Taylor Swift’s 10th studio album, Midnights, was introduced to us as an exercise in restlessness. “This is a collection of music written in the middle of the night,” Swift wrote in August while announcing the project, “a journey through terrors and sweet dreams. The floors we pace and the demons we face.”
This explanation for Midnights makes sense in the context of its arrival. Less than two years after the unexpected, two-pronged opus of Folklore and Evermore, and smack in the middle of her extended process of re-recording (and expanding) her first six studio albums, Swift certainly did not need to release an album of original material this year – especially considering that she already has a mini-career’s worth of new material that she has yet to even play on tour.
Yet like any middle-of-the-night rumination, these songs gnawed at her, begging to be expanded upon instead of stored away for another day. Midnights brims with the bleary-eyed doubts, private triumphs, left-field questions and long-term musings that haunt us in the darkness; Swift felt compelled to hoist hers into the light.
Working closely once again with longtime kindred spirit Jack Antonoff, Swift uses Midnights to experiment with her sound in a range of directions; gone are the guitars that helped define Folklore and Evermore, replaced by an emotionally revealing brand of pop that’s rhythmic, synth-driven and guided more than ever by Swift’s razor-sharp lyricism. Midnights will draw comparisons to Swift’s more eclectic full-lengths like 2017’s Reputation and 2019’s Lover, simply by existing as more sonically amorphous than the mainstream pop of 1989 or the indie-folk of Folklore and Evermore.
While this project does resemble those albums in Swift’s tendency to color outside the lines of its core aesthetic, Midnights is also more personal and focused, with a relatively short run time (13 tracks in 44 minutes), just one guest (Lana Del Rey, stopping by for the swirling sing-along “Snow on the Beach”) and a smaller studio team (Antonoff and Swift are the only producers listed on the album) yielding a collection of messages that sound delivered straight from Swift’s sleepless mind.
Detours are taken, and voices are warped; Swift glistens in natural beauty, and lets more f-bombs fly than ever. Midnights can be messy, and that messiness is purposeful. Through her songwriting, Swift has embraced the complexities of her personality — that she can be both the bitter partner declaring “By the way, I’m going out tonight!” on “Bejeweled,” and the woman terrified of falling in love again (“You know how much I hate that everybody just expects me to bounce back / Just like that”) one song later on “Labyrinth.”
Swift’s place in popular music continues to be larger than life, and that status will likely be reflected with the commercial performance of the most anticipated album release of the fall. But on Midnights, Swift shrinks the scale, and pinpoints the humanity that has made her such a beloved storyteller. She didn’t need to capture those long nights, but that insomnia has made her discography, and legacy, all the richer.