Taylor Swift ‘Midnights’: The return of a pop mastermind

Taylor Swift’s razor-sharp new album, Midnights, closes with a song in which the pop superstar patiently explains to someone – perhaps tens of millions – that their intimate relationship was not a product of Kismet but of design.

“I laid the foundation,” she sings over a blippy electronic groove, her voice slightly ahead of the beat, “and then the dominoes cascaded like clockwork in a line.” The tune is called “Mastermind,” which is how it calls itself Swift in the chorus and neatly rhymes the word with “now you’re mine”. And many of its signature details may make you think it describes a romance. But “Mastermind” is also about Swift’s unique career — about the deliberation and ingenuity of the moves that have propelled the 32-year-old from a teenage country phenomenon into one of the two or three biggest acts in all of music.

“When I was a little kid nobody wanted to play with me,” she sings towards the end of “Mastermind,” which is perhaps the saddest and funniest line on an LP teeming with both species, “so I’ve been plotting like a criminal to get her around ever since.” to make love me and make it seem effortless. (Take a second to enjoy the intricate rhythm of these words before you’ve even heard them set to music.)

Reflecting on the joys and fears of her own celebrity has been a hallmark of Swift’s work for years — or at least until 2020, when she set aside much of a pop star’s autobiographical life for the supposedly fictional, character-driven narratives of her two pandemic albums, Folklore and “Evermor”. Filled with songs about small-town crooks and awkward high school kids and unhappily married people – even a murderer – these projects have also radically transformed their sound, moving away from the synthesizer productions that propelled them to the Hot 100 toward a rooty, Den She co-created a mostly acoustic vibe with Aaron Dessner of indie rock band The National.

Swift suggested that the isolation of the pandemic had unleashed her imagination; Certainly the smaller scale of the music reflected the demands of remote collaboration. But Midnights, her tenth studio album, returns to an earlier Swift mode both sonically and lyrically: This 13-track set, which she produced with longtime creative partner Jack Antonoff, feels like it’s about to hit the spot Following on from 2014’s “1989” and 2017’s “Reputation” drew to a close, with slick, beat-heavy arrangements that seem only dimly aware of hip-hop’s existence, and lyrics laced with juicy nods to Swift’s various high-profile feuds and love affairs are peppered. (“Lover,” 2019, plays even more now than it did then as an attempt to transition between phases of Swift’s career.)

It’s kind of easy to see why she took this approach, considering she spent 2021 re-recording her albums Fearless and Red as part of a plan to create new versions of the LPs , which she partially lost control of when her old record label lost control, changed hands. As meticulously a diarist as Pop has ever known, Swift has clearly been thinking — more than usual — about her journey and about her younger self; One of the many freshly recorded outtakes she included on Red (Taylor’s Version), “Nothing New” captures a woman in her 30s grappling with her 20-year suspicions about how her chosen industry would treat her , as she ages out of naivety .

“Midnights” opens with the steamy, R&B-esque “Lavender Haze,” in which Swift laments the scrutiny she faces as a celebrity dating another celebrity (in her case, English actor Joe Alwyn); The song — co-written by and featuring background vocals by actress Zoë Kravitz — seeks a safe space away from an area where their easygoing conversations threaten to “go viral,” as she puts it. In “Anti-Hero,” set over Antonoff’s humming synths and pounding ’80s rock drums, she weighs the public’s harshest opinions of her, indulges in “hidden narcissism,” and admits she sometimes acts like “a monster on the road.” Hills…slowly” feels tumbling toward your favorite city.”

A woman stares at the camera

The vocal performances on “Midnights” are among the strongest of Swift’s career – she plays with cadence and emphasizes the grain of her voice like never before.

(Beth Garrabrant)

The vicious and shimmering “Karma” seemingly targets powerful music exec Scooter Braun, who orchestrated the label buyout that spawned Swift’s re-recording venture: “Spiderboy, king of thieves / Weave your little webs of opacity,” she sings — note the flashy ” S” and “B” in “Spiderboy” — before using a series of vivid metaphors to describe what she sees as her cosmic advantage: “Karma is my friend / Karma is a god / Karma is the breeze in my hair at the weekend. ” The breeze in her hair at the weekend! Good night Spiderboy.

Swift’s storytelling impulse is not dead on “Midnights,” which she says grew out of her penchant for contemplation in the wee hours. A slow and dazed pitch-shifting number, “Midnight Rain” tells the story of a man and a girl with divergent aspirations in life, neither of whom appear to be Swift or Alwyn; ditto “Maroon,” in which the guy and girl get drunk on their roommate’s “cheap screw-top rosé.” Then there’s the goofy, Billie Eilish-esque “Vigilante S—” about a woman who helps a betrayed wife get revenge on her dirty husband.

A woman lies on a sofa in a wood paneled room

As meticulously a diarist as Pop has ever known, Swift has clearly been reflecting on her journey and on her younger self.

(Beth Garrabrant)

Yet the songwriting and vocal performances here are so strong — she plays with cadence and emphasizes the grit in her voice like never before — that at some point you stop caring about what’s straight out of Swift’s real life and what’s not. It’s just a pleasure to lose yourself in tunes like “Labyrinth,” in which the singer explores her fears of falling in love again, and “Snow on the Beach,” a beautiful duet with Lana Del Rey with some of the most moving imagery of the album : “My smile is like I won a contest,” Swift sings in reference to a surprising new affair, and that’s all it takes to conjure up the exact image in your head.

She paints another indelible picture in “Mastermind” by referring to herself as “the wind in our free-flowing sails,” shortly after providing a bit of context for why she’s like this in her interactions with her boyfriend (or her audience). was thorough. “All the smartest women had to do it that way because we were born to be the pawn in every lover’s game,” she sings. Then she takes a breath and adds, “If you don’t plan, you plan to fail.” Only Swift could make a self-help slogan sound like a fairy tale.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-10-20/taylor-swift-midnights-album-review Taylor Swift ‘Midnights’: The return of a pop mastermind

Sarah Ridley

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