Taylor Swift sounds awake on ‘Midnights’

You have this dream where you’re alone and you’re rolling a big donut and there’s this snake wearing a hoodie. Taylor Swift has this dream where “my niece is killing me for money. She thinks I left them in my will. The family gets together and reads it, and then someone shouts, ‘She’s laughing at us from hell!’” Maybe that’s why Swift is the biggest pop star in the waking world and no one else is. Her mind seems so disciplined that even her excursions through the dream world follow an orderly narrative arc.

The aforementioned dream plot extends seamlessly across the bridge.Anti-hero,” a standout from the superstar songwriter’s 10th album, “midnights.” She overdubs the whole thing as an inquiry into “the intensity of that mysterious maddened hour,” but despite the music’s vaguely soporific sound design, Swift doesn’t coddle herself with a lack of sleep. The class wakes up late to crush all of her extra-credit homework.

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It’s an album about memories, arriving after dark when the clock is winding its hands, but throughout “Midnights,” Swift is wide awake and half-haunted, often falling into comfortable timbres and familiar tropes. Producer Jack Antonoff extracts endless amounts of pillow-filling from his synthesizers, while Swift stays deep in her comfort zone, making everything expert, cautious, careful, and routine. Big cities are full of romantic wonders. Kisses feel fateless and world-spinning. Colors are relentlessly symbolic. His songs are like rom-coms without any comedy.

It all sounds sweet and nonchalant, and Swift seemed to be using her last two albums — relatively spartan Friends records from 2020 —Folklore“and”Always” — to sharpen his lyrics in a less cookie-cutter, scalpel-like way. “I took the magazines and he didn’t love me,” she sings in one of her new songs, “You’re on your own, baby,” unblinkingly addresses an anonymous flame. (If you miss the cheap thrill of rearranging paparazzi photos on your sati whiteboard, there’s plenty of “Midnights” “Is X song about Y boy?” Games you should play, sick.)

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Superstar Taylor Swift’s tenth album, “Midnights,” will debut on October 21. It contains a collection of hidden meanings tied to his love of numerical symbolism. (Video: Ally Caron/The Washington Post, Photo: Sarah Hashimi/The Washington Post)

But because Swift prefers a reliable narrative structure, she saves the best for last: a subtle song titled “Mastermind” casually questioning the guiding principles of her songbook. The first verse begins with a sympathetic universe aligning its stars in the name of love, but by the time Swift reaches the refrain, she asks, “It’s no accident when I tell you, the first night you saw me ain’t nothing. Stop me?” He suggests that the notion of love’s fate—the recapitulation that allows much of the Swiftian lyric world to stand upright—is not real. Desire is intentional. Love is the result of that intentionality. She’s like Oz pulling back her curtain.

then – fwomp! — The curtain comes down again, because three hours after “Midnights” went live online, Swift released a deluxe version, and seven songs are attached to the back end of the album. Songs about how love is a “great battle” and how “picket fences are sharp as knives” and “everything I touch makes me sick with sadness.” A specific lyric on the album final final refrain It should give us a big pause: “If it feels like a trap, you’re already in one.”

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