Group

As boring as Midnights sounds, one thing I give to the production of this album, is that it does somewhat evoke the feeling of being up late. It’s a pretty low key and sombre affair. But it’s an album which makes for better background music than something to sit and really take in. But even if this was the intended vibe of the album, there are so many things that Taylor and Jack could have done to have made this more interesting sonically. I really like the concept on paper of Midnights being this collection of thoughts which creep into your mind at the early hours. As a night owl who often overthinks, and struggles to sleep because of a memory of that thing that happened 17 years ago popping back into my head, I liked the idea of Midnights. But Taylor nor Jack really do much with any of this to create a body of work which feels wholly relatable or conceptual. The concept honestly feels like a cheap attempt to try and package these songs, as opposed to something which genuinely drove the creation of them.

Points to Taylor for her vocals though. The vocal production on this album is real nice. On Lover, Taylor seemed to be more playful with what she did with her voice (going low, growling, singing super soft) and utilising harmonies with more regularity. These were things which took a back seat on Folkmore, but with Midnights Taylor is back to it, and it adds a nice colour to the songs. “Anti-Hero” has a great hook on it anyway, but the harmonies are what really elevate it. And “Lavender Haze” has a pretty jarringly repetitive beat, which ends up being carried by Taylor’s harmonised vocals on the pre-chorus and the chorus. It’d be great to see Taylor play with her vocals more, and for Jack Antanoff to factor this into how he produces her songs.

Taylor Swift sat on a sofa, cross-legged, wearing rust coloured high-waisted corduroys trousers, and a blue T-shirt.
Taylor Swift - Midnights | © 2022 Taylor Swift / Republic Records, Universal Music Group

With Lover, Taylor turned a corner. She seemed to be at a point in her life where she seemed happy. And whilst she wasn’t immune to the opinions of others, it didn’t become a driving factor for the directions of every song and how Taylor chose to portray herself. Taylor chose to let her heart dictate the music, and for the most part it worked. And this continued with Folklore and Evermore, seeing Taylor return fully to herself and focus on nothing but storytelling, separate from the persona that had become Taylor Swift. Midnights seems to want to carry the storytelling torch of Folklore and Evermore, but with the pop sensibilities of an album like 1989, and this makes complete sense. Not just creatively, as Taylor tries to build a bridge between Folkmore and Midnights; but also chronologically, as she continues to re-record her old material whilst recording new material. But whether it’s due to overwork, a lack of inspiration, or Taylor just wanting to get these songs out and be done with them; there’s just this whole air of laziness and barely trying with Midnights. It didn’t capture me on a first listen. Nor on a second, third or fourth listen. Midnights just doesn’t click for me in the way that some of Taylor’s other albums have.

Each of Taylor’s albums feels essential in some way. Yes. Even Reputation. Most folk (even hardcore Swifties) collectively shit on Reputation. But I still feel that it has its place, and I get why it was what it was. But with Midnights, I don’t see the point in it at all. This album doesn’t feel like a step forward for Taylor, as each of her other albums did. Midnights is an album about branding and aesthetic more than it is a musical concept. Where-as Folkmore felt like Taylor had a wealth of ideas and things she wanted to tap into musically, Midnights sounds like Taylor and Jack Antanoff were struggling to come up with things. On occasion when I listened to Midnights, it felt like I was listening to an album of leftovers or demos, with the 3am Edition cuts being songs that didn’t make Folkmore.

If Taylor had sat with this Midnights concept a little longer, maybe this album could have become something more substantial which actually held together. But as it stands, it’s very much a filler album, and one of Taylor’s weakest; which is really unfortunate coming off the back of how good Folkmore were.

Verdict: I’m the problem, it’s me

Album highlights:
▪ Anti-Hero 🏆
▪ Snow on the Beach