After two years of pouring her heart into rerecording her past albums, Taylor Swift made her big comeback on Oct. 21 since stunning the world with the beautiful Folklore and Evermore sister albums.
With Midnights, the bona fide queen of pop music made a return to atmospheric synths, electronic beats, and catchy hooks. It effectively readjusted her path to fit the direction her post-country albums seemed to be headed towards before the pandemic changed her plans. Midnights borrows the best aspects of 1989‘s themes, Reputation‘s sound, and Lover‘s vulnerability, but with Folklore and Evermore‘s maturity and introspection. In a lot of ways, it feels like the culmination of Swift as a songwriter.
The turn back to pop after the critical acclaim generated by her dip into the indie genre hasn’t been unanimously praised, but Swift has never been one to stay stuck in place. Her capacity for reinvention is a defining trait of her unparalleled career and perhaps her secret to grasping public attention for all these years.
Midnights broke Spotify, Apple Music, and Vinyl records in the first day of release, and received perfect scores from outlets like Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and The Independent, proving that, 16 years after her debut, Swift is still ahead of the game.
Across 20 songs, the singer simultaneously reveals a stark maturity and self-awareness and an unwavering desire to stay young and fresh. It’s Swift’s darkest album yet despite its instrumental presenting more like a dizzying glittery high. After Folklore and Evermore‘s refined poetry and fictional storytelling, Midnights hits like a train of raw, unfiltered, and incredibly personal thoughts and feelings that fit the theme of staying up at night immensely better. No one has ever been known for being sensible and collected after midnight.
Perhaps one of the artist’s most leveled works to date, and immune to a single bad song, ranking Midnights (3am Edition) is an almost impossible task, but we still gave it a go.
Track seven on Midnights, “Question…?” interpolates one of Swift’s greatest ever songs and earlier Jack Antonoff collaborations, “Out Of The Woods.” Perhaps that direct comparison does more harm than good because, despite its unusual subject matter and cryptic lyrics that draw the listener in, the song begs for an “Out Of The Woods”-type climax that never really arrives, resulting in one of Midnights‘ more monotonous members.
“Bejeweled” is irreverent, fun, and a perfect prototype of a Taylor Swift “glitter gel pen” song. In Midnights‘ 9th track, she proves that she is, indeed, still the brightest start in the room and invites anyone listening to put on their cutest outfit and go out to the dance floor no matter who’s holding them back.
“Paris” is a classical Swift song, dripping with romance, atmosphere, and vibrant visuals that transport you right into the whirlwind love story she is singing about. She equates her lover to one of the world’s most beautiful cities in this girly, intoxicating song, reminiscent of the teenage love that permeated her earlier music.
17. “The Great War”
One of only three songs in Midnights (four if we count Target’s bonus track, “Hits Different”) Folklore and Evermore architect Aaron Dessner helped produce, “The Great War” is an epic love song about overcoming trials and tribulations with the one you love. Despite the gut-wrenching lyrics, it’s one of the album’s breathers, allowing you to sit back and recover from the standard edition’s vertiginous pace and ushering in the 3AM Edition‘s quieter and somehow sadder tone.
Never one to pick the best songs off her albums to become lead singles, Swift’s turn in “Anti-Hero” will be demystified by time as either a grower or one of her more forgettable efforts. It’s not that the song isn’t interesting in its own right. However, compared to others on the album, its production is more ordinary and the lyrics, described as some of her most honest and intimate, actually come off as superficial and cautious when put next to heavyweights like “Dear Reader” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.” Still, “Anti-Hero” is the perfect greeting card for Midnights, and it does summarize much of the album’s themes and sonority.
For the less versed in “swiftology,” it might be hard to get past the “Karma is a cat” lyric, but those who have followed the artist since the times of “22” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” will see “Karma” for the campy unassuming hit it actually is. The fact that Swift can deliver songs like “Karma” and “Maroon” in the same album, or effectively Midnights and Folklore in the same discography, is one of the reasons why history will never be able to stow her away in a single box.
14. “Vigilante Shit”
“Vigilante Shit” is for the “Reputation” faithful. The sickening bass, slurred singing, and merciless lyrics come together to create this album’s mandatory bad b-tch anthem even if, at this point in Swift’s career, this particular song, sound, or topic, aren’t exactly a step forward but more of a safe bet for the singer. Still, no other song on Midnights has the “While he was doin’ lines and crossin’ all of mine, someone told his white-collar crimes to the FBI” lyric, and for that alone, “Vigilante Shit” deserves a Grammy.
13. “Dear Reader”
In “Dear Reader,” Swift addresses her fans, or, some have theorized, her younger self, or even just one of those conversations we have with ourselves at 3 a.m. By exposing some of the lessons life has not just taught her but forced her to learn, the singer taps into a desperate cry for help in the attempt to make hers a cautionary tale for others. It’s almost as if the entire album was leading up to this moment of self-reflection over past mistakes.
12. “Lavender Haze”
“Lavender Haze” is definitely one of Swift’s best openers. It’s incredibly successful at setting the mood for the remainder of Midnights, both sonically and thematically. Antonoff’s signature muffled elements and reverberating percussion immediately make it feel like there’s a party going on outside and we’re in a different room contemplating all our life choices after having a couple of drinks. To varying degrees, that’s true for all of Midnights.
11. “Snow On The Beach” (feat. Lana Del Rey)
As much as “Snow On The Beach” generated some disgruntlement after Lana Del Rey’s feature was revealed to be not much more than just back vocals, it is still an incredibly beautiful song. Maybe the most classically romantic track on the album, it still adds something new to Swift’s usual take on the genre. The melody is serene and otherworldly, much like the lyrics, whose sheer poetry should contradict anyone accusing Midnights of being a step down from its lockdown predecessors.
10. “High Infidelity”
In terms of storytelling, “High Infidelity” paints one of the clearest pictures in Midnights, and it’s not a particularly pretty one. It sounds like Swift is admitting to cheating on someone, but the honesty makes it all the more gripping. The lyrics keep you coming back for more like you’re in on the singer’s secrets.
“Glitch” is sensual, flirty, and addictive. Here, Swift sings about an unexpected connection that feels like a glitch in her reality because it was never supposed to last. The experimental and creative production paired with the narcotic melody and dynamics of Swift’s vocals make “Glitch” one of the most distinctive and singular songs on the album.
8. “Midnight Rain”
“Midnight Rain” is about choosing your career over being someone’s wife. Swift’s aversion for marriage seems to be a common theme throughout Midnights, a stark contrast to her 2019 single, “Lover,” where she sings out what sound like wedding vows to the one she loves. In the years since, the engagement rumors have swarmed, and this album feels like the singer’s rejection of those stifling gender roles. “Midnight Rain” is another one of those statement songs where Swift comes through as business focused, ambitious, and more than just a love interest.
Goodbye, “invisible string.” You were good while you lasted. “Mastermind” reinvents the idea of fate introduced in the past by Swift to describe her love stories, to reveal a much more real notion of planning and orchestrating the chain of events that will lead the person you want in your direction. The story and progression of this song are so clever and interesting, and its plot-twist ending (a classic Taylor Swift narrative device) somehow turns it into a very special and candid kind of love poem.
The cadence and production elements of “Maaron” make for one of the most arresting and feverish songs in Midnights. It’s a breakup song, yet it feels like something more. Swift’s fast paced verses and that metallic guitar sound create anxiety, but the way the song is built and written allows for moments of release that feel like resurfacing from drowning.
5. “Bigger Than The Whole Sky”
Swift has a special kind of talent for writing heartbreaking ballads, and “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” proves that yet again. This song is a prime example of the emotion the singer always permeates her vocals with, which can’t be separated from the fact that each of her songs is like a diary entry in which the words are incredibly personal to her. This is Midnights’ saddest song, and also one of the most stunning.
In “Labyrinth,” Swift tries to convince herself to trust a new love after getting her heart broken so deeply in the past. It’s a lot more than just a love song, it’s putting your insecurities on the line and asking the other person to be patient with you. The production is dizzying and one of the most titillating to the senses.
3. “Sweet Nothing”
Swift will always have something for the hopelessly in love, and what makes “Sweet Nothing” even sweeter is that it was written by Swift and her beau, Joe Alwyn. Fans have called this song a response to the Folklore song, “Peace,” where the songwriter wonders if her other half will keep loving her despite her tumultuous life. In this Midnights track, she finally knows that all they request from her is “sweet nothing.”
2. “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”
“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” has the potential to become the next “All Too Well,” and no, it’s not because it’s about a famous ex-boyfriend. Rather, it’s because it’s a lesser-known b-track that fans have latched onto for its rawness and vulnerability. It has the kind of universality that can make it a seminal part of any of their lives. Its production has a refreshing rock flavor that contrasts with the rest of the album, were it not another Aaron Dessner track.
1. “You’re On Your Own, Kid”
With “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” Swift looks back on her career and the multiple life events—some by choice, others not so much—that have led her to this moment. It’s an epic song, structured in a crescendo, as she makes peace with the fact that her independence will always be concurrently her biggest conquest and greatest fear. This is a type of song that plays at the end of a movie or at a graduation ceremony like the soundtrack to your leap of faith. It’s grandiose, but the lyrics’ details make the song feel incredibly relatable in true Taylor Swift fashion.