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Taylor Swift's "Midnights" Surprises

Eleven-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album, Midnights, on October 21st, 2022. Throughout her career, Swift has explored a plethora of aesthetics and genres, curating every album release into a distinct era. After her brief stint producing more indie folk music on her 8th and 9th albums, folklore and evermore, Swift has returned to the world of pop music.

Midnights is almost exclusively produced by Swift and longtime collaborator and friend Jack Antonoff. Antonoff, also known through his solo music under the name Bleachers, is a very popular producer that has worked with a number of artists, including Swift on her last 5 studio albums. Fans say that Midnights reminds them of her previous pure pop albums Reputation, Lover, and 1989, all of which Antonoff worked on. Some reviewers comment that it reminds them sonically of Lorde’s first two studio albums released in the mid-2010s. In fact, her sophomore album, Melodrama, was produced by Antonoff. 

Swift’s Instagram post announcing her new album included a detailed description of the origins and themes of the album. In part, it read that Midnights includes “...the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [her] life.” The album explores her “journey through terrors and sweet dreams,” leaving her hopeful that “when the clock strikes twelve, we’ll meet ourselves.” In addition to the original 13 songs, she surprise-released 7 more songs three hours later, creating the deluxe album, Midnights (3am Edition)

Midnights has received a lot of mixed reviews since its release. Pitchfork rated the album a 7.0, making it her third-lowest-rated release on the site. The review dissects how Taylor abandoned the intricate, existential storytelling that defined folklore and evermore, both released in 2020. In those albums, she created mesmerizing narratives from a variety of perspectives while Midnights turned the focus back to herself. 

To connect with her fans and promote the album, Swift created a segment on TikTok called Midnights Mayhem With Me, where on 13 midnights starting September 21st, she released a new track title on the album. However, some thought her promotions were a little too curated. Mashable reporters Chase DiBenedetto and Elena Cavender thought her trend #TSAntiHeroChallenge felt very forced, saying they believe trends are much more successful when they come from an audience's natural connection to the music. Swift, in collaboration with Amazon Prime, also released a trailer for the album during Thursday night football. Cavender, a lifelong Swift fan, said ​​“C'mon Taylor, you want us to watch Thursday night football? Gimme a break.” Benedetto concludes by posing the question, “Capitalist first, pop star second?” 

Regardless of personal opinions about her marketing tactics, the commercial success of Midnights proves that her promotional materials were effective. Swift’s most recent release has already become the most streamed album of 2022 within the first 3 days of its release and amassed 184.6 million Spotify views in its first 24 hours. 

Although there were no outright singles on this album, “Anti-Hero” has been marketed as one. Swift released the “Anti-Hero” music video at 8 am on October 21st. The video perfectly encompasses the purpose of the song as audiences watch Swift analyzing the different parts of herself and fighting for control. Aligned with much of her past work, the song focuses on the conflicts between her public perception and her own identity and insecurities. With a total of 119 million streams (and counting) on Spotify, “Anti-Hero” is the most listened-to song on the album. 

“Snow on the Beach” was a highly anticipated release, partially due to its feature, Lana Del Rey. Yet to the disappointment of fans, this feature resembles HAIM's in “no body no crime” more closely than Phoebe Bridgers' in “Nothing New.” HAIM featured on Swift’s evermore album, and while listeners expected a verse, HAIM's role mostly consisted of background vocals. Phoebe Bridgers, featured on Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version), still holds the title as the only female artist to have a full verse on a Taylor Swift song. One Twitter user joked, “Snow on the beach is so good that Lana is speechless.”

An obvious fan favorite has been “You're on Your Own Kid,” which, according to Pitchfork, feels “classically Taylor.” On the track, Swift remembers the pain of unrequited love in her past which caused her to realize that she only has herself in the end. The bridge contains a hopeful message to her fans, saying “So, make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it. You've got no reason to be afraid,” encouraging them to appreciate the connections they have and remember how strong they are even when they feel alone. 

Another song, “Karma,” has gotten a lot of love on TikTok. It originally was criticized for its lyrics, including the infamous “Karma is a cat, purring on my lap cause it loves me” line. People eventually came around and started to love the song. The trend is just people dancing to the chorus because it's so catchy and fun, proving that although some missed the style that defined folklore and evermore, pop songs that are light and snarky can be just as addicting to listen to.

Since this album is centered around revisiting her past, it only makes sense that Swift would reference themes from previous songs. “Would've, Could’ve, Should’ve” from Midnights (3am Edition) includes explicit references to “Dear John” from her third album Speak Now, which is about her relationship with singer John Mayer when she was 19 and he was 32. Much like “Dear John,” this song is beautifully raw. Swift is still haunted by this relationship, admitting “I regret you all the time,” and pleading “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first.”

Overall, this album has gotten a lot of love and a lot of criticism. For many, after a few listens, the album takes on new meaning. One TikTok user expressed their journey with the album, commenting “I didn’t love the album at first, but Taylor's music ages like fine wine.”

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