Before I get into the meat of this article I want to preface that while I disagree with Taylor Swift’s politics vehemently, the conclusions I draw about her music, her latest album, and her as a person are divorced from my own political stances. I don’t want my opinion to be dismissed because of my own ideological biases. I don’t need to factor in politics for me to think this is a sub-par album.
Also, I’d be lying if I said Swift didn’t have some solid songs in her repertoire. As a man with white sisters and who is married to a white woman with a white sister herself, I’ve heard enough Taylor Swift music to get a pretty hefty sample of her library, and not all of them are horrid. I’d even venture to say that her collaboration with Bon Iver produced some songs worthy of being considered good.
That said, I’ve never quite gotten to the point where I was a fan of Swift’s music. You could chalk that up to me being a man that can’t relate to a lot of her songs, but plenty of female artists create music that I listen to regularly. Something about Swift’s music doesn’t get there.
Swift recently released her album “Midnights” and the rush to listen to it caused Spotify to shut down. According to Swift, the album is a look back at her life and the drama she’s been through, from dating celebrities to beefing with stars, to being a factor in the ending of celebrity marriages…actually, a lot of it is celebrity drama.
While it sports catchy songs like its current single “Anti-Hero,” I wouldn’t say catchy means praiseworthy. Plenty of songs can get stuck in your head despite hating them with a passion. Eiffel 65’s “Blue” comes to mind.
Swift usually has a way with lyrics, and it definitely comes through from time to time on this album. But in terms of cleverly singing about wounded pride and overbearing emotions, I’ve seen Pete Wentz do it better and for some reason, I’m sensing some “bend it like Wentz” energy in the writing for “Midnights.”
For the most part, the album feels lazy compared to her previous entries. It sounds like a collection of b-sides. I can tolerate “Snow on the Beach” but not for long. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” sounds like warmed-over Taylor Swift from past albums, and “Labyrinth” feels like a song that is on the verge of being good but withholds itself, creating an itch that never gets scratched.
Meanwhile, the song “Karma” is just annoying, especially with its hooky chorus that rings uninspired and kind of hacky. “Anti-Hero” reminds me of Thor’s journey through the MCU in that Swift has apparently had no character growth despite everything she’s been through. I couldn’t help but think “oh…you’re still running with that ‘I’m so the drama’ storyline, huh?”
No Swiftie is going to speak ill of their queen’s latest offerings, but I bet if many were being honest with themselves, they’d admit she’s done better. Regardless, this album is already a massive success. It’s only a week old, and it’s already sold over 1.2 million units in the United States alone.
What makes it so appealing despite it being a relatively weak album? I think I have the answer.
Swift has always been something of a storyteller and if I’m being wholly honest, she’s not too bad at it. Her songs and music videos are all about someone or something, and she leaves clues and Easter eggs that cause fans to analyze every word, note, and frame. Entire TikTok channels are dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of the Swiftverse, and websites dedicate a lot of digital ink to discussing them.
I’ve seen this kind of storytelling before. Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creator of masterpiece video game titles such as Dark Souls and Bloodbourne, tells stories through clues and short paragraphs that cause fans to pay attention to every little detail they find. This kind of storytelling creates incredibly dedicated and focused communities dead set on solving the mysteries laid out in that respective universe. Theorists create YouTube channels that get millions of hits, and it only hypes the world more.
Swift has learned to harness this power, but Swift has an added benefit that makes her gravity that much more capable of sucking people in, especially women.
As I mentioned earlier, Swift is an A-list celebrity who dates A-list celebrities, has beefed with A-list celebrities, and has gone through quite a bit of drama with people who work with A-list celebrities. “Midnights,” in particular, is an album that primarily focuses on the drama of her past career.
“Karma” seems like a “na-na-na-na-boo-boo” tune to Kanye West over his collapsing reputation. “Vigilante Sh*t” is Swift spiking the football over Scooter Braun’s divorce and taking credit as the catalyst for it. “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” is likely another song about her anger towards John Mayer. “Midnight Rain” is allegedly about Tom Hiddleston or maybe even Taylor Lautner.
You get the idea. Fans comb over the lyrics and report their findings, generating theories that are debated and discussed, and it all plays against the backdrop of an age-old attention-getter; celebrity gossip.
Celebrity drama is an industry unto itself, and Swift found out how to utilize it through her music via Miyazaki-type storytelling. “Midnights” is “Us Weekly,” reality television, “E! News,” and the Lifetime Channel heated on a spoon for drama lovers to inject directly into their auditory canals. It allows fan to blast it in their cars and then proceed to get into tossing around their thoughts about the juicy gossip Swift is rolling out.
Every listen fuels more conversation, every conversation piques the curiosity of someone else, that curiosity creates a conversation, that conversation fuels another listen, every listen fuels more conversation, and round and round it goes.
This is why a mediocre album (at least in my opinion) can be so popular. I’d be interested to see how this album holds up a generation from now when the celebrity gossip around Swift has long passed and the music has to stand on its own merits. Time will tell but I can’t help but think time will forget this album on the basis of its songs, and focus more on the drama it revealed in the Swiftverse.
My only hope is that other musicians don’t look at the success of “Midnights” and start looking to replicate it. While writing about personal experiences is core to most music-making, Swift seems trapped by her own pettiness and thirst for drama, and I can’t help but think it’s making her spiritually unhealthy. “Anti-Hero” seems to be an admission of this.
And “Midnights” seems to be an album that focused more on the drama than the music. The thing is, drama sells and when you combine that drama with Taylor Swift and her celebrity strife, you’ve got an album that flies off the shelves but for all the wrong reasons.