TAYLOR IN CLOSE-UP

Atmospheric. Subtle. Introspective. Painful. Triumphant.

With Midnights, Taylor Swift finally makes an album that feels the age she actually is. Mining 13 midnights, each measuring an emotional apex and aftermath, the lithe 32-year-old who’s spent more of her life as a public figure than a private citizen sorts the reality of an unnatural existence, human yearnings, the judging/speculative/click-seeking media, exceptional achievements and the price they extract.

Qu’elle triste!” one could cry, clutching their pearls. “Quel dommage!”

But that misses the point; free-falling into her trap of trope-baiting the ones who live to drag her it’s not. Midnights explores horrible moments of doubt, anxiety, depression, raw desire and her own self-recriminations. But she also spins society’s need to build up and destroy its heroes, self-seeking sycophants, faux friends and the mistakes people make along the way on a mostly lo-fi, Taylor ’n’ Jack Antonoff fever dream that takes listeners to a vibey place.

Think of it as postcards from the (l)edge―and the resolve to let the days play out. Lana Del Rey, the queen of lo-fi dysthymia, appears for a brief moment on the lulling, strange synchronicity loop “Snow on the Beach,” and Zoë Kravitz co-wrote the opener; but this is not a special-guest kind of project.

And while you can play the name game―pin-the-tale on the former paramour or malignant industry weasel―deny yourself the ability to seek our own truth in these songs. Just listen, absorb the struggle, face the dumb-ass stumble and smile as it resolves into something worth happening, maybe even the result of one’s own (subconscious) design.

If you want some names, try these: Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Jacqueline Susann, Erica Jong, 2022 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Carly Simon, Brandi Carlile and her muse Joni Mitchell. All women who wrote the details but also gutted the way women are seen in the name of how life really is.

The opening “Lavender Haze” sifts through the floating nature of love’s first wave; Swift also serves notice that she knows the game is rigged. “I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say/ No deal/ The 1950s shit they want from me...” tackles the good-girl shackles she’s lived with. Then, half-laughing about the two roles she’s assigned, she sighs and sings, “The only kinda girl they see is a one-night or a wife.”

Well, then. She adroitly paints scenes of unrequited love and the extremes to realize it (“You’re on Your Own, Kid”), Polaroids from figuring relationships out (“Maroon”), her ambition-at-odds-with-fairy-tale-endings (“Midnight Rain”) and the daggers of consequence (“Karma”) in ways that any 20-something pick-your-pronoun human can embrace as their own life, too.

She is both hilarious and scathing on “Questions...?,” all rhetorical inquiries and the complicated layers of who loves/wants whom. She dryly intones, “Fuckin’ politics and gender roles/ And you’re not sure and I don’t know/ Got swept away in the gray/ I just might like to have a conversation...”

Swift knows what we don’t get will color, even taint, how we seek love going forward. Her whole (dating) life has been parsed, judged, mocked and tracked, yet the human need for love remains. She knows she can be the wrecker as well as the wrecked; she can inflict as well as feel the pain. It’s what makes the techno/synth cloud “Anti-Hero” such an out-of-body experience; wrestling self-doubt and depression, watching others watch her, she queries, “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism like some kind of congressman...”

Think of it as postcards from the (l)edge―and the resolve
to let the days play out.

Dizzying, yet true―especially for Gen Z, coming of age in the distorted reality social media flings across platforms, apps and streamers―Midnights narcotically traverses a life lived in the glare.

A bit of her “Shake It Off” earworming, though decidedly lower impact, “Vigilante Shit” will―no doubt―be the clothier’s holiday refrain; she boasts across the arrangement’s slow synth eroticism, “I don’t dress for women/ I don’t dress for men/ Lately I’ve been dressing for revenge...”

See the designers fight for it for their catwalks! Watch shifting alliances seek to adopt the song’s Mata Hari confessions as their own master plan! With a second chorus that proclaims, “I don’t start shit, but I can tell you how it ends/ Don’t get sad; get even...,” this is big-girl stuff.

Ironically, “Vigilante Shit”’s shift―two-thirds through Midnights―also signals a self-possession that does shake it off. She finds an equanimity that suggests drama, cruelty, even anxiety can be survived.

“Bejeweled,” with its slowed-down Men Without Hats/“Safety Dance” groove, delivers a dismissal and explanation of how Miss Swift’s relationships will work. She understands her worth; she’s not selling short. Deal with it.

“Karma,” too, offers a brushed-off “You’ll get yours” to those who’ve done her wrong. When she coos, “Karma’s my boyfriend,” you sense the threat, even as she’s not gonna lift one finger to hurt the people who’ve said terrible things.

Instead, she surrenders to the dreamy “Labyrinth,” which unpacks the process of getting through the damage and disappointment of “break up, break free, break through, break down” en route to “Sweet Nothings,” a song co-written with William Bowery. Over a variety of simple keyboard parts, she eschews it all for a very quiet world away from it all.

Not quite a lullaby, her cooed vocal whispers what should matter. An assessment of what everyone’s chasing based on what they’re told they should want―“Industry disrupters and soul deconstructors/ Smooth-talking hucksters out gladhanding each other/ And the voices that implore, 'You should do something more'"―turns into a rejection in the name of love.

WTF? After all that, she quietly surrenders? Or is she saved by a bucolic romance with a British actor? Seriously?

Maybe. Maybe not.

“Mastermind,” the closing track and an obvious single, suggests La Tay Tay is the mistress of her own destiny. On some level, she saw “the one,” set things in motion to claim him and her happiness. She invokes Machiavelli in the song as she admits, “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 make it seem effortless/ This is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess...”

Intense. Complex. Purgative and replenishing. You can listen deep and take away the lessons. Or you can drift along the surface, relaxing on the pillowy drafts of warmth. Either way, Midnights is an album a long time coming. Catching up with herself chronologically, Swift opens the portals for the rest of her career’s journeying.

ON THE BMM COVER:
RICO WADE
ATL legend (6/17a)
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Born in 1986 by mad scientists; still lurking. (6/17a)
HITS LIST GOES COUNTRY
Pairs well with grits and gravy. (6/14a)
SUMMERTIME ROLLS: FESTIVAL SEASON IS UPON US
The latest tidbits from the bustling live sector. (6/17a)
IS MCK ABOUT TO
MAKE A BIG MOVE?
This would be a great get. (6/17a)
THE GRAMMY SHORT LIST
Who's already a lock?
COUNTRY'S NEWEST DISRUPTOR
Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
AI IS ALREADY EATING YOUR LUNCH
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
INDIE DISTRIBUTION'S RISE TO GLORY
The discovery engine is revving higher.
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