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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Review: Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’

Arts+criticism+writer+Rashid+Eldoma+says%26%23160%3BSwift+returns+to+form+with+restrained%2C+introspective+synthpop
Photo credit Taylor Swift/Instagram

Arts criticism writer Rashid Eldoma says Swift returns to form with restrained, introspective synthpop

Taylor Swift has always been a control freak, a fact apparent to both fan and critic alike. From her career’s inception, through liner notes and Easter eggs, Swift has told us how to listen to her songs. This often involves the time of day: The opening track of Swift’s second album, “Fearless,” signals a good morning with a bright snare. “1989” is an afternoon album for easy-listening, while “reputation,” with its introspective dark-pop, is for those aimless nighttime drives. 

Released on Oct. 21, “Midnights” is for the tossing and turning at the end of those night time drives. When aimlessness and sleeplessness prevail, “Midnights” keeps you company.

The concept album, a kind of late-night dream pop rumination, depicts various midnights throughout Swift’s life. Like “folklore” and “evermore,” she doesn’t confine herself to her immediate experience, thus elevating her artistry above the fray of tabloid fodder. Swift lands digs on herself like only she can, her lyrics probing within depths most appropriate for the witching hour. For 13 taut tracks, 44 minutes and eight seconds in total, Swift lays it all out and implores us to do so ourselves. 

It’s not a Swift album if I don’t laugh at least once. Sometimes it’s at the absurd tragedy of her self-confession which I can recognize within myself. Other times it’s because she’s really funny — which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s a fan. Her lead singles typically lean toward self-parody.

“Anti-Hero” is the understandable choice for lead single upon first listen. Swift lays out all her insecurities and introduces herself as the problem. It’s classic Swift camp, in the lineage of “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space” and “Look What You Made Me Do.” Unlike the last two efforts, however, Swift meanders back into the realm of relatability. Not many of us can relate to celebrity feuding and romancing, but all of us have undermined ourselves. We have all felt ourselves the anti-hero.

“Midnight Rain” is the keystone of the album. It recalls “The Archer,” with a bite. The song continues the rumination that began in “Anti-Hero,” contextualizing her self-sabotage within her romantic life. Swift grapples with an ambition in conflict with traditional amulets of female accomplishment; while her lover “wanted a bride, [she] was making her own name, chasing that fame,” Swift repeats in the hook. 

“Midnights” falters only when Swift moves away from jubilation and reflection, which becomes apparent in “Vigilante Shit.” The song seems to recall “Royals” and “6 Inch,” by Lorde and Beyoncé respectively but falls flat without either artists’ swagger. In the hands of Swift, “Vigilante Shit” sounds nothing more than a panoply of self-help platitudes one might easily find repinned on Pinterest. 

“Mastermind,” another highlight, pokes at Swift’s Machiavellian machinations. It is both a confessional and an ode to neuroticism we are often told is toxic in relationships. “Mastermind” reframes the control-freak from the harbinger of doom into a triumphant, relatable hero figure. 

“No one wanted to play with me as a kid, so I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since,” Swift sings. “To make them love me and make it seem effortless.” 

None of this is news about Swift, whose disparate public image, equal parts flowery and shadowy, has moved toward an integration throughout her oeuvre. This is, after all, the same Swift who wrote an entire album by herself 12 years ago just to prove that she could. Swift has ceded some control 12 years later, but on “Midnights,” she is still the mastermind.

 

STANDOUT TRACKS:

Track 6:“Midnight Rain”

Track 12:“Sweet Nothing”

Track 13:“Mastermind”

 

TRACKS TO SKIP: 

 Track 8:“Vigilante Shit”

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