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Taylor Swift 'Midnights': The return of a pop genius

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Taylor Swift’s sharp new album “Midnights” closes with a song in which the pop superstar patiently explains to one—perhaps millions—that their intimate relationship was by design, not by fate.

“I laid the foundations,” she sings to a roaring electronic beat, her voice slightly ahead of the beat, “and then, like a clock, the dominoes line up.” The song is called “Mastermind,” which is what Swift calls herself in the chorus, properly rhyming “you are mine now.” And many of its characteristic details might make you think it describes a romance. But “Mastermind” is also about Swift’s one-of-a-kind career—the mastery and mastery of moves that have transformed the 32-year-old from being a teen country phenomenon into one of the two or three biggest acts. in all music.

“Nobody wanted to play with me when I was a little kid,” he says towards the end of “Mastermind,” which may be the saddest and funniest line on an LP overflowing with both genres, “so I make plans like a criminal. to make them love me and look effortless ever since. (Before you even hear these words start to music, take a second to enjoy the complex rhythm of these words.)

Thinking about the tastes and anxieties of his own celebrity has dominated Swift’s work for years—or at least until 2020, when much of a pop star’s autobiographical life has been set aside for the seemingly fictional. Character-driven narratives of the twin pandemic albums “Folklore” and “Evermore”. Filled with songs about small-town crooks, incompetent high school kids, and unhappy married people—even a murderer—these projects also radically reshaped his sound, away from the synthesized productions that sent him to the Hot 100. mostly the acoustic vibe he formulated with Aaron Dessner of the indie-rock band National.

Swift suggested that the isolation of the pandemic set the imagination free; Certainly, the smaller scale of the music reflected the demands of remote collaboration. Yet his 10th studio full-length “Midnights” harks back to an earlier Swift mode in both vocal and lyrical terms: This 13-piece set, co-produced with longtime creative partner Jack Antonoff, feels exactly like it did in 2014. “1989” and 2017’s “Reputation” broke up with slick, upbeat arrangements vaguely aware of hip-hop’s existence and lyrics filled with juicy allusions to Swift’s various high-profile feuds and love affairs. (“Lover” plays more from 2019 than it does now, like an effort to transition between the phases of Swift’s career.)

It is somewhat easy to understand why he took this approach, given that he spent 2021 re-recording the albums “Fearless” and “Red” as part of his plan to create new versions of LPs that he had partially lost control of while the old label existed. changed hands. As a meticulous diary writer as Pop knows, Swift thinks openly—more than ever before—about his journey and his youth; One of the many newly recorded quotes he included in “Red (Taylor’s Version)”, “Nothing New” captures a woman in her 30s as she confronts her 20-odd doubts about how her chosen industry will initially treat her as she ages. .

“Midnights” opens with the steamy, R&B-adjacent “Lavender Haze,” where Swift laments the scrutiny she sees as a celebrity dating another celebrity (in her case, British actor Joe Alwyn); Co-written by actress Zoë Kravitz and featuring background vocals, the song seeks a safe place away from a realm where, as she says, her empty talk threatens to “go viral”. Over Antonoff’s humming synths and roaring ’80s rock drums in “Anti-Hero,” she weighs the public’s hardest views of herself, succumbs to a “hidden narcissism” and sometimes admits that she “feels like a monster on the hill… slowly”. it does. staggering towards your favorite city.”

His vocal performances on “Midnights” are among the strongest of Swift’s career – he plays with more cadence than ever before and accentuates the subtlety of his voice.

(Beth Garrabrant)

Vicious and shimmering, “Karma” apparently targets the mighty music executive Scooter Braun, who contemplated the record label acquisition that spawned Swift’s re-recording attempt: “Spiderboy, king of thieves / Weave little webs of opacity,” he says—hear the highlights “Spiderboy The “S” and “B” in “The “S” and “B” – before explaining what she sees as her cosmic advantage with a series of vivid metaphors: “Karma is my boyfriend / Karma is a god / Karma is a breeze in my weekend hair.” child.

Swift’s urge to tell stories didn’t die in “Midnights,” which she says stems from her tendency to think in the morning. Midnight Rain, a slow and beguiling song, tells the story of a boy and a girl with different life goals, neither of whom look like Swift or Alwyn; Just “Maroon”, where the guy and girl get drunk on their roommate’s “cheap screw rosé”. Then there is the brash, Billie Eilish-esque “Vigilante S—” about a woman who helps a betrayed wife get revenge on her scumbag husband.

A woman is lying on a sofa in a wood-panelled room.

As a meticulous diary writer as Pop knows, Swift openly thinks about her journey and her younger selves.

(Beth Garrabrant)

Yet the songwriting and vocal performances here are so strong—playing with cadence and emphasizing her voice like never before—that you finally stop caring about what draws directly from Swift’s real life and what doesn’t. It’s a pleasure to get lost in tunes like “Labyrinth,” where the singer explores the fear of falling in love again, and “Snow on the Beach,” a gorgeous duet with Lana Del Rey, with some of the album’s most impressive images. “My smile is like I’ve won a contest,” Swift sings, and that’s all you need for a startling new escapade and to recreate the definitive picture in your head.

After giving some context as to why she’s so meticulous in her interactions with her boyfriend (or viewers), she paints another indelible picture in “Mastermind,” which refers to herself as “the wind in our free-flowing sails.” “All wise women had to do it this way because we were born to be pawns in every lover’s game,” she says. Then he takes a breath and adds: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Only Swift could make his self-help slogan look like a fairy tale.