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Taylor Swift turns her ‘Midnights’ into a career-defining masterpiece

By Anthony Cesario


“I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian ‘cause I care,” sings Taylor Swift on “Mastermind,” the concluding track on the standard edition of Midnights – her seventh full-length release in five years, and tenth official album of completely new content. It’s a line made particularly poignant for all the Swiftian lore it condenses into a single turn of phrase: the unparalleled bond the singer has established with her fanbase through years of teasers, Easter eggs, and references scattered throughout her diary-entry-esque music. It caps off a record that is less a singular album and more a career-defining moment.


In the lead-up to Midnights – which has been one of the most intensive and heavily-publicized promotional campaigns in recent memory – Taylor described the album as containing “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” (Of course, as we later found out at 3 a.m. on the day of the album’s release, these were crafted down from a collection of 20 sleepless nights.) It’s an apt description; Midnights feels like a cumulation of Taylor’s music from the start of her career to now. Its dark pop sound is a natural continuation of where 1989, reputation, and Lover left off; its lyricism brings to mind that of folklore and evermore. Then there are songs like “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” which thanks to their delivery and lyrical content could fit right at home on Fearless and Speak Now. Ultimately, Midnights might not be as much of a stylistic evolution as Taylor’s albums have often been in the past, but at the same time it feels like a significant step forward, an end-cap to a 16-year-long era.


Midnights is definitely not Taylor’s most immediate album. It doesn’t have the same mass-appeal quality as most of her other releases. This is partly because the promotion was admittedly a bit of a misdirect (the era’s fashion and aesthetic suggested a ‘60s or ‘70s singer-songwriter style in the vein of Joni Mitchell or Stevie Nicks; what we got was more brooding, ‘80s, delirious-ride-home-from-the-nightclub synthpop), and partly because it’s simply her weirdest album to date. (See: the vocal distortions on “Midnight Rain”; the absurdist humor of the lyrics to “Anti-Hero” and “Vigilante Shit”; the campish quality of songs like “Bejeweled” and “Karma.”) Make no mistake, though, it’s Swiftian through-and-through, from its lyrical motifs to its hooks that stick like glue. (“Maroon,” for example, is so her that I can’t believe it hasn’t existed all my life.)


Even though Midnights is a collection of songs from different time periods in Taylor’s life, it is one of her most thematically and sonically cohesive albums to date. Every song just embodies midnight, from the subdued production, to the whimsical melodies (especially on the Lana Del Rey-assisted “Snow on the Beach”), to the stream-of-consciousness lyricism – like when you have a lot of big feelings but aren’t quite awake enough to articulate them properly. (Do I have any idea what she’s talking about in “Question…?” No. Do I love it anyway? Yeah.) Taylor distills these feelings remarkably on Midnights, making it an album that will undoubtedly go down as one of her best.


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