DUB Review

#DUB Review: Taylor Swift’s Midnights-Magnificent Mayhem

“Midnights,” Taylor Swift’s new album, is proof that she is in her prime yet again, 15 years into her career.

In her own words (with a little paraphrasing), in 2019, after the release of her seventh album Lover, Taylor Swift was exhausted by all the attention her songs (reminiscent of her diary entries) were getting for the wrong reasons.

It felt too hot of a microscope. On my bad days, I would feel like I was loading a canon of clickbait, when that’s not what I want for my life.

Taylor Swift

A declared musical savant by the mere age of 20, she has been fighting her entire career to be taken seriously for her music when all people wanted from her was gossip and controversy. When lockdown hit, just like the rest of the world, Taylor was forced to cancel her plans. Unlike the rest of the world, she dealt with this by retreating into the woods, metaphorically of course. During this period, she made another career-defining album, Folklore, and followed it up with a sister album, Evermore. This time, however, she specified that her primary muse was fiction, a complete turn-around from her signature confessional style. And this worked wonders. Unable to use these songs as click-bait fodder for the tell-all, everyone was forced to focus solely on Taylor’s artistry, and through this, she cemented herself as the songwriter of our generation (a title that should’ve been hers the moment Speak Now hit the stands, but better late than never).

With Midnights, she has returned to the pop music landscape with such ease, it seems as if she had never left. To put it simply, the album is a masterpiece and a strong contender for the title of Taylor’s best pop album (let’s not dismiss 1989 just yet, that vault could be a goldmine). The first track, “Lavender Haze” is a dreamy, poppy earworm. With upbeat production and an addictive vocal echo, the song details her annoyance at the tabloids bringing up her past romances to this day and publishing fake engagements every other week. She sings about how she just wants to remain in a “lavender haze,” a phrase from the 1950s referencing the euphoria of being in love. The second track, “Maroon”, is a heart-wrenching yet upbeat song looking back on a past relationship and feeling like you lost your best friend when it ended. Track 2 runs throughout her entire discography are tied to one other by a solid thread ,( or an invisible string, if you will) of clever songwriting and “Maroon” lives up to this tradition with ease as Taylor describes the loss of communication as, “the rust that grew between telephones.”

Track 3 had been possibly the most anticipated track on the album, ever since Taylor described it as a “deeper dive into her insecurities” than ever before. To all those people who kept joking about how Taylor should write a song called “Im the problem”, here you go. Through the song and its subsequent music video, Taylor describes her struggles with fame, her body image issues, and feeling too old by Hollywood standards, amongst other things. Even though she wrote it specifically about her struggles, possibly every single one of us can relate to it (as is usually the
case when Swiftian magic is concerned). Track 4 brings us a Taylor Swift and Lana Del Ray collab. Need I say more? It sounds magical and sultry, with lyrics that you would expect from two top -notch songwriters. The fact that Lana sings no more than faint backup vocals is a letdown but other than that the song is amazing.

Moving on to the legendary track 5, “You’re On Your Own Kid,” the song details Taylor’s life and its trajectory through fame, with heartbreaking lyrics set to snappy beats. It’s personal, and vulnerable, but it leaves us with a hopeful “You’re on your own kid, you can face this.” Track 6 is “Midnight Rain.” The effect on the intro takes a little while to grow on you, but it is a fantastic song, cinematic in a way that reminds one of Getaway Car. It is impossible to hear, “He wanted a bride, I was making my own name, chasing that fame; he stayed the same, all of me changed like midnight rain,” without feeling it reverberate through every inch of you.

Side B

“Question..?” paints the classic Taylor Swift breakup trajectory- a good girl in love with a sad boy in a big city but then falling apart due to unforeseen circumstances and miscommunication. This track interpolates. “Out Of The Wood’s” from Swift’s 1989, and the chorus of the former is a flag bearer of the same levels of anxiety as the latter, wherein Swift expresses how the seeming alacer romance culminated in nothingness. Swift’s interplay of colors and emotions in this track has led to be a catchy pop melody that comes alive with the visual display. In the second verse, Swift also mentions being “caught in politics and gender roles,” which allegedly indicates the romance is a non-conventional one, further heightening claims of Swift’s bisexuality. The track
also highlights the influence of the public eye in romances, how one moment they mock certain relationships while the next second they adore them.

“Vigilante Shit” is the darkest track in the album which feels like a  fit in Swift’s Reputation, but with a parallel from “No Body, No Crime’. In the track, Swift sings, “I’m on my vigilante shit again”, which probably refers to Swift taking control of the situation herself without conforming to any law or norms. The chorus explodes into Synth beats and gray lyrics about her dressing for revenge
rather than for impressing anybody. Swift probably wants to ascertain the fact that she wants to take revenge on the man herself. In the second stanza, she talks about dropping the documents of the man’s doings to his wife which results in her producing divorce documents and she too dresses up for revenge. With the last pre-chorus, Swift mentions that she neither dresses for innocents nor for villains, which signifies that her battle isn’t a ploy for unity, but is one in which she rose like a vigilante.

The 9th track, “Bejeweled,” is about rediscovering inner shine and confidence after it is eroded by insecurities imposed by others. Swift talks about her partner being not so good and taking advantage of her kindness and love, which stalls her peace of mind. Swift used the metaphor of him wearing the same shoes she gave him to walk over her to highlight how she was being erased by her partner while she was blinded by his love. Swift deserves the penthouse of his heart while he only pushes her into the basement, thus making her realize that prioritizing someone as your
first is only fruitful when they do the same. The chorus expands into an energetic production with the message that she can light up the entire room even without him. Others flock to admire her shine but her shine is incandescent. A star-studded and Easter egg bejeweled( pun intended) music video was produced by Swift for the same wherein she gave a modern spin to the classic Cinderella tale (but better than the Amazon Prime remake).

“Labyrinth”, Track 10 is an underappreciated gem in the album. Labyrinth has a quite simple production and lyricism compared to the other tracks but it clearly defines what it means to be simple but melodic. The song starts with the aftermath of a breakup, and the skepticism about falling in love after that, especially love that grows fast at the pace of an elevator. In the chorus, Swift repeats the same lines, “Uh oh, I’m falling in love”, as if she’s warning herself about not falling againbut at the same time isn’t able to control her feelings. The resonance, arrangement, and lyricism of the song truly create the surreal aura of standing on a  trapeze lost in a labyrinth.

Track 11 is “Karma”, a catchy melody over a synth-pop track. Speculation by Swifties over the years about Karma being an album has finally been answered by the goddess herself, in the form of this track. Swift lashes at her wrongdoers and manifests the karma cycle to payback. She uses metaphors of Karma being her boyfriend, her cat, and a God, which creates playful imagery and sonic landscape in the song. Unlike “Vigilante Shit”, Swift here focuses on the repercussions of the wrongdoings rather than resorting to revenge. Swift’s perspective in the song is a state of grace seeing those who did her dirty suffer the same. In the chorus, she worships karma for the same.

“Sweet Nothing” is a floaty, simplistic pop melody that follows some dreamy romantic lyrics, about finding solace in her lover after facing the adversities of fame. William Bowery conspired to be the alias of Swift’s beau and is credited as a co-writer of the song. Swift expresses how special her lover makes her feel, as well as how he praises and admires her flamboyant writing abilities. Being in the fame against the ulterior motives of many evil masterminds in the industry, everyone expects Swift to be powerful, but only her lover understands and cherishes her soft spots. In the chorus, Taylor quotes that she finds consolation and comfort in hiding from the world with the subject, the world that has ulterior motives of following her only because of her fame and status. The world here might also refer to the paparazzi, tabloids, media houses, critics, crazy lovers, and haters and their scrutiny of celebrity life. Sweet nothing remains one of the most heartwarming tracks in the entire album.

Track 13, “Mastermind,” has a futuristic production with uptempo beats, and conforms with the idea of the scheming lady mastermind Swift as painted by the paparazzi. An antithesis to her previous songs like “Invisible String” where she mentions an invisible string tying her to her beloved, here she accepts that none of it was accidental but was a ploy that she has woven, the
love was a strategy, not fate. Swift isn’t remorseful of her actions as she believes the wisest women have to counter the prevalent norms of them being romantic pawns for men. Taylor wrenches the hearts of her listeners through the bridge of this song, where she talks about her upbringing-how no one wanted to play with her as a child, and going through such tough times made her like that. She defends her confession in the end saying she trusts their love with this real information.

Deluxe Tracks

Swift also released a deluxe 3 am version of the same album with seven extra tracks that couldn’t make it to the final cut. The listing starts with “The Great War” co-written by Swift’s previous
collaborator Aaron Dessner. The entire track is a metaphor wherein the love story has been symbolized as a war, her lover as a soldier bruised black and blue by her, the baggage of her troubled past experiences. She eventually talks about starting afresh, dumping this trauma in a memory garden, what a great way to represent it! The track is a throwback to her subdued folk-more lyricism and imagery.

“Paris” is an unapologetic pop song. It’s a feel-good banger, meant to dance to, something you can listen to on a drive or sing into your hairbrush. It’s a perfectly good song, and while I like it, I completely understand why it didn’t cut the final 13 songs that make up Midnights. There is one significant moment during the song when Taylor mentions shade and then goes on to specify, “not
the kind that’s thrown, the kind under where a tree has grown.” Artistically or personally, Taylor is well beyond the point of needing to care about what the internet, or what specific people on the internet, are saying about her, a sentiment that has made previous appearances in 1989’s “Shake It Off “and Lover’s “I Forgot That You Existed”, but seems to carry much more authenticity

What if I told you, there’s a sonic sister to Evermore’s Right Where You Left Me”, and that is the fourth bonus “High Infidelity”, a landscape of the final days of a love affair. It is from the perspective of a cheating lover who no longer felt loved by her partner. She asks him to retrospect his actions which made her cheat him. Swift also gives some serious love advice, “You know there are many different ways that you can kill the one you love/The slowest way is never loving
them enough”. The track made Swifties unrelentlessly eager to know where she exactly was on April 29! The element of cheating explored can also be an instinctive reaction to her lover cheating on her, outgrowing her love something which is explored in a deluxe Target Exclusive Track “Hits Different”.

Now, know that I say this with utmost love for the entire album, but “Glitch” is just a song. There isn’t more to it. The lyrics are up to the mark and are marvelous at certain points, (In search of glorious happening of happenstance on someone else’s playground) but they seem wasted on a song like “Glitch”. Sonically, it leaves something to be desired. The production is a bit forgettable, as is the entire song. It was rightfully left off Midnights and could’ve been left off the 3 am edition.
It is by no means a track one would skip if it came on shuffle, but it probably isn’t a song you would consciously choose to play.

“Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve” is a song so personal and so devastatingly heartbreaking that I don’t even feel comfortable writing about it. It details, with gut-wrenching honesty, a particular romantic involvement in Taylor’s life from back when she was just 19 years old. Through the song (and a quick listento Dear John from Speak Now), it is clear that Taylor is talking about a man significantly older than her and describing that experience as a dance with the devil. The song is about maturing and releasing that maybe you weren’t simply heartbroken, maybe you were manipulated by someone who knew exactly what they were doing. It talks of feeling like you lost a part of yourself and your innocence forever, and how “the tomb won’t close” and “memories feel like weapons.” It is impossible to not feel something in yourself shatter when Taylor screams, “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first.” Without a doubt, the saddest and one of her best-written songs.

“Dear Reader” is a satisfying conclusion to the 3 am edition of the album. It feels like getting advice from a trusted confidant. Through her abundance of experiences gained through the previous 16 years of her life and career, she talks about trusting instincts and escaping traps through reinvention. She tells us to be wary of people and follows that up by warding us against her advice by saying, “Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart.” The lyrics are beautiful and poetic and serve as the perfect song to bring the entire emotional journey taken throughout the course of the album to a close.

The imagery of midnights is a visual, memory garden of all her sleepless nights throughout her career resulting in some of the most ethereal songs ever. Swift has referenced the Cinderella story, which is reflective of how magical shine is transformed back into original ideas at midnight. Midnights is a self respective,synth-pop, well-rounded album , so can we just appreciate Mother Goddess Swift and Father Antonoff instead of speculating subjects?

Read Also: #DUBReview: Taylor Swift’s Evermore

Featured Image Credits: Complex

Naina Priyadarshi Mishra

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Hritwik Kalyan

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