Fun and Cryptic Daydreams
Taylor Swift’s Midnights (21 October 2022; Republic Records) is packed full of great hooks, cryptic messages and mad, mad fun.
Take for example the outstanding lead single, Anti-Hero, the video of which Swift made herself. In the song’s representation, she envisages one of her ‘selfs’, playing, for example, her Taylor Living Jewels Koi acoustic – while another is smashing it to pieces. Swift looks on at her alter-ego ‘being bad’, and laughs at herself at the same time.
Each of her characters in the video seem to need a drink to get through the day, as she pokes fun at her fame making her ‘too big’ to actually be with. “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby/ And I’m a monster on the hill,” she sings, as her friends look on stunned, “Too big to hang out/ Slowly lurching toward your favorite city/ Pierced through the heart but never killed.”
But mocking both her critics and herself in song is still not enough for Swift, who then takes things to another level by letting her worst nightmares off the leash in a hilarious fantasy that sees her (as yet unborn) children fighting over her Will. As she peeks out from her coffin she watches as her imagined daughter-in-law murders her for money, and feigns grief while wearing one of Swift’s own dresses. Meanwhile her DJ ‘son’, just back from Ibiza, sits in a pew with a thousand-yard stare, presumably just after having ingested a truckload of E.
This small extract from Anti-Hero is just one example of the blend of catchy music, lyrical skill and self-aware humour that has made Swift stand out as one of the leading artists of our time.
On her tenth release, Swift has again partnered with Jack Antonoff, to create something fresh and original. The 13 songs have been packaged as ‘13 sleepless nights’ in which, in the solitary quiet of darkness, she reflects on her loves both past and present, her fame and her haters – of which she sometimes envisages herself as the number one. It is a great concept that enables her to strongly connect with her listeners, be creative and lampoon herself at will.
Opener Lavender Haze is perhaps the most ‘innocent’ and candid track on the whole record. In focusing in on the simple beauty of love, and particularly that with her actor boyfriend Joe Alwyn, it acts as a kind of barrier against all the nonsense to come – both on the album and in life. Synths are to the fore as she opines: “All they keep asking me / Is if I’m gonna be your bride / The only kinda girl they see / Is a one night or a wife” as she skewers all the cynicism with a straightforward riposte: “Talk your talk and go viral / I just need this love spiral.”
Inevitably, darker material follows on tracks like Maroon, Vigilante Shit and Karma, any of which could refer to an ex - or perhaps ‘friendships gone wrong’, such as those with Kanye West or Scooter Braun.
As a big Lana Del Rey fan, I was very much looking forward to Swift’s collaboration with the ‘queen of tragic romance’ on the song Snow On The Beach. It is a nice tune, but somehow doesn’t fulfill its lyrical or musical promise; in fact, if I hadn’t read beforehand that Del Rey participated I am not sure I would have guessed it.
You’re on Your Own, Kid sees Swift reflect on her busking days; Midnight Rain paints her as a rolling-stone heartbreaker; while Mastermind closes the collection with a nod to her “cryptic and Machiavellian” ways of finding a lover.
Swift’s previous original offerings, Folklore and Evermore, were born of, and reflected, quarantine vulnerability and isolation, predominantly through the use of her acoustic guitar; while Midnights is much more complex and synth-driven.
Either way, even when opening up her soul to her deepest fears and doubts she feels like a woman who is totally in control; and maintaining the thrill of just where she might jump next.