By Yasmin Attwood, Second Year English
If you want to hear “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [Taylor Swift’s] life”, look no further than her 10th studio album, Midnights. Swift delves into her experiences of fame and having a relationship in the limelight in this beautiful album that is very emotionally honest and retains Swift’s signature poetic allure in its lyrics.
There was much speculation as to which direction the genre of this album would take as Swift has notoriously traversed many different styles, from country to pop, to indie/folk… Midnights has a synth-pop kind of vibe – the synthesized tones are especially noticeable in ‘Lavender haze’, and ‘Midnight Rain’. There is a mixture of styles though, some songs hark back to Reputation era such as ‘Vigilante sh**’ with its strong beat and themes or revenge, and some songs are more similar to the understated manner of her previous two sister albums Folklore andEvermore.
There is a confidence to this album, and a sense that Swift isn’t trying to appeal to the masses – it doesn’t fully commit to being pop, and there were no pre-released singles – instead you can tell she is writing because she loves to write.
Anti-hero is the only track, so far, to have a music video! Taylor herself has said: “this is one of [her] favourite songs that [she has] ever written”. It tackles themes that are central to this album: how fame affects you, struggling with the idea that her “life has become unmanageably sized” as she puts it. While her most recent albums have included lots of songs written from fictional perspectives, this album draws more from personal experience. In a scene in the Anti-hero music video, Swift depicts herself as physically giant and unable to fit in, ‘a monster on the hill/ too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favourite city/ pierced through the heart, but never killed’. She configures herself as an ‘anti-hero’ and delves into her fear that she lacks self-awareness (‘I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror’), and that ‘I’m the problem, it’s me’ as repeated in the catchy chorus.
The close proximity of the words ‘sun’ and ‘mirror’ is also perhaps a subtle allusion to the tabloid newspapers, another important theme Swift explores in this album is the way the media is constantly speculating about her life. In ‘Lavender haze’ she includes the lines ‘All they keep asking me/ is if I’m gonna be your bride/ the only girl they see/ is a one-night or a wife’ in reference to the continual marriage speculation surrounding her and her boyfriend Joe Alwyn, who co-wrote the song ‘Sweet nothing’ with her under the pseudonym William Bowers. Just because song writing is often deeply personal, it doesn’t mean the media, or the public are owed details about Swift’s private life. Swift realises ‘I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say’ and chooses to ‘stay in that lavender haze’, which is a pretty 1950’s euphemism for the feeling of being in love.
This album includes some incredible songs, and Swift’s strong point, as always, is her elaborate lyricism. She is not just a talented musician, but a poet comparable to Shakespeare and Keats. From intricate internal rhyme in Anti-hero, (‘I wake up screaming from dreaming/ One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving/ And life will lose all its meaning’), to the poetic conceit form used in ‘The Great War’ which uses war as an extended metaphor for tumultuous relationships, and the plethora of jewel references in ‘bejewelled’ (‘Sapphire tears on my face’).
We see the return of Swift’s favourite metaphor in ‘Question…?’: ‘you painted all my nights/ a colour I’ve searched for since’, which recalls ‘Illicit affairs’ (You showed me colours you know I can’t see with anyone else’) and ‘Out of the woods’ (‘The rest of the world was in black and white/ but we were in screaming colour’).
There is also interesting providential imagery in ‘Mastermind’, which begins with the lines ‘Once upon a time, the planets and the fates/and all the stars aligned/you and I ended up in the same room/at the same time’… ‘just like clockwork/the dominoes cascaded in a line’. And the song has a riveting volta, revealing the speaker’s motivations: ‘No one wanted to play with me as a little kid/ so I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since/ to make them love me and it seem effortless/ so this is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess/ and I swear I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian/ ‘cause I care’, and a perfect plot twist in the concluding verse.
Overall, this album is a masterpiece, you should definitely listen to it ASAP. If you are a big fan, University of Bristol has its own Taylor Swift appreciation society which you can join to meet fellow Swifties and take part in Swift themed activities!
Featured image: Republic Records
Have you heard Midnights yet?