Midnights is a concept album about late night contemplation. With this in mind, it is as much about setting an atmosphere. Spencer Kornhaber
has described the album as ‘aggressively and aggravatingly normal’:
Midnights is not different. It is normal. Aggressively normal, aggravatingly normal, and, in its way, excellently normal. She has found the cultural status quo, and it sounds like that Glass Animals song that was in everyone’s TikToks last summer. What’s distinct about her return to synth pop is just the flavors she stirs in: oozing bass, surmountable melancholia, and the same type of confession and awkwardness that appears 45 minutes into an office happy hour. Transcending expectations is its own expectation, and Midnights makes clear, with modest poignance, that Swift has burned out on her own hype.
Alternatively, Ann Powers suggests that it offers a rethink of Swift’s habits.
Swift uses Midnights as a way to rethink the sonic rhetoric of first-person storytelling and shake off habits that have served her artistically and commercially for more than a decade. Sometimes she succeeds; sometimes she hangs on to her old habits. But the attempt intrigues throughout.
Charlie Harding, Nate Sloan, and Reanna Cruz touch on the seeming return of the T-drop, but they also explore some of the newer ingredients that help set the scene, such as Reese bass.
NS: I think Reese bass is sort of equivalent to the sandworms in Dune. It’s under the surface; you almost don’t really hear it clearly, you only see the sand moving. You only get a sort of hint of what that creature — that sound — might look like. You get the sense that if you turn up your speakers to hear the bass more clearly, you still wouldn’t be able to. It’s always a little bit out of reach. Maybe it’s something about the way it’s filtered or side-chained … I don’t know. But something about it is untouchable; it’s unreachable.
Tom Breihan continues the vibe on atmosphere suggesting that the album “fills the room and makes the air taste better.”
My colleague Chris DeVille described the album as “just folklore with synthesizers instead of acoustic guitars.”
These songs are not anthems or earworms, but they fill up a room and make the air taste better. I would love to hear some more immediate top-down endorphin-rush Taylor Swift jams, but her downbeat burbles can be just as effective, and there are some really, really good downbeat burbles on Midnights.
One of the intriguing questions that seems to be addressed throughout the commentary is what is actually wanted or expected from Taylor Swift in regards to her evolution over time? Ann Powers discusses how, unlike Adele and Beyonce, Swift does not have a child and in our patriarchal society, this seems to matter.
Sam Sanders – I don’t see Beyoncé as 17 and in Destiny’s Child anymore. I don’t see Adele as being 18, doing those first small songs and albums. Different people, right? But we still do this thing where Taylor is 15. It’s a Taylor thing, and I can’t put my finger on it, so I want you to.
Ann Powers – I do have an answer for this, and it goes into a sensitive place. I think about the great song by the Pretenders, written by Chrissie Hynde, “Middle of the Road,” where there’s a line in that song where she says, “I’m not the cat I used to be / I’ve got a kid. I’m 33.”
Taylor doesn’t have a child. And in our patriarchal society, when does a woman change? When she becomes a mother. All the women you mentioned became mothers, and maybe one of the main reasons why we don’t accept Taylor as an adult is because the childless woman remains a strange figure in our society. We don’t know how to accept childless women as adults. I’m gonna thank you, Taylor, for not having kids yet because we really need more childless women out there showing their path.
Some criticism has also taken aim at Jack Antonoff. Kornhaber makes the case that although Antonoff co-wrote 12 of the albums 13 songs and co-produced all of them is it is misleading to suggest that the album is the way it is simply because of Antonoff. Kornhaber describes Antonoff as a ‘therapists-slash-craftspeople’, someone who provides the conditions to flourish:
The term producer can refer to a whole range of activities. Some producers mostly just capture the sound of artists playing their own music in the studio. Some, by contrast, are like one-person bands who whip up accompaniment for a vocalist. Some producers are beatmakers who deliver their contributions by email. Some are tyrants who use the singer as a mere ingredient for their own creation (and, in many cases historically, exploit or abuse the singer in the process). And some are therapists-slash-craftspeople, coaxing an artist to pour out their soul and then helping shape the results.
By all accounts, Antonoff falls into that last category.
For me, what I like about the album is how contained it feels. I wonder if this is what Antonoff brings?
Place between Lorde and Halsey.