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Album review: ‘Midnights’ by Taylor Swift

Swift summons self-loathing and sultry stories of late nights gone by in her tenth album.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Taylor Swift released her tenth studio album, “Midnights,” on Oct. 21. Prior to its release, Swift offered no teasing for fans beyond track title reveals and a never-ending trail of easter eggs. Swift is no stranger to late nights, as her discography over the years can attest to.

As far as opening tracks go, “Lavender Haze” does the job well through its synthy intro and its parallel of “False God.” “Maroon” walks us through the grown-up complexities of an adult relationship, finding Swift navigating various shades of passion.

When I first heard Swift had employed Lana Del Rey for “Snow on the Beach,” the part of me that lived through Tumblr in 2014 and formed an intimate relationship with the tracks of “Born to Die” rejoiced. Taylor and Lana on the same track? Sounds like a fever dream. But the delivery could’ve been so much more than Lana’s breathy vocals and verseless appearance.

Swifties have theorized that she scrapped an album years ago by the name of “Karma.” While the “Karma” here might have offered some false hope to those who had idealized it for so long, the song is just fine. It’s catchy, but I can’t help but wonder — how did the same mind that gave us “Your Midas touch on the Chevy door / November flush and your flannel cure” also come up with “Sweet like honey, karma is a cat / Purring in my lap cause it loves me”? I do admire the likely allusion to Scooter Braun, though (“Spider Boy, king of thieves”).

“Vigilante Shit” is reminiscent of “Reputation” (“Draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man / You did some bad things, but I’m the worst of them”). Swift has done revenge, and she knows how she likes it. “Mastermind” finds Swift scheming again, this time orchestrating the ideal beginning of a relationship.

While Swift has touted “Anti-Hero,” the insecurity-driven tour of Swift’s self-struggles, as her most vulnerable track, I’d argue that “Sweet Nothing” offers an additional bit of personal insight. Co-written by Swift’s fiance Joe Alwyn (under the pen name William Bowery), it is a sweet ballad that serves to reinforce how unproblematic their mostly private relationship is. Wouldn’t we all be so lucky to hear “what a mind” from someone we love?

Swift has proven time and time again that she’s mastered the art of the understated surprise, hence the seven bonus tracks released at 3 a.m. Noteworthy is “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve,” a collaboration with The National’s Aaron Dessner detailing the complexities of a relationship between a young Swift and an older man. Swifties speculate it’s a sequel to 2010’s “Dear John,” a track focused on her relationship with John Mayer.

“Midnights” is a far cry from the fictional narratives of “Folklore” and “Evermore.” It’s an album that more closely resembles a sound caught between the synthy-pop of “1989” and the romance-forward tracks of “Lover” (producer Jack Antonoff’s recurring hand is evident here). Is it Swift’s best work? I don’t think so, but it is not supposed to be. It’s a collection of stories that takes listeners through the worlds of her last nine albums, jumping from uptempo pop to lilting ballads. And while we’re walking through these worlds, one sentiment rings true — Swift’s just as much of a lover as she is a fighter.

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