There’s a moment in the folklore: Long Pond Studio Sessions when Taylor Swift tells Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff she was so glad she made her quarantine record, “because it turned out everybody needed a good cry.” And boy was she right.
It’s not surprising that the artist who has soundtracked the most formative years of our lives by sharing the lessons, heartbreaks, joys, hard knocks and triumphs of her own over the course of nine studio albums and two re-recordings, instinctively knew that taking a sharp U-turn from pop to envelop us with an indie record of 17 pensive, soothing and lyrically beautiful lullabies was the right move, rather than a commercially risky one, as we hunkered down in our homes.
We needed it so bad, she followed it up with sister album evermore, delivering another perfectly pitched 17 songs in the same ilk as folklore. We’d barely learnt the lyrics before fans began speculating about a third album to round out a trilogy.
It wasn’t to be. Instead, we got the (very welcome) rereleases of Fearless and Red, the latter kept the tears flowing with the storied and long-awaited ten-minute version of Swift’s best song to date, All Too Well. If you ever need a good cry, the Autumn Sad Girl version will never fail to deliver.
Call us greedy—she gave four albums in two years—but we wanted more. The guessing games started. She wore camouflage in an Instagram post, we must be getting Reputation! The Blake Lively directed music video for I Bet You Think of Me pointed to Speak Now! And yet many of us scrambled through the most tenuous of clues and hunted for easter eggs as we held tight onto our candle for a third sister to folklore.
But when Swift took to the stage at the VMAs back in August and announced her next album Midnights, months of meticulous fan theories that had flooded TikTok evaporated and the flame for the third sister was all but extinguished.
I’m not saying I was disappointed. An album of thirteen brand new songs by Miss Swift is a dream. But I didn’t think I was ready to move on from the wistful safe space of folklore and evermore.
Today, after a top to tail listen of Midnights, I realise Swift knows me better than I know myself. With the pandemic behind us, and party season upon us, Taylor’s glittering, sultry, siren album will soundtrack the glam vanities of every pre-party in town (which we all know is the best part of the night). In short, Midnights is what Augustine girlies listen to now.
It’s a return to pop, but not the bright, bombastic kind we got with Lover. Instead, Swift retains the balance and restraint of her indie era to compliment her progression into a more grown-up pop on Midnights. The result is a sexy and sensual album, which in true Taylor style delivers 13 tracks of utterly flawless storytelling.
The record opens with a breathy Swift inviting us to “meet me at midnight” while the pop synth pulses on opening track Lavender Haze. It gets the party started and signifies the ushering in of a new era, one that sees Swift letting her hair down and spilling secrets. Lyrically she cuts straight to the good stuff and leaves no room for speculation on the subject; “All they keep asking me, is if I’m gonna be your bride, the only kind of girl they see, is a one night or a wife”. It’s a clever juxtaposition of the romantic reality of her private relationship with actor Joe Alwyn and the scrutiny of the tabloids, hungry for details the couple rightfully gatekeep.
Maroon holds the vibe, and conjures up memories of Red, after all, it’s a deeper shade and references to blood and scarlet certainly paint a vivid picture. The third track, Anti-Hero is a standout. I’m going to call it a sister song to folklore’s mirrorball for the fact that we see Swift at her most honest, holding a mirror up to herself and critiquing her perceived shortcomings.
“I should not be left to my own devices, they come with prices, I end up in crisis, I wake up screaming from dreaming one day I’ll watch as you’re leaving, you got tired of my scheming for the last time. It’s me, I’m the problem, it’s me.”
I could dedicate a thesis to how long I’ve waited for Jack Antonoff’s darlings, Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey to collaborate. I didn’t dare to dream it would actually happen, but Swift confirmed the one and only collaboration on the album would be with the one and only Lana Del Rey on Snow On the Beach.
Their voices were destined to be united, resulting in a dreamy duet that is distinctly Lana in sentiment and Taylor in tone. Play this at my wedding. Play this at my funeral. Don’t dare get into the car with me unless you want to hear this on repeat for hours.
Which brings us to Track 5. All fans know the pressure of a Track 5. You’re On Your Own, Kid holds this hotly contested position on Midnights and let’s just say it features the kind of bridge that has become Swift’s signature move, proving time and time again she truly is unmatched as the songwriter the decade.
The aesthetic of Midnights couldn’t be clearer in Vigilante Shit and sets the bar for party season: “They say looks can kill and I might try, I don’t dress for women, I don’t dress for men, lately I’ve been dressing for revenge.”
But it’s the clever play on words with “while he was doing lines and crossing all of mine” that stand out to me as a classic Swift move. Her lyrically trickery is a listeners delight on Karma, and no doubt a satisfying song for Swift who has come through the other side of chaos firmly on top. Karma might be a relaxing thought for her, but few in her wake could say the same.
The most romantic song on the album Sweet Nothing, was cowritten by William Bowery, who we know is Joe Alwyn. It’s achingly pretty and feels deeply personal. Speaking of personal, in the finale of Midnights, Mastermind, Swift reveals how she landed the love of her life through scheming and plotting, calling herself a Machiavellian mastermind. “What if I told you none of it was accidental”, “it was all my design”.
One can’t help thinking the same applies to her career, which has been one master stroke after another, and Midnights is her latest triumph.
Pour yourself a glass of cheap screw top rosé, paint on those siren eyes (sharp enough to kill a man) and dress for revenge. The clock just struck midnight.