Heyyyyyy, sorry guys 😬
Yeah, I know, it’s been a while since this cranky queer has written anything. What can my say, I’m at a weird period in my life and writing is time consuming and hard (for god’s sake I write these 1000+ word reviews on my phone). I made a deal with myself this year to not write unless I feel motivated, and suddenly I just now realized I haven’t written anything in two months, and I had already taken a month break before I quickly reviewed Muse and Brendon Urie and then dipped. In my defense, this year has been mostly uneventful in terms of releases January through August, and then suddenly all the big albums I would have otherwise reviewed were released right when I went offline. And it’s not like I wasn’t listening either, there’s plenty of great albums I’ve heard that I want to talk about, as well as bad ones I have to justify wasting my time on. But I just kept finding myself busy or drained, I didn’t have the time. Well, time’s up. I read some messages asking about my disappearance, and frankly I’m getting impatient with myself too. I said to myself “fuck it, just write something. Don’t worry about it being fleshed out, don’t worry about length, don’t worry about whether or not it’s good or bad or witty or insightful or shallow. As long as it’s better than Doug Walker’s review of The Wall I’m golden. Just review the next “big event” album, whatever it is.” Well, that album is here. What will likely be THEE “big event” album this year. Everybody will be talking about it, I might as well give my two cents. No holding back. I’m excited to review the most highly anticipated album of the year, which is… “Midnights” by Taylor Swift.
okay. fine. sure.
Let’s back up a bit. Taylor Swift is one of the most beloved musicians ever. It felt like the moment she broke out onto the scene she was revered as one of the freshest voices of her time, and that sentiment has only grown with each following year, pushing her to legend status. She has one of the most loyal and devoted fanbases of all time with top of the chart success practically guaranteed with every release. Nobody commands pop culture’s attention like Taylor Swift. Which is why I feel like a walking target when I say that I don’t really care for her music that much. Sorry, girls, gays, and theys, I know I’ve failed you. I wish I did, I wish I loved every artist that was so big that they’re unavoidable, but I’ve just never connected to the way she writes music or her artistic voice, and I’ve yet to really love anything by her. Her first three albums are decent enough but they’re not my thing, and while I liked “Red” it’s not an album I go back to. And while I wasn’t crazy about pop country Taylor, I couldn’t stand pop Taylor. Not only were her pop albums between 2014 and 2019 often generic and uninteresting but it featured some of the worst pop writing of the 2010’s, either being bizarre, baffling, and having bad taste like “Bad Blood” and “Look What You Made Me Do”, or being bland, boring, and having no taste like “Gorgeous” and especially “ME”.
I was ready to stop paying attention to her new releases all together and it seemed like she was losing her impenetrable grip she had on the public, but Taylor was able to turn things around in 2020 with her sister albums “Folklore” and “Evermore”. I didn’t love those albums, but they were clearly her best work since “Red” - intimate folk fits her style of writing much more naturally than mainstream pop and the choice to write about other people instead of herself made her songs a lot more interesting. To me, this pair of albums signaled a clear direction for her evolution as an artist, and I hoped it was something she would further explore on her latest album, “Midnights”, her most hyped project to date despite no singles before the album’s release and only a handful of clues about what the record will be like. It was only mere hours before the album’s release, as I was writing this, that it was announced that it would be a visual album as well. The most we knew beforehand was that it was a concept record about thirteen sleepless nights - sounds interesting enough. Well, enough beating around the bush, let’s get into it. What do I think about the new album?
To be honest, I think “Midnights” is a regression for Taylor.
Yeah, this is not going to be the album that converts me into a Taylor Swift fan. “Midnights” is, at best, a mediocre record that frankly sees her going back into familiar and safe territory without improving or building upon that sound to make something better, just repeating the same mistakes. It’s essentially a combination of “reputation” and “Lover”, which I think are her two weakest albums. Are they better than those albums? Hard to say. I’ve had time to sit with my dislike of “Reputation” and “Lover”, and they definitely made more easily dislikable decisions than anything on “Midnights”. But while “Midnights” doesn’t have any ugly messes like those two, “Midnights” does surpass them in another important factor - being boring as hell.
Part of the problem why “Midnights” is as boring as it is is the album’s overall sound. For those who are new to my page - there is nothing inherently pop. Pop is great, I love pop, it’s what I listen to the most on a regular basis, the face that it’s a pop album is not the problem. The problem is that pop doesn’t comes as naturally to Taylor as country and folk and it leads to her take on the genre being so generic and dull. It seems like the record was aiming for an electropop take on moody alt-pop, and the final result sounds so watered down, colorless, bland, and frankly basic. The album is begging for a strong catchy tune, a groove, a bop, just anything to make these songs pop or stand out, but it’s like they made this record so it would easily blend into a Spotify playlist from 2017. So many songs feel stiff, meandering, and lacking in musicality that they all just blend together into a forty five minute mush of nothingness - it’s like if Lorde wanted to redo “Melodrama” so it sounded more like “Solar Power”.
Speaking of those two albums, “Midnights” was produced by Swift and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, whose name that once got me excited now comes across as a threat. There’s an increasingly popular point of view that Antonoff is a bad producer, which I don’t think is true, but also it kind of is? He’s been a part of some of my favorite albums of the last decade and some of my least favorite albums of the last decade. Jack is a good musician, orchestrater, and arranger, he knows how songs are supposed to sound and how to realize an artist’s idea. What he’s not good at is producing a song or an album - Antonoff seems very hesitant in getting in the way of an artist’s ideas to the point that he’s developed a reputation as a Yes-man. That’s not a bad thing when an artist is making good decisions that makes their work better, but a producer needs to push back when an artist is presenting bad ideas - especially Taylor, who it seems like has exclusively Yes-men on her team. I’ve seen some people say that this sounds like music made to be played in the background at a mall or an H&M - I don’t even think that. “Midnights” is so banal and nonspecific that it sounds like music made to not disturb patients in the waiting room at the dentist.
On top of the sound being a generic, tired blah, there’s also the fact that Taylor’s contributions are severely underwhelming. First off, I don’t think the vocal performances are great. A strong melody with a powerful or emotional vocal might help with the dullness of this record’s sound, but not only have a strong or emotionally captivating performance not been Taylor’s strongest suit it feels this record is missing the ear candy melodies she usually has. But maybe this could be solved with some great lyrics. Taylor’s known for her abilities as a writer, maybe if she pulled some great storytelling or emotional lines or topics this record could grab you with its words. The problem is that these are some of the worst lyrics she’s come up with to date. First of all, I would say this album being described as a concept record about sleepless nights are so misleading that it’s straight up a lie - these are normal songs that read like same old thing for Taylor, the “concept” feels like a tacked on afterthought meant to justify why we’re listening to an album of B-sides. But not only are the topics played out for Taylor, it’s like she ran out of lines that she could use for each theme so she’s just writing sentences that complete the rhyme. I’ve felt like Taylor has overlooked how her production sounds because she thinks her lyrics will make up for it, but not only is that not how pop works (see: this album), she’s not even writing decent lyrics to make up for it.
For example, the beginning of the chorus to Anti-Hero, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me. At tea time, everybody agree” sounds like a Dear Evan Hansen reject, that line immediately being followed by the even worse “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby”. Meanwhile the lyrics on “Snow On The Beach” sound like Taylor was aiming for the vibe of the tracks collaborator, Lana Del Rey, but instead ended up as the shallow faux-poetry ramblings of “Badlands” era Halsey. Of course I can’t forget all of the lyrics on “Karma”, probably the most talked about song so far and not for a good reason. I don’t know if “Karma is a cat, purring in my lap cause it loves me, Flexing like a goddamn acrobat” upsets me more because it’s a bad lyric or because it reminds me of her role in the movie adaptation of “Cats”. And then there’s “Vigilante Shit”, which, first of all, doesn’t even sound like a finished song musically, structurally, or lyrically, but features a ton of terrible bars, most notably the opening lyric “Draw a cat eye, sharp enough to kill a man” which sounds straight up like it was a reject for the 2017 Reputation sessions. I only have so much time, but I could keep going on and on about numerous bad lines on this project, especially every time she says a swear and it sounds like a middle schooler trying to impress the kids at the cool table. For someone who is regularly celebrated for her skills as a lyricists, Taylor dropped the ball here.
I don’t know how to describe “Midnights” except as a regression for Taylor Swift. It feels like any progress she’s made with “Folklore” and “Evermore” as well as the remakes of “Fearless” and “Red” never happened, it’s as though this was a compilation of scrapped songs from “Reputation” and “Lover”, two albums I already don’t like. But even then, despite me not thinking this album has any lows as bad as the ones on those respective projects, it’s feels like “Midnights” barely goes above those records’ few highs, if at all. And at least those albums were interesting, they were unintentionally a big insight into Taylor’s mind at the time. “Midnights” doesn’t tell me anything about her, in fact I think it’s afraid to do so.
I was really hoping her last two records were a sign of a better direction for her music, but honestly I feel like she took a step back the second she got comfortable. The music is stale, generic, and mushy, and the lyrics feel like they were 50% made with a rhyming dictionary and 50% pulled out of a hat. I don’t even think I hear a hit on this project - I’m sure there will be because Taylor’s music charts by default but if it were made by somebody else I don’t think people would like it enough to chart. And I think Taylor’s team knows this because good god this rollout had a shit ton of fluff and products they pushed you to buy without hearing a minute of actual music. This probably wasn’t the best pick to get back into reviewing with, I should have done something I enjoyed more or covered an artist with a less outspoken fanbase, but I’ll be honest, this was one of the more exhausting listens I’ve had this year. “Midnights” is an entirely nondescript album, lacking in personality, emotion, identity, or even a pulse, that feels more like a footnote in Taylor’s career and artistry instead of Thee “Big Event” Album it was billed to be.
God dammit, I should have reviewed Björk.