Review: Taylor Swift plays dark, electric on ‘Midnights’
By ELISE RYAN, Associated Press
“All of me changed like midnight,” Taylor Swift confesses halfway through her latest album, the aptly named and moody “Midnights.” It’s a moment on the electric “Midnight Rain” that finds lyricist Swift at her best, reminding you of her unparalleled ability to make any emotion feel universal.
The song’s chorus begins: “He was sunshine, I was midnight rain.” And continues: “He wanted it comfortable, I wanted that pain. He wanted a bride, I was making my own name. Chasing that fame. He stayed the same.” Then, that lyric: “All of me changed like midnight.” The sound feels experimental for Swift, opening with her own vocals artificially pitched down to an almost-unrecognizable tone. It’s among the album’s most sonically interesting, an indie-pop beat that feels reminiscent of her producer Jack Antonoff’s work on Lorde’s “Melodrama,” but also fresh and captivating.
Keep scrolling for a look at the throwback songs that made Taylor Swift famous
The song’s words, by Swift and Antonoff, are steady and detailed, but not distracting — allowing you to sink into the rhythm, flowing and feeling it with her.
On the 13 tracks of “Midnights,” a self-aware Swift shows off her ability to evolve again. For her 10th original album, the 32-year-old pop star approaches the themes she’s grown up writing about — love, loss, childhood, fame — with a maturity that comes through in sharpened vocals and lyrics focused more on her inner-life than external persona.
“Midnight Rain” could be a thesis statement for the project she’s described as “songs written during 13 sleepless nights,” an appropriate approach to the concept album for someone who has long had a lyrical appreciation for late nights (think “Style”: “midnight, you come and pick me up, no headlights…”). Of course, she’s centered her work around themes before — on “Red,” an ode to the color and the emotions it stands for, “reputation,” a vindictive reconfiguring of her own, and most recently on “folklore” and “evermore,” quarantine albums that expressed vulnerability in ways only isolation could.
But Swift presents “Midnights” as something different: a collection of songs that don’t necessarily have to go together, but fit together because she has declared them products of late night inspiration. Positioning listeners situationally — in the quiet but thoughtful darkness of night — instead of thematically, feels like a natural creative experiment for a songwriter so prolific that her albums have become synonymous with the pop culture zeitgeist.
And with that, comes a tone that is just a little darker, a little more experimental, and always electric.
Track one, “Lavender Haze,” pairs a muffled club beat and high-pitched backing vocals from Antonoff with stand-out, beckoning melody from Swift. “Maroon” is a grown-up and weathered version of “Red,” a dive into lost love with rich descriptions of rust, spilled wine, red lipstick — images Swift is reconjuring with more bite.
“Labyrinth” makes clear she’s carried the best of her previous pop experiments with her — the synth of “1989” and the softer alternative sounds of “folklore” — as she admits as only a songwriter can that a heartbreak “only feels this raw right now, lost in the labyrinth of my mind,” on top of a track featuring Bon Iver-esque electronic trills.
Swift shines when she is able to marry her signature lyrical musings with this new arena of electronic beats. And while this isn’t another album of acoustic indie sounds like “folklore,” it is clear that Swift has taken a step forward in the indie-pop genre — even if it’s a step in a different direction.
The album’s weaker moments are the ones where that balance feels off. “Bejeweled” is a bit too candy sweet, with lyrics that feel like an updated, glittery take on “Me!” The much anticipated “Snow On The Beach,” featuring Lana Del Rey, is poetic, pretty, and at times cheeky, but not as emotionally deep as the lyricists’ combined power suggests it could be.
Even in those moments, “Midnights” finds Swift comfortable in her musical skin, revealing the strengths of a sharp and ever-evolving artist who can wink through always-cryptic allusions to her very public life or subtle self-owns dispersed amidst lyrical confessions (see: “Anti-Hero” and “Mastermind”) and hook even the casual listener with an alluring, and maybe surprising, beat.
But like the love-soaked “Lover,” and intimate “folklore” and “evermore,” “Midnights” feels like both a confessional and a playground, crafted by all the versions of Taylor Swift we’ve gotten to know so far for a new Taylor Swift to shine. And like always, we’re just along for the thrilling late-night ride.
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Nearly a decade-and-a-half into her career, Taylor Swift has chronicled heartache, youth, and growing up over nine albums, 150+ songs, and three documentaries. She's one of the most successful artists of all time, starting strong with a debut album that became the Billboard 200's longest-charting album of the 2000s. From country to pop indie folk, Swift has garnered legions of fans, shattered Guinness World Records, and won 10 Grammys. She's nominated for five more with "Folklore," including "Album of the Year" and "Song of the Year." With "Folklore" and its lead single, "Cardigan," Swift debuted on top of the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 at the same time—the first artist to ever do so.A mere six months later, she dropped another surprise album, "Evermore," which she calls a "sister album" to "Folklore."
With the release of her ninth studio album,Stackerdecided to throw it back to some of the first songs that made America (and eventually the world) fall in love with the singer-songwriter. From country to pop to indie folk, Swift roots her songs in her personal experiences, making for a dependable output even as she's moved across genres. Remembering the hit songs that first brought Swift into the limelight demonstrates what a remarkably consistent songwriter she is.
From happy days to heartbreak, see which songs made Swift into the top artist she is today.
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The album "1989" was Taylor Swift’s first break into pure pop, which grabbed the attention of people beyond country fans for the first time. “Clean,” is her collaboration with British singer Imogen Heap.
This track off "1989" is a dreamy love song that featured a larger than life music video filmed in Botswana and South Africa. Scott Eastwood stars as her 20s-era lover.
“Out of the Woods” is rumored to be about her former boyfriend and ex-One Directioner Harry Styles, who had their ups and downs and apparently once suffered a snowmobile crash.
Another song about Harry Styles, “Style” is about the kind of happy, optimistic, magnetic energy you can feel with another person when you start your relationship.
“Bad Blood” is rumored to be about Swift’s beef with Katy Perry. The song’s music video shows Swift with a gang of girlfriends, all dressed up as superheroes ready to fight a villain (played by Selena Gomez).
This song is maybe one of Swift’s most famous off of "1989" and shows off her ability to laugh at herself. “Blank Space” is almost a parody about the different rumors and stories crafted about Swift by the media.
Tied for first place as the most famous song off of "1989," “Shake It Off” is the super fun dance lead single about being yourself and “shaking off” the bad energy that can come from other people who try to get you down.
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The next few songs are from Swift’s album "Red," which all were about the ups and downs of relationships and heartbreak she felt when she was in her early twenties. Swift toldUs Weeklythis song was about how a lot of people think people who become famous are lucky, but it’s “the girl who runs away from the fame who is really the lucky one in the end.”
Taylor Swift added more fame to her belt when she was tapped to make a song for the "Hunger Games" series. She recorded the song with the popular folk duo The Civil Wars, who have since broken up.
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This was Swift’s first song with her touring mate and longtime friend Ed Sheeran. The song off of "Red" is a pretty ballad about growing up, and the music video features two kids who play Swift and Sheeran when they were young.
The title track off of Red is about the emotions Swift has felt about her relationships, and she expresses those with color. ShetoldGood Morning America,“All those emotions—spanning from intense love, intense frustration, jealousy, confusion—in my mind, all those emotions are red. There's nothing in between; there is nothing beige about any of those feelings."
This dubstep song brought attention to Swift mostly because of the dramatic, desert-chic video, which earned the singer a nomination at the MTV Music Video Awards for Video of the Year.
“22” felt like the spring anthem of 2012, with Swift happily singing about her excitement with her new age. The video, featuring Swift dancing and wearing silly outfits with her friends, was directed by the same director as “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Swift turned heads with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a song supposedly about her relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. The tongue-in-cheek video was made in one shot.
Though this song isn’t written by Swift herself, this cover of Better Than Ezra’s 2005 song “Breathless” was performed by the singer as acharity benefit for the "Hope for Haiti Now" album. She proved to the world that she couldn’t be boxed into one genre.
From the deluxe version of her album "Speak Now," “If This Was a Movie” is about dreaming that the “one that got away” comes back to you, just like a happy ending of a movie. Funny enough, this song drew attention to Swift fornot being grammatically correct.
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Some Swifties thinkthat this song, “Last Kiss” is about Swift’s breakup with the Jonas Brothers’ Joe Jonas. In 2008, she wrote a song about how angry the breakup made her, while this is more of a sad, reflective ballad. Some Swifties even think the27-second intro representsthe 27 seconds she says it took Jonas to end the relationship.
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“Better Than Revenge” is rumored to be about Joe Jonas’s girlfriend after Swift, Camilla Belle, who she was mad at during the time. But later she reflected about how she’s matured since writing the song. “I was 18 when I wrote [“Better Than Revenge.”],” shetoldThe Guardian.“That’s the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend.”
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This song is thestory of a daydreamin which a girl speaks up at the wedding of the man she loves in order to try to stop it.
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Though this song itself isn’t the most famous of her throwbacks, the incident that she talks about in “Innocent” is one that really got people’s attention. At the 2009 Video Music Awards, as Swift accepted an award for her “You Belong With Me” music video, Kanye West came on stage and interrupted her, saying that Beyoncé should’ve won.
Swift’s romance with "Valentine’s Day" co-star Taylor Lautner made headlines everywhere, but when they broke up,Swift wrote this song, in which she apologized for the way she ended things.
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“Mine” was likely popular becauseit’s about a situationa lot of people in a new relationship go through: fantasizing how the future will go with that special person, even if you don’t know them well enough yet.
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“Crazier” is a popular throwback, which got a lot of attention because it was part of the soundtrack (and performed with a Swift cameo!) in "The Hannah Montana Movie."
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In a lot of relationships, it’s easy to become worried you like the other person more than they like you. In this song off of the platinum edition of Swift’s Grammy Award-winning album Fearless,she reassures a boythat she still really is into him and will be there for him.
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This song from "Fearless" is the story of Swift’s path from getting signed by a label at 16 to fame—thoughshe didn’t finish the songuntil she felt as if she was going to fulfill her dreams. That day was the after winning the Horizon Award at the CMAs in 2007.
“Breathe,” featuring pop singer Colbie Caillat, isabout the end of a friendship. It got enough attention to become nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
This country balladis about a love who is secretive and isn’t who the singer thought he would be. “You’re Not Sorry” was originally the promotional single for "Fearless," getting listeners excited for the new album.
Swift wrote this famous throwback about a crush on a musician, Stephen Barker Liles, in the opening act on her Fearless Tour in 2008. He later famouslywrote a responsein the form of a song called“Try To Make it Anyway.”
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This song will forever burn in the minds of fans as the song about Swift’s breakup with Joe Jonas. Swifttold Ellen DeGeneresthat Jonas broke up with her on phone in 27 seconds.
In an album that’s all about love and excitement, the song “White Horse” stands out as one about how you can just as easily give up on finding your fairy tale ending.
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Love story is one of the most popular songs on the album "Fearless," where Swift compares her relationship to that of Romeo and Juliet. Theromantic music videois also a standout throwback.
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Even though Swift was only 18 when this song came out, she wrotethis famous songabout looking back at an important time in any young girl’s life. “Fifteen” is all about being a freshman in high school and figuring out how to navigate friendships and love.
“You Belong With Me” is an iconic throwback that was celebrated by critics and fans everywhere. The song was nominated forSong of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammys, and won theMTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video (the year Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech).The videois what really helped make Swift famous, where she played two characters who fought for a boy’s (Lucas Till) heart.
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This songis from the bonus track version of Taylor’s debut album, "Taylor Swift." It’s about her love for her family and her best friend, Abigail, and how she feels comfortable around them to be herself.
One of the first few of Taylor Swift’s songs about exes, “Should’ve Said No” is about a boy who cheated on the singer,according to the lyric booklet. The booklet also mentions it was a last-minute addition to the album that took her five minutes to write.
“Tim McGraw” was Swift’s first released single and published song, which she wrote in math class when she wasjust a freshman in high school. The song about a summer love took her just 15 minutes to write.
This first hit is theultimate T-Swift throwback, about Swift being secretly in love with her best friend, who would tell her about his girlfriend every day. Swifttold fansduring a performance that she still thought about him when she became famous: “It’s crazy how having a top five hit with a song won’t get you over somebody.”
Republic Records via AP
This image released by Republic Records shows "Midnights" by Taylor Swift.