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‘Midnights’ hits different: Taylor Swift's 10th studio album marks a triumphant return to pop

<p>Taylor Swift's eighth studio album "Folklore" was released July 24.&nbsp;</p>

Taylor Swift's eighth studio album "Folklore" was released July 24. 


On October 21st, exactly 12,000 days after Taylor Swift was born (oddly specific, but would you expect anything less from the woman known for her easter eggs?), “Midnights,” Swift’s 10th studio album was released at the titular hour. Before fans even had time to properly process the initial collection of work, at 3am Swift hit fans with an additional drop of “Midnights (3am Edition),” featuring seven additional songs, before ending her October 21st release-spree with a music video for “Anti-Hero,” one of the album’s most vulnerable pieces of work. 

There are many, many things to like about “Midnights.” To start, it marks Swift’s return to pop, the genre that’s dominated the most popular eras of her career. Though Swift has discussed “Midnights” as comprising songs written throughout dark and contemplative phases of her life, the album’s sound is unquestionably Top 40, featuring constant support from Swift’s close friend and longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff and in the later 3am tracks, Aaron Dressner. Antonoff has had an indelible impact on the music industry in the last decade, with a distinct production style that has shaped the sound of modern-pop. 

In Midnights, Antonoff brings in his trademark synths, horns, and drums, combining Swift’s lyrics with a heavy, upbeat production style. Antonoff and Swift are a killer collaboration and their partnership is a major additive to Midnights, a concept album. Antonoff’s style creates a sonically cohesive body of work that is reminiscent of Swift’s past pop albums, “Reputation” and “1989,” but distinctive enough to stand on its own. However, with Antonoff’s easily recognizable production style, “Midnights” at times feels a bit repetitive, losing the varied sound that typically characterizes Swift’s albums. While Antonoff helped Swift create a tour-ready album, the work’s dominant production can be tiring and is indicative of Swift’s need to collaborate with a greater variety of producers on future projects. 

While “Midnights'' does mark Swift’s departure from the indie-adjacent albums that have dominated the last few years of her career, Swift’s trademark lyrics and heart-wrenching bridges remain. It's evident that Swift has filled “Midnights” with some of her most vulnerable work yet, discussing her own career and past relationships and analyzing the accusations that have been thrown at her throughout her fame. 

One of the best examples of this comes in “Anti-Hero.” “Anti-Hero” is an excruciatingly catchy song, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. The song discusses Swift’s self-hatred and difficulties in relationships, with a chorus that echoes one of the most common tabloid assertions made about her in the past, that she's the ‘problem’ in her failed friendships and relationships and the only one to blame for her tumultuous public persona. She addresses another common attack in “Mastermind,” the closing song to the album. Throughout her career, she’s often been accused of being “cold-blooded and calculated,” utilizing others as pawns as she strives for career advancements. In this, she admits that despite the “hopeless romantic” persona she fills her music with, she is “cryptic and Machivellian” in her personal relationships, desperate for the approval of others and willing to do anything to make it happen. In a deeply vulnerable bridge, Swift sings that she’s “been scheming like a criminal ever since / to make them love [her] and make it look so effortless,” a rare break from her carefully crafted public image. The vulnerability continues in “You’re on Your Own, Kid”, a story of her emotional journey  to self-discovery through adulthood. The song builds from a simple production style in the first verse to an exuberant alt-pop bridge, mimicking Swift’s own growth throughout her career. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” showcases Swift at her best, deftly crafting an immersive story of her past and the lessons learned, as the song’s tone shifts from lonely to hopeful, bringing the listener alongside her on the journey. 

Beyond Swift’s musings on her own relationship with the public eye and the people around her, songs like “Lavender Haze”, “Midnight Rain” and “Maroon” showcase Swift’s mastery of writing songs about romantic relationships that are just vulnerable enough to bring true emotion to a track, yet vague enough to allow any listener to see themself in her music. In “Midnight Rain,” Swift sings about young love, describing an early relationship which she sacrificed for the sake of her own career. It’s the kind of reflective ‘what if’ song that reminds listeners of lost chances and missed opportunities, one that resonates with anyone who’s made the decision to leave someone behind. Along the same theme of reflection, “Maroon” is a story of lost love, reminiscent of Swift’s “1989” album and the emotionally intense relationships that inspired it. On an album filled with contemplative reflections, “Maroon” showcases Swift’s range, representing the anger and bitterness that can result from the end of a relationship. However, while “Midnight Rain” and “Maroon” may represent love lost, “Lavender Haze” is a booming celebration of Swift’s current relationship with actor Joe Alwyn. The starting track to the album, “Lavender Haze'' comes in with an overwhelming bass that permeates the song, heralding Swift’s true return to pop music. It focuses on the struggles of love and the protective bubble that a supportive relationship provides her, despite the omnipresent pressure of the public eye. 

Another point of pop perfection is “Bejeweled,” which is pure self-confidence, offsetting some of the more depressing work in the album. Swift also showcases her hit-making abilities in “Question…?”, a distinctly catchy break-up song encapsulating the questions one may think of asking a past ex while reflecting on the relationship. “Karma” follows a similar pattern, with a chorus bound to be stuck in your head and abundant metaphors cheerfully describing themes of comeuppance and achievement. However, where there are highs, there are lows, such as “Vigilante Shit”, a song that sounds like a “reputation”-reject that should have remained in the vault. With lyrics that painfully remind you that Swift is, in fact, a millennial, “Vigilante Shit” is a girlboss song that feels out of place on an album with so many songs that balance the more heavily produced sound with emotionally complex lyrics in a way that “Vigilante Shit” fails to do. Despite this misstep, “Midnights” showcases just how strong Swift’s pop albums can be, even after her brief flirtation with indie acoustics. 

“Midnights” is not an album that sought to mark a brand-new creative direction in Swift’s career, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a key place in her discography. The album combines the best of her songwriting talents with the kind of catchy and fun production that’s contributed to her past success within the pop genre. When considering Swift’s legacy, it’s clear that one of the most defining features of her career will be her continued innovation and creativity as she continues to release music. Though reminiscent of Swift’s prior work, as a collective, “Midnights” still manages to feel fresh and exciting, presenting itself as an intimate look into Swift’s psyche and creative process. It’s one of her most cohesive albums yet and promises something for everyone, whether listeners appreciate her complex narratives or everlasting earworms. At this point in her career, “Midnights” had to walk a fine line. With new fans coming in from her quarantine works and older fans being brought back into the fold with recent re-recordings, “Midnights” had to appeal to a wider base and with her biggest debut week yet, we see that it succeeded. 

“Midnights” has dominated the charts so far, with the aforementioned “Anti-Hero” staying strong at spot #1 and nine other songs from the album filling the remaining slots in the Top 10. With this accomplishment, Swift has managed to set the record for the most spots in the top 10 held by a single artist ever and achieve her 11th No. 1 album. In its first week, “Midnights” earned over 1.578 million equivalent album units in the U.S. with over 1 million “traditional album sales,” figures previously assumed to be nearly impossible in the streaming era. Beyond her success on the charts and in sales, she’s also raked in a combined 78 million views on her two official music videos from the album, “Bejeweled” and “Anti-Hero.” In addition to the album’s success, she’s also since announced her return to touring, with the upcoming Eras Tour, set to begin next spring. With hour-long queue waits to even be entered into the lottery to get a presale code, it’s likely that this stadium tour will mirror the album’s success and be one of her biggest as well. 

Though she’s been putting out music for over 18 years, the success of “Midnights” shows that Swift has no intentions of slowing down. As she ushers fans into a new era of her career, it’s clear that the songs on “Midnights” show Swift at her strongest, producing yet another album that’s sure to maintain her dominance on the charts in the coming months. 

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