Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’ redefines melancholy

Katie Langley, News Editor

Illustration by (Emma Kogel)

We can all remember the sleepless nights when rumination and worry, past relationships and new ones, shattered expectations and newfound excitement kept us from closing our eyes. And Taylor Swift just put it all so effortlessly into words.

Amid  re-recording her first six studio albums, Swift released her tenth studio album, “Midnights” on Oct. 21. The album’s 13 songs and seven “3am tracks”– surprise releases dropped at 3 a.m. after the original songs – tell the story of 20 sleepless nights throughout Swift’s life.

The album kicks off with a handful of Lorde-esque pop bangers. In the first track, “Lavender Haze,” Swift delves into the difficulty of maintaining meaningful relationships while coping with the momentous public scrutiny of fame, a theme that Swift has been returning to for years.

The second track, “Maroon,” is like “Red’s” older and sultrier sister. In this song, Swift looks back on a previous relationship. No longer is this relationship defined by the color red; it’s “so scarlet it was maroon.”

The influence of Bleachers frontman and Swift’s longtime producer and co-writer Jack Antonoff is tangible in dreamy synth lines and screamable bridges in songs like “Lavender Haze,” “Maroon” and “Midnight Rain.” Antonoff also produces songs for Lorde, as well as artists like Lana Del Rey and St. Vincent, both of whom worked with Swift on “Midnights.”

Once again, the Swift-Antonoff team owns pop music.

Moving on to the record’s lead single, “Anti-hero,” Swift once again dives deep into her insecurities. As lead singles go, this track has great radio potential. Swift is a master at crafting depressing lyrics to catchy, optimistic beats. However, one thing I’ve always admired about Swift is her ability to write subtly about self-doubt and doomed overachievement, in tracks like “Mirrorball.” Though poignant, “Anti-hero” is a bit too flashy for me.

The long-anticipated Lana Del Rey collab comes in the fourth track, “Snow On The Beach,” a song about falling in love with someone when you don’t expect it. It’s a dreamy song, fitting perfectly into Del Rey’s dreamy voice. I only wish we got more of Del Rey, who only provides backing vocals in the chorus. “SOTB” was a perfect opportunity for a “Nothing New” (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)-style double-female duet, surprisingly, Swift didn’t take that chance.

One of the most nostalgic tracks on the album is “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” The song describes Swift’s teenage self and her rise to fame at such a young age – the people she left behind, the childhood she missed, her persistence and self-reliance. The bridge perfectly sums up what it’s like to devote your whole life to a dream and give her “blood, sweat and tears” for notoriety.

Moving to my favorite song on the record, “Question…?,” Swift describes a fling that she wishes she fought harder for. This song, unlike the rest of the songs on the album, uses strictly she/her pronouns. Swift has been known to use the literary “male perspective” in her past in songs such as “Betty” and “Dorothea,” but as a queer Swift fan myself, it is comforting to have a song that feels like I can relate to and hold as my own.

“Vigilante Shit,” “Bejeweled” and “Karma” are grouped together in my brain under a tab called “bad bitch songs,” sounding like they came straight out of the “Reputation” era. These three tracks are perfect for drawing on a cat eye before going out with your friends on a Friday night.

In a complete change of pace, the most tender song on “Midnights” is “Sweet Nothings.” With a lullaby-like piano intro and heartfelt lyrics written by Swift and boyfriend Joe Alwyn– under the name William Bowery– this song perfectly encapsulates the sanctuary of a gentle love in a loud world. “Sweet Nothings” shows the incredible extent of Swift’s poetic ability with lines like “to you I can admit, that I’m just too soft for all of it.”

Unfortunately, I can’t cover every song on “Midnights,” each complex and layered in its own right. However, there’s one “3 a.m. track” that I have to mention.

“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” makes Swift’s absolutely heartbreaking ballad “Dear John” seem like child’s play. In this song, Swift looks back at the relationship that inspires “Dear John”– when she dated John Mayer at 19 when he was 32. With the knowledge of age, Swift says, “give me back my girlhood, it was mine first.” She recognizes how the relationship changed her as a person forever and returns to the idea that Mayer should have known better than to pursue a very young girl.

Although sonically opposite from previous albums “folklore” and “evermore,” “Midnights” feels like the fitting next installment in the Swift timeline. Personally, the album is special to me because I feel like I grew up with Swift. It’s meaningful to imagine Swift looking back at the feelings that inspired past songs, both the beautiful and the ugly.