(Sorry for the delay on this. Album dropped late last night and I expected to wake up to a 3,000 word love letter from Keegs up on the blog, or at the very least in drafts. But she’s working on another take from just a standard review. So I was allowed to give my own. So here’s my loser DJ opinion on the new record.)
“This is a collection of music written in the middle of the night,” Swift wrote back in August while announcing what would ultimately be her 10th album, Midnights, “a journey through terrors and sweet dreams. The floors we pace and the demons we face.”
10 studio albums is a lot for any artist. Nevermind an artist on an absolute warpath writing and recording non-stop like Swift has been.
I.e.- Less than two years ago she blessed fans during the pandemic with Folklore and Evermore. And she released these right in the middle of her determined process of re-recording (and expanding) her first six studio albums as a way of sticking it to those sleazeballs Scooter Braun and George Soros who bought her catalog without her having the opportunity to herself.
Not even Swiftest biggest fan, (or critic) would have faulted Swift for not releasing an album of original material this year – especially when you consider that she already has 3+ albums worth of new material that she has yet to even play on tour yet.
But alas, Taylor is a workaholic writing, and recording at a relentless pace, and we’re all the better for it, because Midnights is some of the best work of her career.
To be fair, I’m no longer a card-carrying member of Taylor’s apologist army. She used to be incapable of doing wrong in my eyes.
But I was not a fan of her last two releases, Folklore and Evermore.
I will never criticize or knock an artist for doing something true to themselves. Putting art out there for the world to consume, dissect, and give their .02 cent opinion on (good, and mostly bad), is something 99.999% of humans could never and more importantly would never have the balls to do. Man in the arena type stuff.
So all the power to Swift for working her ass off during lockdown and penning and recording two albums worth of stripped-down, indie-folkish songs lots and lots of people loved. They just weren’t my cup of tea.
Midnights however couldn’t be more my speed.
She’s once again teamed up with mastermind producer Jack Antonoff, (who I am convinced at this point is cloned and has 2 or 3 of himself walking around working. Because no human is physically or mentally capable of finding the time and brainpower to produce this many monster albums like he has the past 4 years).
And they also solicited the help of 3 of hip hops most talented producers- Sounwave, Jahaan Sweet, and Sam Dew.
And the result is a record that pops with high hats, and hits you deep in the chest with thick 808s.
This doesn’t sound like a prior Taylor Swift album, and that’s a good thing.
For one, it’s production heavy- meaning you can tell a ton of tinkering went into the engineering of every song on this album post recording. But not too much, where’s its noticeable and annoying. A credit to Antonoff’s talent of knowing just the right amount of spice to add to the sauce to get it perfect without ruining it.
On “Question…?” her voice is refracted during the bridge, into an abyss of inception-like Taylor voices -
On “Bejeweled” we’re inundated with rhythmic synths that crescendo into sound bursting vocals from Taylor on the hook.
On “Sweet Nothing” we’re treated to an old school Taylor arrangement featuring organ and saxophone notes to accompany beautiful lyrics which Swift twists the song’s title into a double entendre for what her partner expects from her after a long day chaos.
We’ve got full synth-pop production as well as voice warping on what is arguably the most beautiful song on the album, “Labyrinth”
And swoops of dubstep-influenced bass, trap and house-inspired beats and effects on "Midnight Rain",
There’s also a rare, but not unheard of, collaboration on the album, featuring one of Taylor’s favorite artists, Lana Del Rey.
The two team up on an f-bomb-laden track, heavy with vocal imagery, titled “Snow On The Beach”.
It is pretty disappointing that the most we got out of Lana on the track are a few "coos" though.
But speaking of f-bombs, they are everywhere on this album. Remember when you were a kid and you learned a new swear word and it was all you could say for a week? Well Midnights is like Taylor just learned she was allowed to say fuck out loud and she can’t get enough of it.
On one of my favorite tracks, “Lavender Haze”, there are more modular synths as well as backing vocals from Zoë Kravitz, who co-produced the song, rhythmic in sound, the vocals pull no punches -
“I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say,” before throwing back in our faces, “the 1950s shit they want from me”
On what is sure to be one of Swift's all-time fan favorites, “Vigilante Shit”, finds Swift taking aim at her enemies and encourages her female fans to do the same. The song's structure is framed around deep electronic beats and synths, very reminiscent of electronic house.
The album's best track, "Anti-hero", is also my favorite. Swift claimed that “self-loathing” inspired her to pen the songs on Midnights, and it's nowhere more apparent than on "Anti-hero".
The kick drums are perfect. Almost too perfect, reminding me so much of Notorious B.I.G. and Lil Kim's "Another".
The vocals sting, and you can already hear them being belted out in stadiums nationwide by her minions next summer when Swift inevitably tours.
The methodical drum loop, complimented by simmering synths, boasts some of the album's best lyrics. Swift has always written circles around other artists, but it's almost like she decided to really show off on this one. I mean dropping a quad-rhyme in the pre-chorus like she does is absurd. Pulling it off like she does, you can tell Swift really wanted this track to stand out. Which is why she released it a few weeks ago with a full music video.
Another beautiful track came out on the 3AM release, “Bigger Than The Whole Sky”.
One of the things I really admire about Swift is her marketing prowess. She is a genius when it comes to self-promotion. Always ahead of the curve. Always.
The way she rolled out this album was a clinic in building pre-album buzz.
Her video series announcing each track name, one by one, after pulling ping pong balls out of a machine (shout out PMT) amassed more than 90 million views on Tik Tok. 90 MILLION.
Her album announcement post on Instagram got over 9 million likes.
She is constantly reinventing herself and constantly driving the wedge of polarization between her fanatics, and haters deeper. She loves that you might hate her. Her fans love it even more. And she's laughing all the way to the bank because of it.
In her 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana, Swift spoke of the pressure she feels to constantly reinvent herself.
“The female artists I know of have to remake themselves, like, 20 times more than the male artists,” Swift said, “or else you’re out of a job.”
She is constantly dropping Easter eggs in her posts, even in her songs. Callbacks to past songs might sound like a lame idea to most artists, but her fans eat it up and can't get enough. There are thousands and thousands of subreddit pages dedicated to playing Sherlock Holmes trying to decipher her cryptic posts and lyrics.
And let's not forget the real way this latest project is going to generate a fortune- the release rollout and format itself.
There are over 20 different versions of the album available on CD, LP and cassette in various colors, with different cover artwork, censored and uncensored, with and without autographs. That makes this a collector's dream.
She is also providing not only the multiple Midnights versions but elaborate containers to put them in, like a $39 CD clock or vinyl clock for $49, which display the four albums in a timely format, or $79 faux-leather vinyl collector’s case.
Her ability to stagger lead up singles isn't totally unique nowadays- with artists leveraging the ability to rack up "streams" on songs featured on an album prior to that albums release, clocking up padded stats that will play into big "release date" numbers and in a way "cheating" the algorithm. The difference is nobody does this better than Swift, who manages to blow people away, pique their interest, and still not show all her cards or spoil the surprise before the full release.
Taylor also kept all her fans up all night by promoting a “special very chaotic surprise” in the wee hours, and she didn’t disappoint, dropping a trove of extra Midnights tracks, 7 in total at around 3AM.
The entire night was an "event". Back in the day, when new albums would drop, we would look forward to the date for months. Then flood the record (cd) stores before they opened because once they ran out of CDs, you were left scooping the vinyl or cassette or you were shit out of luck until you found a store that had it in stock. The digital and on-demand era rendered all of that completely void. But somehow, someway, through genius marketing, Taylor has found a way to turn album releases into a huge deal again.
And it doesn't end there, after dropping these 20 new songs, Taylor fans can tune into NBC on Monday for Swift’s previously confirmed appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Then on Tuesday, Oct. 25, a second, unnamed Midnights music video will drop.
Love her or hate her, she is an unparalleled business, and hit-making machine.
p.s.- we discussed this album amongst other things in the week of music “On The Guestlist”