Taylor Swift Puts the ‘Mid’ in “Midnights”

The pop superstar’s 10th album punches beneath her talents.

Taylor Swift has always been notable for the gap between her talent and taste. Her discography has impressive highs that could only come from the pen of a seasoned songwriter, and embarrassing lows, evoking a Katy Perry figure without the self awareness. While her last two records were evocative forays into atmospheric singer-songwriter music, her last pop album, “Lover,” was a whiplash between moments of euphoria and second hand embarrassment. 

With “Midnights,” Swift once again proves that just because one can stroke genius doesn’t mean they know what to leave on the cutting room floor. Announced as a series of 13 songs written in the middle of sleepless nights, “Midnights” is ironically sleepy. However, given its consistently lazy lyricism, it may keep you awake wondering how she got here from “All Too Well” and “Enchanted.”

Characterized by the thick sub bass present on nearly every track, Jack Antonoff’s production is reminiscent of FINNEAS’ on Billie Eilish’s debut, only far more overproduced. Here, Swift and Antonoff are returning to the darker, trap-leaning instrumentals of 2016’s “Reputation.” Thankfully, unlike “Reputation’s” tacky showcase of overego, “Midnights” doesn’t sacrifice substance for style. Unfortunately, there’s not much substance to sacrifice in the first place.

In fact, it makes sense that some of these songs weren’t written with a clear mind, with lines like “sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby, and I’m a monster on a hill” (“Anti-Hero”) and “like snow on the beach, weird, but fucking beautiful” (“Snow On The Beach”) being some of the biggest eye rolls in Swift’s discography. Unfortunately, its most interesting moments come in the form of new lows, most notably “Vigilante Shit,” one of the most horrendous fusions of pop and rap Swift has presented yet. “Karma,” arguably more embarrassing, shows her coming across as a queen of revenge but is as convincing as a Twitter rant.

Nonetheless, it has its moments of lush romance, convincing melodrama, and evocative lyricism. There are certainly instances where Swift’s knack for catchy hooks comes through. “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” a song that fits snuggly into Swift’s history of working full narratives into the confines of a three minute song, is the most essential example. Additionally, when Antonoff’s production isn’t focussed on blowing out a subwoofer, it’s a wonderful mix of distorted, nocturnal synthpop. A handful of these moments are magical and offer the moonlit introspection its rollout seemed to promise. But the greater handful, which too often peaks at inoffensiveness, fail to capture the depths Swift has proven herself to be capable of.

It begs the question: were these songs worth the sleepless nights? By the end of the record, you’ll be wishing she just took some Nyquil.