Atwood Magazine’s writers discuss Taylor Swift’s surprise tenth album ‘Midnights’, an album conceived at the witching hour, filled with ghosts of her past and ruminations on her present.
Featured here are Atwood writers Josh Weiner, Emily Frances Algar, Rachel Leong, Madeleine Eggen, Isabella Le, Anthony Kozlowski, and Sam Franzini.
To start, what is your relationship with Taylor Swift’s music?
Josh Weiner: It’s pretty astonishing that I am now in my 15th year as a Taylor Swift fan– very close to half my life at this point. But indeed– it was in the 2008-09 school year (11th grade for me) that I first encountered Taylor Swift via the Fearless album, which came out that fall, and I’ve continued to be an active follower ever since. I am definitely impressed by how Swift has never entered any lame-duck career phase of any kind. Instead, her seventh (Lover), eighth (Folklore), and ninth (Evermore) studio albums have all been some of her strongest ever…
Emily Algar: Like Josh, I am surprised but pleasantly so that I am still a fan all these years later, and I still love Swift’s music as much as I did when I was 21! I remember finding Swift’s music on YouTube just before Fearless was released. I even remember having to go to Amazon.com (I’m in the UK) to buy her music because her debut was nowhere to be found and the British record shops insisted that she wasn’t popular enough to stock Fearless! Bite me HMV! She has honestly been the voice for so many of my experiences that would have remained voiceless without her. I correlate each album and sometimes each song to a person, event, feeling, season or place. I remember Fearless being the only album that could quell my anxiety and Red being the album that chronicled my first heartbreak. Lover convinced me to know my self-worth to leave a relationship that, though intensely dear, was destroying me and the other person. Not to sound cliche even though I know it will, but Swift’s music has been there when no one else has.
Rachel Leong: I’d say similarly to most women my age, I’ve been a fan of Swift’s since the before times. Fearless was the first CD I ever bought for myself, and as Emily said, her music has given so many of my experiences a voice – and they still continue to do so. A friend told me once that whatever you’re going through, you can bet there’s a Taylor Swift song for it, which is so true! Reflecting on my relationship with her music definitely takes me way back, and I can say for sure that it’s truly been a comfort to grow alongside her music. So many of her older songs continue to take on new meanings in my own life too. On top of all of that, watching her navigate the music industry is really empowering to see, especially as another woman. She leads by example to show that women can, and always should, take our power back; and she constantly empowers us to do so.
Madeleine Eggen: Being Gen Z makes my relationship with Taylor Swift especially unique, in the sense that I can’t remember a time where she wasn’t a huge presence. Although my relationship with her music has fluctuated, it was never negative: it’s been the soundtrack to so many of the foundational years of my life, and has even been a means through which I’ve connected with friends, family, and strangers. Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, I’ll probably have the ability to recite the majority of her lyrics by heart, but I also can’t recall a time where I couldn’t. Her self-owned, Taylor’s Version albums have honestly been a huge part of my young adulthood now, providing me with a familiar but matured version of the music that raised me. In elementary school, I made music videos to her Fearless album, and all these years later, Fearless is still on my playlists.
Isabella Le: I actually became a part-time Swiftie over the pandemic, which is pretty surprising since I basically grew up with her music from Fearless to now. She was an understated, underappreciated presence throughout most of my life. At first, I revisited her older albums just for the nostalgia of it all, and I ended up falling into a wormhole of live sessions and interviews with nothing else better to do during quarantine. I grew up in a pretty big family with countless older cousins who’d blast her music in their cars, and I vividly remember “You Belong With Me” being the first music video I ever watched and the first English song I ever memorized word-for-word. One of my cousins gifted me her “Wonderstuck” fragrance (so you can only guess how huge of fans they were), and I still have it to this day!
Anthony Kozlowski: I hate to be the odd one out here, but I would not call myself a Swiftie. Rewind 10 years and you could easily label me a hater (and I was gonna hate, hate, hate, etc). But I have softened a bit in my old age. Folklore was the first Taylor Swift album that made me double-take. That’s an understatement. It took a crowbar to my skull and left me with the dizzying afterimage that she’s good – no, that she’s one of the best songwriters alive. Evermore cemented that realization. Red (Taylor’s Version), for all its excess, earned its runtime with a scope that’s as searingly intimate as it is operatic (although making 2-hour-plus albums should be a felony moving forward). That’s all to say any artist is capable of blowing my mind, or smashing it to pulp as may be the case. To me, there’s no such thing as bad music, just music I find interesting and music that I don’t. Taylor has made quite a bit of interesting music, and yet…
Sam Franzini: Some of the first songs I remember hearing on the tiny radio behind my bed in my childhood room were “You Belong With Me” and “Our Song.” This was before I had an iPod, though, so I just enjoyed it and had to move on. My freshman year of high school I have distinct memories of listening to 1989 during winter break, playing Minecraft and drinking hot chocolate. I listened to reputation when it came out, but I fell head-first into Swiftiehood in my first year of college, where I went back and listened to the albums by her I hadn’t heard before, Red, Speak Now, and Fearless. When she started teasing Lover at the end of that school year, I was fully involved, and that fall she was the complete soundtrack to my life, inescapable. It was during the pandemic that I fully noted her complete genius: folklore is my favorite album by her, and evermore is just as special in parts. I’ll be holding onto those albums for a long time.
What are your immediate reactions to Midnights?
Josh Weiner: …. And now, add her tenth to that list. When I first listened to Midnights in my car, I couldn’t help but think that this is simply some of the coolest music Taylor Swift has ever released. From the ethereal vocals, to the absorbing production (her creative partnership with Jack Antonoff remains spectacular), to the raised levels of attitude and swearing (“horrified looks from everyone in the room,” indeed), to the ever-stellar songwriting, this record is just a knockout in every respect I could have hoped for, and more.
Emily Algar: I don’t think I’m completely sure of it. It feels a little elusive… The same for the 3am Edition. I really hate to say this as a fan, but I don’t think the extreme faction of her fandom has helped with my anticipation for the record. I find they suck a lot of the joy out of the music by scouring her music for fucking “Easter Eggs”, which yes, I know, she herself perpetuates, or trying to figure out which song is about which famous person or situation, and then proclaim it be the only theory and if you disagree you’re a “hater”. I do wonder whether any of these “stans” actually take pleasure in listening to her records anymore…?
Back to the question, I listened to the record lying down, which I always like to do with new music. The first half of the album stuck to me immediately – let’s be honest, “Anti-Hero” is a brilliant earworm! – and “You’re On Your Own Kid” is a masterpiece. (More about that later). Midnights reminds me a lot of that underrated album reputation in terms of production – “Dress” and “Maroon” anyone? – and the eclecticness and freedom of Lover.
Rachel Leong: Midnights is so different from anything she’s put out previously, and I think that’s the real beauty of every Swift release. Her songwriting is amazing as ever, and I love the production in this record – it’s a bit more electronic, more playful, which is very “of the time”. It also nods more so to Jack Antonoff’s solo stuff. Even though I’ve had my fair share of listens already, I know I have yet to uncover more layers within the music and lyricism. That’s always the case with her music!
Madeleine Eggen: My immediate reaction was surprise, mainly at how much I liked it. With every new album release, I’m somehow reminded yet again how deeply and uniquely Taylor Swift’s music resonates with me. This time last year, Red (Taylor’s Version) became my daily soundtrack, and now, I turn on Midnights (3 am Edition) whenever I have the chance. There’s honestly not one track that I dislike, and I went into the album a bit blind due to how quickly it came out. After listening to the lyrics more closely, I wanted to know more, so I did some digging and really loved how this album gives us a taste of so many of her other eras.
Isabella Le: A lot of the tracks were pretty lackluster for me, to be quite honest, but there were a good amount of standouts that I’ve had on repeat since the album was released! Some of the lyrics were quite jarring, like the “sexy baby” line in “Anti-Hero,” but they’re relatively easy to overlook when the song is catchy and addictive. I immediately picked up on the subdued but still prominent synth and bass throughout the tracks, which gives the overall album a lot of free points from me as someone who’s drawn toward those qualities in music in general. Midnights feels so familiar, yet so new at the same time, which is what really captures the charm of Taylor Swift.
Anthony Kozlowski: …this ain’t it. Look, I’m a very small man with very small opinions in the grand scheme of things. As the wise and completely fictional Anton Ego once said of a critic’s work, “the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” Midnights is not a piece of junk, at least not as far as I can tell. But the amount of hyperbole being written about it is leaving me with my head cocked and question marks popping above me. Perhaps evoking the stillness of the hour for which it was named, the album feels sleepy. There are still the *a-ha* moments that belie Taylor at the helm (“When my depression works the graveyard shift, all of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room,” chef’s kiss), but overall it folds in on itself like a blanket tucking you into bed. As I write this, I am somewhere through my third or fourth listen. I could not tell you where it resets. If you are looking for unobtrusive writing music though, this might be the album for you.
Sam Franzini: Honestly, I was super disappointed by this album on first listen. It’s grown on me a little bit, but when I first trudged through it at midnight last week, I was just shocked at how nothing it felt like. Her past two albums, and even her pop albums like reputation and 1989 had peaks and valleys, hooks to grab onto and songs to keep going back to. That night, I listened to the album in full, something I rarely do. Usually when I listen to an album for the first time my mind keeps circling around to lyrics or sounds so I add them to be played next, disrupting the album’s actual flow. I sat still, listening to Midnights in full: a bad sign.
If folklore and evermore represented one era for the artist, how would you define Taylor Swift’s Midnights era?
Emily Algar: I don’t really buy into the “eras” concept, but I would probably define this chapter as honest. Darker, perhaps, more nuanced? There are a lot of songs that seem to be a lyrical mix of fiction or autobiography rather than straight up one or another. I definitely see it as an album from a 30-something-year-old woman, and it definitely feels more relaxed, as Rachel says. Some of it also feels like an experiment in feeling, a little Lana Del Rey like.
Josh: I see Folklore and Evermore as her “pandemic albums”– not just because they both were literally released during that cursed year of 2020, but because she had to record them in isolation, working virtually with her collaborators. Thus, they demonstrate how resourceful she could be all throughout the limitations of that period.
Midnights represent a return to normalcy for Taylor Swift. Once again, she has access to all of the studio resources that were out of reach in 2020, and thus we have an album that allows her to experiment freely with as many sounds and styles as ever. Going down the toned-down indie folk road for a couple of albums was perfectly fine, but let’s be real– we didn’t expect Taylor to stay on that avenue forever.
Rachel Leong: I felt folklore and evermore very much represented the era of ‘solitude’ the world went through with the pandemic, and for me that will always be unmatched in its own way. Personally, the folklore/evermore sound was right up my alley – and I LOVED the literary references and storytelling narratives she brought into that. I think it’s still too early to tell which era this is in true Swift fashion, but for now, Midnights definitely represents a return to the world post-pandemic. I absolutely love the music videos she’s put out so far, and I can definitely see this album being transformed into extravagant live shows the way she always does with her music. Overall, I think the Midnights era will bring with it a more experimental, nuanced face of Swift’s progression as an artist. There’s something about it that feels more settled in her artistry.
Isabella Le: Midnights feels like the love-child of reputation and Lover to me– it’s vulnerable and gentle, but it reminds us that Taylor is bold and confident at her core. folklore and evermore had whimsical, intimate, and romantic qualities that caused them to mirror one another both sonically and thematically. It’s hard to imagine one album without another, so like Emily, I can’t really see each of them as an individual era. They all kind of coexist with one another, and it’s fun to note the parallels and see the running trends and experimental moments she has throughout her career.
Anthony Kozlowski: I think folklore and evermore were not just an era for Taylor, they were an era for all of us. Stripped of all the circus lights and dancing monkeys of the “normal” world, the pandemic reacquainted us with ourselves. And a lot of us panicked.
As much as folklore and evermore feel more grounded and personal than her previous music, or indeed Midnights, they seem to speak more to our collective panic and hard reset than they do Taylor herself. Lockdown was our own indie folk era and all of us wanted to be Bon Iver’s best friend.
Taylor is extremely savvy. She knows how to curate her formidable talent as a songwriter to fit the cultural moment. If we look at Midnights through that same lens, it is all of us peeking our heads back out again. Some things look the same, others look different, some bear a glancing similarity to our memories, but warp like a funhouse mirror as we turn from side to side. Post-COVID Taylor is post-COVID us, and it’s comfortable to see ourselves in her mirror.
Sam Franzini: I honestly think this “era” is a bit tricky because the whole theme of the album was that these songs were written around midnight, but the subject matter differs wildly. There’s songs about a relationship at 19 (“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”), and ones as recent as her bad-girl era (“Karma”, “Vigilante Shit”). This time-traveling aspect honestly makes things a bit muddy for me, because previously, she’s had defined borders that surround her music. Midnights is amorphous, just a blob. It reads more like an album of scraps rather than a fully-formed concept.
What are your thoughts about the roll-out of Midnights? Did you like that there was no lead single or would you have preferred a single or singles prior to release?
Emily Algar: I personally like not having singles before an album drops. The singles are usually pretty unrepresentative of an album a bit like how trailers don’t usually represent the film their advertising. Off the top of my head, “ME!” did not represent the eclectic nature of Lover and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” really does not do Red justice. I also sometimes think the single just detracts from the overall story of the record. It’s a bit like reading a chapter from the middle of a book and expecting to know the plot.
Josh Weiner: Folklore and Evermore had no lead singles, either, so I’m not too surprised that this remained the case for Midnights. It evidently didn’t need a hit lead single, either, given that it broke multiple sales and streaming records within its first day of release. I don’t use TikTok, so I didn’t watch any of the videos that she posted there to promote the album, but it doesn’t seem like that strategy harmed her much.
Rachel Leong: I personally really like the roll-out this album had. I think Swift definitely has the luxury of doing so because of how established she is, but I love being able to listen to the album in its entirety, clean slate, and in order. Especially with social media, TikTok, etc. it’s hard to digest the songs in your own time if they start popping up all over, so I loved being able to listen to it in my own time – and take from it what I wanted, without the external influence.
Madeleine Eggen: As much as this is a concept album, I think she’s also sort of just figuring things out in terms of what new paths she’ll go down. She did two indie albums that did really well and deviated from her norm, and as it’s been said, she made those during a time of personal and wider isolation. She’s “returning” to pop, a space she tends to dominate. Although this album may not be her very best or most ambitious, it’s an album that feels playful, and one that has topped streaming charts, of course. I would define this era in a word as “alive.”
Isabella Le: I’m quite used to listening to albums start-to-finish, all-at-once since a lot of K-Pop artists I keep up with utilize the same roll-out method. I’ve always wondered why more artists don’t do the same since it makes the album more of an immersive experience; with little, if any expectations, there’s always some surprise element that leaves you wanting more (whether that surprise element is good or bad). Any Taylor Swift release will be met with huge anticipation and success regardless of what it is, and the way Midnights rolled out was enjoyable on the end of listeners and proved an excellent PR move on her team’s end.
Anthony Kozlowski: I will admit, I was excited when I saw the album art and cryptic tracklist slip onto social media. Then again, I am a sucker for low-fi polaroid filters and Canva presets. It speaks to the aging millennial in me that remembers when Instagram was for photos and American Apparel billboards littered Hollywood with red flags. Yes, 2014 was a dream.
As for the lack of a lead single, there truly didn’t need to be one. She’s Taylor Swift. Midnights could have been an hour of ambient meditation tones and it would garner 50 million streams a day.
The lead single as a concept is almost dead anyway. With the streaming age serving us whatever we want whenever we want, there’s no real need to entice listeners with an appetizer for an album they need to buy separately. I could ask my phone to play Midnights and it would burst through the surround sound in my living room quicker than I could contemplate getting off this couch. The future is wild.
Sam Franzini: I thought it was great. The mystery surrounding Midnights made it so that when you pressed play, you had no idea what was coming out of those speakers. I personally think the idea of releasing seven new songs three hours after the album is a bit clunky, but whatever format Taylor gives us 20 new songs works with me.
Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift’s creative partnership has lasted for many years and taken on many forms. What are your impressions of its latest incarnation?
Emily Algar: I really like it. Like all their other collaborations, it feels very authentic to Swift and feels like a natural evolution in her journey as an artist and producer. For me, Midnights feels like a perfect amalgamation of reputation, Lover, and evermore whilst at the same time feeling very unique to its own time.
Josh: I agree with Emily that I felt a few whiffs of some past Taylor Swift albums (reputation in particular) while listening to this one. At the same time, Midnights doesn’t feel like a clone copy of any of those old ones, and I appreciate that.
In general, it’s great to see Taylor and Jack still going strong together after all of this time! Plus, since fun. never really returned from their one moment in the sun in 2011-12, it’s also very assuring to see at least one of the band members remain productive and successful to this day.
Rachel Leong: It’s so exciting to be able to watch! Like both Josh and Emily said, it does feel like a really balanced amalgamation of their past work together – and you can hear how the music mirrors their connection too. To me Midnights does strike me as having a bit more of Antonoff via Bleachers vibe, which I also love.
Madeleine Eggen: I’ve already said this a couple times, but I really do appreciate how Antonoff allows Swift to dip her toe into both newer and older sounds while setting a foundation of songs that are truly gorgeous at their core.
Isabella Le: I’m a fan! Expanding on what Emily, Josh, and Rachel said, you can really see the evolution of their work in tandem with their partnership throughout the years, and they’ve proven that they make the perfect creative team with each release. It’s amazing seeing that they’re able to preserve her signature sound while adding something new every time, and Midnights is just one of countless instances that Swift and Antonoff have executed this near-flawlessly.
Anthony Kozlowski: May I direct you to this meme.
In all seriousness, I have gone to bat for Jack and his production style since fun. swept me off my feet ten years ago. Through Bleachers, Melodrama, and The Chicks’ knockout Gaslighter, I felt his ability to unearth an earnestness from the artists he works with that can best be described as “we’re young and we’re yearning.” That said, his touch can seem a bit one-note at times. There comes a point where recognizing a producer’s fingerprint shifts from a point of pride to a realization that it’s just more of the same. Jack has an idiocratic style, same as giants like Mark Ronson and Rick Rubin. Does that mean he’s always successful? Debatable. And I would debate that Midnights’ tendency toward uniformity is a result of him busting out his one-size-fits-all toolkit.
Sam Franzini: When it works, it works. I do think he was a bit heavy-handed on this particular project, which makes the whole vibe generally a bit stale. When their collaborations were sparser, each got time to be special on its own, like “Out of the Woods”, “Getaway Car”, “The Archer”, and various songs from folklore and evermore. But in general, I do think both are really talented and the songs they make together usually stand out for good reasons.
Which songs stand out for you on the album, and why?
Emily Algar: “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” Listening to the album for the first time, this was the only song I played twice, and keep playing twice. Swift’s track 5’s usually get a lot of traction but for whatever reason this song hasn’t, which I kind of love. It feels like my little secret within such a ravenous fandom. I think I love it because it has a beginning and ending yet keeps coming back to the same scenario over and over until the narrator, in this case Swift, slowly realizes that she doesn’t need any external validation because everything she is she’s donen alone.
I should also say that “High Infidelity” from Midnights (3am Edition) also makes the list. There’s something about a song that details the unraveling of a marriage, the sheer mundaneness of it just makes it so heartbreaking because you know this situation happens all too often. Storm coming/ Good husband/ Bad omen/ Dragged my feet right down the aisle/ At the house lonely/ Good money/ I’d pay if you’d just know me/ Seemed like the right thing at the time.
Josh: I buy Emily’s reasoning that lead singles don’t always do the accompanying album full justice (both in and outside the Swift catalog). But in this instance, I actually really am enjoying the single “Anti-Hero” and will submit that as my favorite song from Midnights thus far. Over time, we’ll see if or how my tastes evolve.
Rachel Leong: My favourites are probably between Sweet Nothing or Bigger Than The Whole Sky. I really love how they both capture the sonic landscapes of the story within the production. The lyrical style of both these are more akin to the folkore/evermore era to me, which I also really like. I’m also a sucker for what-if sad songs, and Bigger Than The Whole Sky fits the bill perfectly!
Madeleine Eggen: I was pretty surprised to learn recently that “You’re On Your Own, Kid” has been relatively overlooked in her fandom because it builds up in such a satisfying yet personal way that stands out to me, along with all that Emily said. I also really love her more “folklore-esque” tracks like “Sweet Nothing,” “Bigger Than The Whole Sky,” and “High Infidelity.” One song that I hated from snippets but grew to love was “Karma.” It’s peppered with cheesy lyrics like “Karma is a cat/Purring on my lap, ‘cause it loves me,” but it’s simply fun! As much as I loved the folklore/evermore era, I grew up on Swift, and missed her peppy, almost nonsensical tracks that you simply can’t help but dance along to.
Isabella Le: Without a doubt, “Snow On The Beach” takes the cake as my favourite track on Midnights, and not just because it includes a Lana Del Rey feature. It was one of those songs that I just knew was going to be my favourite only a few seconds in; I love romantic, dream pop-adjacent tracks with vivid lyrics, and the fact that she went down this route with Lana Del Rey of all people cemented it as one of my favourite Taylor Swift tracks of all time. Lana definitely could have gotten more opportunities to shine, but shamelessly, I’ve scrobbled the song over 60 times this past week alone. (Sending thoughts and prayers to my Spotify Wrapped).
Anthony Kozlowski: “Anti-hero” is breaking records for a reason. It’s a jam (with or without the “sexy baby” lyric). And if you stayed up for the 3am Edition like a kid waiting for Santa, then “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is another banger. It contains some of the Swiftiest Taylor Swift lyrics on the album (“If I was some paint, did it splatter on a promising grown man”) and some evocative religious wordplay that would cause the Bible Belt to sweat.
Sam Franzini: I think “Lavender Haze” is by far the best song on the standard album, and it should have been the direction the whole album took. It’s so moody but dreamy, heart-eyed but still sharp. Jack Antonoff and Taylor really do some good work here, and I love this metaphor she employs a cloud of love shielding her and Joe Alwyn from everything. If we’re including the deluxe, “The Great War” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” join Taylor’s S-tier songs. They have so much momentum and it shows that Aaron Dessner really should have had a greater hand on the record.
Do you have any favorite lyrics thus far?
Emily Algar: The whole of the bridge from “You’re On Your Own Kid” but for the purpose of this article: “The jokes weren’t funny, I took the money/ My friends from home don’t know what to say/ I looked around in a blood-soaked gown/ And I saw something they can’t take away/ ‘Cause there were pages turned with the bridges burned/ Everything you lose is a step you take”
Also the lyrics from “Question…?”: “Does it feel like everything’s just like second-best after that Meteor strike?/ And what’s that, that I heard, that you’re still with her/ That’s nice, I’m sure that’s what’s suitable/ And right”
Josh: I actually really like this line from “Anti-Hero”– “I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money. She thinks I left them in the will.” For me, that line does a lot to represent how far she’s progressed in her career. It’s borderline inconceivable to picture the 17-year-old curly-haired country singer from the “Teardrops on my Guitar” period penning a line like that. At this point, we have access to a Taylor Swift who’s older, more mature, and ready to take on darker and more visceral lyrical fodder. Sign me up, yo!
Rachel Leong: I’ve always loved that her lyrics tell a story, or a hypothetical – she’s got a way of doing this that is so uniquely her. I’m sure there will be more standout lyrics the more I listen, but a couple liners I really love are: ‘The only kinda girl they see / is a one night or a wife’ , ‘My boy was a montage / A slow-motion, love potion / Jumping off things in the ocean’ , and ‘Do I really have to chart the constellations in his eyes?’
Madeleine Eggen: Agreeing again with Emily here – that bridge is everything. I also think that there’s a serious argument to be made for “Sweet Nothing” being one of Taylor’s higher-tier songs in terms of lyricism. Even with the wording in the first verse, the metaphors you can draw from the imagery of this traveling pebble are countless. From Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn’s hometown of Wimblow being name-dropped to her continued theme of being swallowed by fame, this intro is vulnerable and intense, but also delicate. It evokes big feelings from delicate things, Swift’s expertise.
Isabella Le: No, the “Snow On The Beach” praise doesn’t end with the last question; I love the imagery that Taylor provides in this particular verse: “This scene feels like what I once saw on a screen / I searched ‘aurora borealis green’ / I’ve never seen someone lit from within / Blurring out my periphery.” It contrasts the iconic line in folklore’s “Exile,” “I think I’ve seen this film before / And I didn’t like the ending,” but instead of foreshadowing a dreaded ending, the scene in front of her is something out of fantasies, much like the northern lights she sings of.
Anthony (to Mitch): Am I really not allowed to mention the “sexy baby” lyric twice in this roundtable? Fine. Then it’s “You know there’s many different ways that you can kill the one you love? The slowest way is never loving them enough” from “High Infidelity.” Ouch.
Sam Franzini: “I regret you all the time”, and “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first” from “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” are just devastating. I have no clue what I would do if that song was written about me. I think the only option would be to drop off the face of the planet!
What did you think of the “Anti-Hero” music video? Do you feel it represented the track as you initially heard it, or did it make you think differently about the song?
Josh Weiner: It’s got a nifty concept and impressive special effects, as do many of her music videos. Thanks to this video, I now get the sense that the “anti-hero” of which Swift sings can really be equated with herself, albeit in doppelgänger form.
Emily Algar: I think it’s brilliant! It has the right balance of funny and dark. Like Josh says, the special effects are brilliant and in proportion. I found the lyrics are represented really well in the visuals, which I know can be difficult and some music videos can end up not having any bearing on the song.
Unfortunately, I have seen a number of comments on social media accusing Swift of being “fat-phobic” because of the visual of her standing on the scales. I now understand that portion of the video has been cut! I think It’s bonkers that someone who has or had an eating disorder isn’t allowed to express that through her art without that expression of her own mental health being criticized. The album is a concept album about the thoughts she/we have at “midnight” (hence the album name), which as we all know, aren’t always the most logical, friendly or healthy.
Rachel Leong: Oh I loved it! I love Swift’s theatrical side that comes through in her visual representation of the songs. I don’t think that the lyrics and the visuals need to be perfectly synonymous, because they’re such different creative outlets with such different creative possibilities. I do love the way Swift always capitalises on both, and uses each to complement the other. Similarly to Josh the video did open up the new interpretation of the song for me, where she is her own worst critic/villain, but I think alternative interpretations never really detract from initial impressions of the songs and vice versa.
Madeleine Eggen: I think the music video was perfectly in line with how I perceive the album, which is a little ridiculous but overall really enjoyable and well-done. Through the screen, it’s clear that Swift and her team are exploring different ways to play on these alternate universes she spins from her songs, and it’s something she does really well. I thought the funeral bit was cute, and very tongue-in-cheek commentary about celebrity dynasties today. I’ve heard that Swift opening up more about her body dysmorphia and past eating disorder has been really powerful for some of her fans, however I’ve also seen those who believe the way she went about expressing these feelings was fatphobic. I honestly don’t know enough about the video to comment on it, but I do think it’s interesting how Swift quietly edited the video without any acknowledgement.
Isabella Le: I couldn’t help but giggle at the tacky CGI, though it was probably intentional and part of Swift’s creative direction. It was a lighthearted, enjoyable watch, and I especially loved the comedic scene where her “daughter-in-law kills her for the money.” Music videos don’t change what I think or feel about a song too much, especially if I listened to the song without visuals first, and the “Anti-Hero” video is no exception. It’s interesting to see how Swift interprets her music in video-form, but like Rachel, my initial impression has pretty much stayed the same.
Was there a particular track that took time to grow on you, but you now love?
Emily Algar: Like Rachel, “Lavender Haze” was an immediate favourite but the one of the tracks that has grown on me is “Question…?” The lyrics won me over first but it took time for the music to catch up to me.
Rachel Leong: Initially my favourites were Lavender Haze and Karma, because they were so catchy and the songwriting is great. The one that’s grown on me most unsuspectingly is probably Labyrinth. I just really love the production in that and how it leans in with the lyrics and the whole soundscape of it.
Madeleine Eggen: I talked earlier about how “Karma” took time to grow on me, but one song I really overlooked the first time around was “Bigger Than The Whole Sky.” It’s one of the classic Swift songs she does so well where she weaves a lot of delicate instrumentals with repetitive, long choruses, so it got lost in a sea of unexpected yet appreciated autotune and Scooter Braun disses. However, when I took more time to listen to the lyrics themselves and focus on the different layers of the song, I fell in love with it and it became a favorite.
Isabella Le: The voice distortion in the beginning of “Midnight Rain” made me do a double-take (in a bad way) at first, but it quickly became one of my favourites after a few runs through the album! Actually, my relationship with this song is more on-and-off, since there are days where I’ll have it on loop without even realizing it, and there are days where I’ll immediately press “skip” less than one second in– the fun lies seeing if I’ll wake up being completely obsessed with the song or wanting nothing to do with it.
Anthony Kozlowski: Probably “Karma.” The lyrics have me feeling a bit ambivalent because the wordplay is so incisive and yet it doesn’t stand out much from the myriad other “FU” songs she’s written in the past. But damn that chorus is catchy, and catchy can hide a lot of sins.
Sam Franzini: I’ll agree with Anthony and say “Karma.” God, that chorus is just so corny, but it’s clear she’s having a lot of fun with it. And if you look deeper at what she means — she’s not afraid of karma, because she’s been right all this time and her enemies are yet to endure the suffering equal to what she’s gone through — it’s pretty badass. I just have to tune out “Me and karma vibe like that.”
Which of Swift’s past songs would best fit on Midnights?
Rachel Leong: The first that come to mind are maybe ‘Gold Rush’ or “mirrorball’!
Emily Algar: I think “Dress” is a good contender. However, I try to see albums and their respective songs completely separate from the previous albums. I will say that each time I have listened to Midnights, all I can think about is her poems “The Trick to Holding On” and “If You’re Anything Like Me”. The lyrics and sentiment from Midnights really doesn’t feel that far removed from her poetry.
Madeleine Eggen: I think “New Year’s Day” would fit nicely into the bittersweet nostalgia thing she has (we all have?) going on.
Isabella Le: Weirdly, I think “Gorgeous” would fit quite well with the tracklist on Midnights, perhaps because of the reputation vibes I got my first listen through. Maybe it’s not the perfect fit lyrically, but I think it’d serve as an interesting sonic transition from “Labyrinth” to “Karma.”
Anthony Kozlowski: You can see some foreshadowing of Midnights on Lover, particularly with “The Archer.” When the hooks take a back seat, it allows her storytelling to drive. She tries that a lot on Midnights, and while I think the results are mixed, there are certainly some highs.
Sam Franzini: They might fare better on the deluxe, but I kept thinking back to “Renegade” and “right where you left me” alongside the Dessner-produced tracks would work well. There’s something about his production style that work really well with her storytelling that builds on top of each other.
How do you feel Midnights stands in the pantheon of Taylor Swift releases?
Josh Weiner: Off the bat, I think it’s definitely high-up. It probably will take some time-testing to see where it ultimately ranks, but it’s clearly a strong release and should do well in the long run. It’s already in the top-three in her pantheon, according to Metacritic, even above the almighty Red and 1989, my longtime top-two.
Rachel Leong: I think Midnights is a great next piece in the trajectory of Swift’s whole discography. She’s always done such different things with her sound and her music, so I feel like all her records have very different places within the music sphere. I think this record will be a really interesting one to look back on with hindsight!
Madeleine Eggen: I really like Midnights, and there’s a solid lineup of songs that will definitely become Swift classics for me. As an album and concept overall, it doesn’t feel as strong as Folkore/Evermore or Red (Taylor’s Version), especially with the masterpiece that was “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (Ten-Minute Version) and its respective short film. However, it has already blown countless streaming records out of the water, and I do think it ranks above the Lover album for me.
Isabella Le: Considering the fact that she broke three Guinness World Records in the span of a day, I have no doubt that Midnights will remain a huge standout among the rest of her body of work. It’s the album that has fused the most elements from her past records, and it feels like more of an anthology documenting her artistic growth rather than a distinct chapter or era in her music. Though it’s not particularly one of my personal favourite albums, all things considered, I do believe it will stand strong in the test of time.
Sam Franzini: I’m gonna be honest and say that this is firmly in my lower third for Taylor. I don’t really see myself revisiting it like the way I did for folklore and evermore, picking out new details and songs to experience. Already, there are some songs I find myself not wanting to listen to, where I’m like, “Nah, I’ve heard enough of that one,” which is so the opposite of how Taylor usually works in my brain. It still might be too early, but a lot of the songs are just total clunkers to me.
— — — —
📸 © Beth Garrabrant
an album by Taylor Swift