Arts & Reviews

Taylor Swift from a Non-Listener: Is She Worth the Hype?

By: Ryan Lawrence

Photo courtesy of Apple Music

Taylor Swift’s new studio album, “Midnights,” has been out for a couple of weeks and is ravaging music critics, Swift fans, and listeners. Her album has been so well received that she even garnered all top ten spots on the Billboard Hot 100, the first time one artist has taken it over and the first time no man has ever made the top ten list. But is her new album worth the hype? As a self-proclaimed music lover and pretentious musical gatekeeper, I don’t listen to Taylor Swift, identify as a “Swiftie,” or associate with the artist. But I can still appreciate her and the talents she has. I’ve always been more into hip-hop, punk, and classic rock. Taylor Swift has always fallen by the wayside for me. Nonetheless, trying new things and expanding my musical horizon are always important.

But before even reviewing “Midnights” myself, it’s essential to try and gather information from news publications, friends, and music critics alike. My first in-depth foray into Taylor Swift’s new album was to gain a perspective from music critics and news publications. The website Pitchfork is notorious for reviewing music and sometimes giving inaccurate scores for albums (An example is giving Travis Scott’s best album, “Rodeo,” a measly 6). Still, it felt like a proper introduction to this album. The first thing I noticed when the review came up was a big 7/10 blazoned onto my screen. The review denotes that Swift contrives an aesthetic instead of going for commercial pop hits, saying the perfect ambiance for this album is “a black-box theater, where the stories change, but the physical space remains consistently austere” (Pitchfork). Overall, I gained a consensus of what a specific sector of music reviewers thought of midnights. Taylor Swift looks to build off making her album as an expression of an entire mood rather than trying to make the next “Shake It Off. Music Critic Anthony Fantano gave the album a Strong 4 to a Light 5 on his YouTube channel, bashing Swift for having “shy pop productions paired with some of the most unflattering lyrics she has written down in a while” (Fantano). I also asked some of my classmates what they thought about the album. CaraMia Olivieri had high praise for the album, saying Swift was “back to reclaim her place not only as the queen of pop but also the music industry.”

Photo courtesy of youtube.com

The album, to me, is average. I found many of the songs melding together and sounding the same, especially with “Lavender Haze” and “Midnight Rain.” I get the aesthetic she was going for, but it doesn’t work for me. If I were going to listen to an album that fits the melancholic isolated vibe of “Midnights,” I would listen to Elliott Smith and Phoebe Bridgers far before Swift. There isn’t much variation between the instrumentals either. Most songs have a standard pop structure, and the drums, synths, guitars, and even Swift’s voice stay consistent throughout the record. At points, Swift’s voice goes into an upper register that doesn’t fit well with the instrumental, causing a clash, with Swift’s strident voice piercing jarringly through. Some of her lyrics come off as insatiably corny and unnecessary: “I don’t dress for women / I don’t dress for men / Lately, I’ve been dressing for revenge” off “Vigilante S***”, and “Me and karma vibe like that” on “Karma.” My secondhand embarrassment was palpable.  Sometimes, it just felt like she was trying too hard to come off as tough, and she instead came off as goofy.

Swift shines best when her vocals are lower and more dejected, evoking a vibe similar to many of Lana Del Ray’s records. Songs like “Maroon,” “Labyrinth, and “Snow on the Beach” work well and show Taylor’s ability to blend them well with the instrumental. Del Ray even gets a guest feature on Snow on the Beach, where she shines and contributes her monotonous silky voice to bring the track to near perfection. To me, “You’re on Your Own, Kid” is one of my favorite cuts, which feels like an homage to Taylor Swift’s present-day reminiscing on her past relationships and young love. 

So while the album is not my favorite of Swift’s, it’s not downright terrible. It has redeeming qualities and solid songs, but Swift sacrificed songwriting and diversity to execute an aesthetic. I would much rather listen to her older records and albums where she achieves the secluded vibe perfectly, like “Folklore” and “Evermore.” If you are a Taylor Swift “stan,” you’ll love the album, and there’s something for everyone in it. But as a holistic piece of work, it’s just alright. Out of 10, I’d give it a 5.5 to a 6.

Favorite Tracks: “Maroon,” “Labyrinth,” “Snow on the Beach,” “You’re On Your Own, Kid”

Least Favorite Track: “Vigilante S***”

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