MusicReview

Taylor Swift: Midnights — A tangled, twisting tour de force that will keep you wide awake

A thread of feverishness ripples through the record, perhaps the most angst-infused the singer has released since Reputation

Midnights
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Artist: Taylor Swift
Genre: Pop
Label: Republic Records

Taylor Swift describes her 10th studio album, Midnights, as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life”. True to that characterisation, a thread of feverishness ripples through the record; perhaps the most angst-infused Swift has released since her fame-is-lame opus, Reputation.

Midnights is just as notable for what is missing. It lacks the cocooning snugness that was a defining feature of her two lockdown LPs, Folklore and Evermore. That sensibility is replaced by an elevated jitteriness that will be familiar to many of us as we step out of the pandemic bubble and engage once again with everyday life. This is Swift exiting her hygge den only to discover that the world beyond is as overwhelming as when she pulled closed the shutters.

The darkness gives the collection a twitchy energy that is often irresistible. Lavender Haze, the opening number, pulsates with 2am melancholy, with Swift declaiming in a sort of baroque wail. It is one of several songs that meditate on the public fascination with her relationship with the actor Joe Alwyn. Here we find Swift quietly freaking out about the circus encircling her personal life (“I’ve been under scrutiny/You handle it beautifully”).

If not called out by name, Scooter Braun is clearly in her sights on Midnights’ best song, Karma

Midnights materialises in a swirl of secrecy, with the singer declining to release any advance singles. In the absence of any concrete hints about the direction she would pursue with her first new body of work since Evermore, in 2020, fans have filled the void with speculation.

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But their often feverish guesswork is revealed to have been in vain. Midnights is nothing more or less than an excellent Swift record, which takes up the threads from her prelockdown LP Lover and stirs in some of the folk-pop ennui that she explored working with Aaron Dessner of The National.

Dessner is absent here; she instead reconnects with Jack Antonoff, with whom she has collaborated since 1989, the project that sealed her journey from country sensation to mainstream pop star.

That album was also one of several releases to which Swift lost the rights when her back catalogue was acquired by Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun. Swift was outraged when Braun snatched her music and she has been rerecording her early LPs from scratch to reassert ownership over her repertoire. If not called out by name, he is clearly in her sights on Midnights’ best song, Karma. “King of thieves/Weave your little webs of opacity/My pennies made your crown.” Oof.

That sweary title is not an anomaly. This is the most potty-mouthed Swift we have witnessed, with several F-bombs strewn throughout

True to an album that orbits themes of internalised emotion and wee-hours solitude, cameos are at a minimum. The actor Zoë Kravitz has a writing credit on Lavender Haze. Lana Del Rey, another Antonoff collaborator, duets on Snow on the Beach, an Enya-goes-shoegaze meditation on Swift’s relationship with Alwyn.

Her boyfriend is a recurring presence. On the album’s penultimate track, Sweet Nothing, Swift references a holiday they took together in Co Wicklow, presumably around the time he was starring in Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. “A pebble we picked up last July,” she sings on the ballad cocredited to William Bowery, an alias used by Alwyn. “We almost forgot it — does it ever miss Wicklow sometimes?”

Elsewhere that sweetness gives way to a conspicuous sweatiness. This is the most potty-mouthed Swift we have witnessed, with several F-bombs strewn throughout. It’s also thrillingly intense, emotionally gripping and packed with hooks that go off like darkly blazing firecrackers. Not for the first time, Swift has, with Midnights, made a tangled, twisting tour de force that will keep you wide awake past bedtime.

Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics