In this review, Teen Vogue’s senior entertainment editor P. Claire Dodson explores the 10th Taylor Swift album, Midnights, and how it lives up to its concept in the context of her prior work.
Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 film The Devil’s Backbone, lauded as one of his greatest, opens with a monologue: “What is a ghost? A tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and again?” the narrator muses. “An instant of pain perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time like a blurred photograph.”
Taylor Swift watched The Devil’s Backbone during the pandemic, along with its sibling film Pan’s Labyrinth, and the two films inspired her approach to folklore and evermore: world-building, folktales, and other people’s stories. She shared this in September 2022 at TIFF, a few weeks after she announced Midnights. But Midnights isn’t an album of other people’s stories — they’re largely her own, or modeled after stories she has told in the past. The myths she’s drawn to in this world are ghosts, haunting her in the middle of the night whether she’d like to be defined by them or not.
Midnights is the latest Taylor Swift work to look backward, coming amidst continued album re-recordings. It’s a concept album about a motif that already runs through so much of Taylor’s work, an apt choice for a musician as self-referential as she is. She’s wanted midnights as much as she’s dreaded them, a complicated relationship in which she finds freedom and insight as well as terror and insecurity.
This Taylor Swift Midnights era, TS10, set out with the purpose of chronicling those feelings, retreading the ground that surfaces again and again for all of us in the dark: “Self-loathing, fantasizing about revenge, wondering what might have been, falling in love, falling apart,” as she revealed in several Spotify videos. To do so, she contrasts a ‘70s album art aesthetic with a sound that combines pop and R&B, synth and lo-fi dance beats; this era is all about vibes. Where the sparsity of folklore/evermore combined with the pandemic art context gave her lyrics room to breathe and grow, Midnights is more focused on sounds and style, especially vocally. Once she proves something, she sets out to prove something else.