OPINION: An outsider reviews Midnights album by Taylor Swift

by Riley Hodges

On October 22, Taylor Swift released the album Midnights at midnight and as expected it’s received a lot of attention. Of course I figured who better to review the album than someone who doesn’t listen to Taylor Swift, let alone pop music?

Find the YouTube playlist of the album here.

Lavender Haze

I only ever played Rocket League once at a friend’s house but the leading track “Lavender Haze” sounds like a song that would play in the lobby of that game. Sonically it’s not really anything special and it doesn’t set a very good stage for the rest of the album. (Spoiler alert: the rest of the album doesn’t sound this bland.)

The lyrical meaning of the song is about just Swift doing her thing. She’s tired of media coverage and critical analysis of things outside her music. The sort of “lavender haze” she talks about wanting to stay in might be a reference to a spotlight, with her just wanting to be in it, not to be criticized for things outside the spotlight (outside her performance). Whether that’s what she actually means, we may never know.

What the internet says: Apparently “being in the lavender haze” is an old 50’s phrase meaning being in love, according to Swift’s Instagram. This does however prove that Swift can write songs that don’t have a clear meaning and can be interpreted in multiple ways which is a good thing.

Rating: 5/10 Lyrics were good, but the sound wasn’t.

Maroon

Instantly it’s easy to hear a difference in sound. This song is more bass heavy and even the bass “drum” is more accentuated. It has a little “bubbly” synthesizer melody on the same level with the bass. The singing cuts in and it’s more breathy than the last song, and it’s also a double track with two tracks of vocals which gives it a chorus effect and causes easier and better harmonization; literally everyone uses this technique. 

The lyrical meaning of this song is also much simpler. Instantly it’s about spending time with someone she loves. She then goes into describing details about dancing with this guy in New York, and about how the sunset was burgundy like the wine he spilt when they bumped into each other (so romantic), similar to blood that rushed to her cheeks, and the mark on her collarbone (???) and rust and lips. And in case you didn’t know, burgundy is similar to maroon, which is the song title. 

As cheesy as the lyrics are, the performance and delivery of them are spot on in the chorus where she sings loud and high while the bass-driven backing track stays mellow but adds reverb. This separation between the “instruments” and vocals gives it this feeling of her calling out to the guy. She sings as if she was longing to go back to those moments, and adding more meaning just through vocal performance is exactly what makes a good singer good. 

In the next verse it becomes clear that something happened that caused a separation between Swift and the guy, especially with the line “How the hell did we lose sight of us again?” However the line, “Carnations you had thought were roses – that’s us,” makes no sense at all. It sounds like one of those throwaway lines that artists sometimes use but because I wanted to make sure, I googled the difference between the two flowers. And all I could find was that carnations last longer than roses, which would only make sense in the context of the song if she said they were roses they thought were carnations. 

What the internet said: Absolutely nothing. I found people saying how much they loved that line but I couldn’t find a single thing saying what it meant.

Rating: 9/10 Not my style but objectively good.

Anti-Hero

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think this one’s the big song. When I hear people talk about the album they usually mention this song first. Now sonically you can just tell this is the song everyone likes. It just has that “this is the best song on the album” vibe. The “drums” have a fuzz effect and the hi-hat has a strange tremolo effect on it, but it also sounds as if it’s moving around. The track is layered with sounds, with vibrato-y bass harmonizing with more melodic bass that’s up an octave and fuzzy synth accents as transitions. 

Lyrically it’s quite straightforward. “Midnights become my afternoons / when my depression works the graveyard shift” refers having a really bad sleep schedule, as well as having depression. Swift also talks about how she gets herself into bad situations when left to her “own devices.” The song is quite easily about being the “anti-hero” someone who’s not necessarily bad just definitely not good. They are in it for themselves and don’t care about other people. It’s a story about low self-esteem and bad habits. 

Rating: 9/10 There’s not much to write about because it’s pretty repetitive but it’s still good. (And it is now the soundtrack to every TikTok and Insta Reel.)

Snow on the Beach

The intro of this song is quite a musical shift from the last song: a soft, playful-ish noise followed by typical T. Swift vocals which deviates from the more electronic pop sound of the last couple songs. This song is the only song of the album that features someone else, and I honestly have no idea who Lana Del Rey is but I never knew Swift to feature someone else on her songs (not that I know much about her songs).

The vocal dynamic in the verse is interesting because she cuts into her head and chest voice every couple beats. I think the vocal delivery could be a little better though, the line “weird but f—ing beautiful” is delivered in a really cheesy way and disrupts the flow of the song because she puts too much emphasis on the swear word (sort of like when a middle schooler starts swearing to try and be cool), but other than that it doesn’t sound too bad. I honestly can’t tell if Lana Del Rey ever actually sang in the song.

I believe the song is about a weird but good relationship between Swift and someone else (“It’s like snow on a beach, weird but f—ing beautiful”). And it seems she doesn’t believe it’s good, as if it’s too good to be true (“Can this be a real thing?”) or that she’s dreaming (“Flyin’ in a dream”). 

Rating: 5/10 Seems like it’s filler. 

You’re On Your Own, Kid

The song has the tempo that the last song lacks; however, it sounds more classically basic than the first songs which were more electronic and produced. Simple but catchy, this one meets the point of pop songs. 

The lyrics are written as if a message to a childhood crush who grew up to be bad or just in general not what she wanted. It seems like she always wanted to get over him, but she had trouble with it (“I dream of getting out”) and was hoping that if she met someone better it would save her (“I search the party for better bodies”). However with the saying “You’re on your own kid” is her talking to herself telling herself it’s time to be independent and she doesn’t need someone else to save her. It has an underlying message of her leaving this guy to chase her real dreams because that man wasn’t her life. 

Rating: 7/10 Solid song, good meaning. 

Midnight Rain

This song’s start was unexpected. The vocals have a vibrato effect on them and are dropped an octave lower electronically. It gives the voice a weird effect because it’s more of a male’s pitch with a female “accent.” After the intro it cut back to typical Swift vocals. The instrumentation phases in and out from weird bass-y “shoops” covered over by high pitched synth melodies. 

The lyrics are clearly about leaving her man for her dreams (similar to the last song). However the difference of this song is that this guy was actually nice (“he was nice”). The reason she left him, however, was because he wanted a normal comfortable life while she wanted to be famous. She wanted to experience the hard work and pain of “making my own name.” 

Rating: 6/10 I didn’t like the octave lowering, and it ruined the flow. I was expecting a lot more seeing as it has the album title in the name, so it was a little more disappointing that it should’ve been.

Question…?

It starts out with a basic, modern hip hop drum and one word of the lower octave vocals which scared me. But luckily normal Swift was singing. Honestly, I don’t think her voice really matches that hip hop drum sound, but it’s so quiet it’s easy to ignore. The song really lacks any melody and really just has rhythm bass and drums in the background. The second chorus actually features a complication of the drum beat. The final pre chorus (“and right, but tonight”) features a sort of auto-tune explosion and it’s weird seeing as there’s no other parts of the song where she uses enough auto-tune to be audible, but it wasn’t that bad. However it was quite a buildup for a pretty chill chorus.

The lyrics appear to be about her asking a guy about experiences with his other exes. But all the questions are really specific and it makes me wonder if she herself experienced those or if she was suffering from a bad case of jealousy. And most of the questions are sort of “What would/did you do?” which complicates it a little further. Why would she ask a guy what he did in these romantic or romance-related situations? It never actually says who this guy is (whether he’s just some guy or someone Swift is interested in being with) which makes it impossible to actually know why she would ask these things.

Rating: 7.5/10 Confusing lyrically but not bad.

Vigilante sh–

The song sounds like it’d be in the part of a movie where a girl is getting ready to do something “evil” and so it has a perfect getting-ready montage. It’s a slow beat. The vocals are isolated but she sounds mad, but with purpose. The vocals are doubled in a way that sounds more “demonic.” You can hear Swift smirking while singing this song. 

The song is about revenge. It’s about getting back at someone who did her wrong, and she’s quite positive she’s going to come out on top. And getting back at someone who did something wrong – either to you or someone else – is very much an anti-hero trait. Is she feeding information to someone’s wife about the bad things he did and therefore helping serve “justice” with the wife (now ex-wife)? I think he cheated on his wife with Swift and Swift found out he was married (“You did some bad things, but I’m the worst of them”). It’s a song about being taken advantage of and of making it “even.” 

Rating: 9/10 Solid song, solid meaning.

Bejeweled

This song flows and sounds similar to Anti-hero, which is uncreative. The flow of the chorus is a little different. Swift’s singing is rushed but perhaps that’s the point. The melodies are high pitched and “playful.” It gives off a “I’m so cool” or “Look at me” vibe. 

I believe the song is about having a good relationship but also missing being single. Saying she’s been a little too kind or that she’s been too good of a girl, and she misses going out and being bejeweled. Being bejeweled seems to be a metaphor for being the hot single girl at a club with all the guys trying to get with you. She’s conflicted (“I miss you, but I miss sparkling”) and she doesn’t seem to be satisfied either way. Relationships can be fulfilling and good, but sometimes you can feel trapped and wish you were more free, but being more free would be considered cheating, but it only makes you more conflicted because you start feeling immoral for having those thoughts. Or at least I think that’s what she’s saying. 

Rating: 7.5/10 Not a bad song, good meaning.

 Labyrinth

The song starts really, really quiet. The vocals are high and soft and sound worried but hopeful. It remains at a quiet volume but is much more audible than the instrumental intro. There’s not much to the actual sound but it sounds lonely. However, there’s a breakdown three-fourths through which features more of the dreaded octave-lowered vocals.

It’s a song about the fears of love, about having a bad past experience with love and then seeing herself falling in love again, which naturally would cause a bit of worry. These worries are all from the “labyrinth of her mind” because she doesn’t actually have anything to be worried about, and all her worries are made up. 

Rating: 6/10 Filler. Skip it.

Karma

The instrumental sounds in the verse sound vintage as if it was being played through an old cassette player. Other than that it has a very very poppy and peppy sound. If I had to define “girly pop music,” it would be with this song. The vocals sound as if she’s laughing in the face of someone. 

The lyrics are about not caring about someone being a jerk because karma’s gonna kick them in the butt later. It personifies karma and Swift sings of how she has karma wrapped around her finger and one of these days the person who “talked sh– just for the hell of it” is going to face karma one day, and they won’t be so lucky. I thought the line “Karma is my boyfriend” was funny though. 

Rating: 7.5/10 Cheesy but catchy.

Sweet Nothing

The song starts soft and relaxing. I think I could definitely fall asleep to this song. Her vocals are very breathy which fits the sleepy vibe. There’s no percussion which accentuates the relaxing and calming vibe of the song. It’s not what I expected after hearing the other songs of the album but it sounds really nice.

It’s a song about a perfect relationship. She feels safe with him and he only expects her “sweet nothings.” He’s calming for her and she holds onto his “sweet nothings” as if just his presence was enough for her. Despite all the pressures of the outside world, he’s there for her and is basically her coping mechanism. It’s a strange shift from her normal writing about hating her boyfriends and relationships, but I guess with all those bad relationships it makes sense she had at least one good one. 

Rating: 10/10 Done really well!

Mastermind

A single bass drum beat and a “rolling” melody deep behind her vocals make up the intro to this song. She sets the stage lyrically and gets ready for the entering of the rest of the instrumentation. The bass synth enters and the lyrics pick up pace, continuing to build up the sound. To divert the expectations, it cuts out the build up with a drop off after the first chorus. It reverts back to the intro melody and beat. And honestly the lack of “beat drop” is disappointing but at the same time I don’t think it would exactly fit with how the song played out. 

The song is about how she used to be lonely, but how she’s become manipulating to make people like her – or more specifically, make a guy like her. It talks about how she’s a mastermind and how none of them meeting and all the things that built up to their relationship was all to her plan. It’s a weird thing to admit you’re manipulating but it seems like he was into that (“All you did was smile “) so I guess it’s okay.

Rating: 7/10 Not a bad finish to the album. Calming and relaxing as if to set you down from the listening experience. 

OVERALL 

The layout of the songs seemed random and they didn’t really flow one song after another. With streaming on shuffle play, song order has become more and more unimportant, so it doesn’t seem like this is a flaw to the album as a whole.

I think the album as a whole is a solid 7/10. It has a bit of filler and only a couple of the songs are actual gems, but none of it is too bad. Even the worst song was still listenable. Of course this comes from the opinion of a musician and a listener of rock, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt whenever a stylistic choice seemed strange to me.

I think a lot of Swift’s songs are the kind of songs that either get you in a specific mood or you have to be in a specific mood to fully enjoy. She didn’t appear to write about much other than feelings which isn’t wrong or bad, but I’m not exactly sure what I expected. 

Anyways, it wasn’t a bad album and I recommend it if you have the free time and like pop music. It’s not my thing but it’s still good. 

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