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Taylor Swift bids farewell to indie as she transitions back to mainstream pop

Art by Anyi Chong.

What insecurities keep a multiple Grammy award-winning artist up at midnight?

Taylor Swift has strayed from her lowercase-stylized indie titles in Folklore and Evermore, re-adopting the electropop styles reminiscent of her older music. From country to synth-pop to alternative, then back to pop, Swift has traversed through a comfortably experimental range of genres. 

On Oct. 21, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album Midnights with all songs sharing the common thematic thread of being written on sleepless nights. 

Despite Swift’s last two indie albums Folklore and Evermore being major hits, Midnights is not a continuation of the vivid, nuanced storytelling and lyricism heard in those albums. But after all the melancholy tracks from Folklore and Evermore, Swift’s reversion to her older pop music feels like a well-deserved reflection on her pop style and career overall.

In the lead single “Anti-Hero”, Swift relays all her personal insecurities. At midnight, Swift feels safe enough to let out those self-deprecating thoughts. The electropop track sees the female artist comparing herself to a “monster on the hill” while everyone else is a “sexy baby”, referring to her inability to fit into the societal standard favoring infantilized women. While this lyric makes a shocking first impression, Swift bluntly confronts her insecurity that her appearance is not conventionally attractive. 

Moreover, the artist nitpicks at her own virtue signaling in the lyrics “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism”, where Swift questions that her speaking out may be for her own ego—Swift is deeply afraid she has a savior complex. Finally,  all her meddling thoughts build up to the chorus: “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem, it’s me.” Anti-Hero’s chorus directly attacks Swift’s biggest insecurity that if she went away, everything would be fixed. The lead single perfectly sets the tone of this record, propping up a deceiving synth-pop beat behind Swift’s broodier thoughts. 

Swift mentioned to Spotify that “wondering what might have been” was a recurring theme of inspiration. Midnights sees Taylor Swift getting very reflective about her past in “You’re On Your Own, Kid” and “Midnight Rain.” The former tells the story of a young person who wants love but is left on their own eventually. Swift’s lyricism immerses us into a younger phase of her life as she scribes this self-addressed letter. Then, in “Midnight Rain”, Swift sings of a more mature stage in her life where she must choose her career over her relationship. 

The contrast between “You’re On Your Own, Kid” and “Midnight Rain” highlights an irony during a period when all Swift wanted was love with another time in her life when a relationship would not be enough. In the first track, Swift overlays the song with a tone of youthful vulnerability, while the second song incorporates darker synths to starkly contrast her own feelings against her partner’s. 

Of course, it would not be a Taylor Swift album without those dreamy love songs written through rose-tinted lenses. Arguably one of the most popular tracks on Midnights, “Lavender Haze” captures the honeymoon intensity of Swift’s focus on her current relationship. “Glitch”, “Sweet Nothing”, the dreamy alternative “Snow on the Beach”, and “Maroon” all carry the sentimental streak signature to Swift’s romantic verses. 

Notably, some of Taylor Swift’s most underrated songs on this album have come from her follow-up deluxe album Midnights (3 am Edition) which reminds me more of her unfiltered indie works. 

Midnights (3 am Edition) additions focus on slower songs, winding listeners down longer narratives. For instance, a personal favorite “The Great War” taps into Swift’s ability to lyricize extended metaphors similar to those in “willow” and “mirrorball” from Evermore and Folklore. Lyrics such as “You drew up some good faith treaties” and “Broken and blue, so I called off the troops” detail war tensions while it figuratively describing interpersonal conflicts.

Swift, however,  does not forget to feed into her anti-hero traits on Midnights. The tracks “Vigilante Sh-t” and “Karma” testify to the artist’s more spiteful moments; Swift herself cited “fantasizing about revenge” as an inspiration in the album. The dark pop song “Vigilante Sh-t”  follows a similar vein as “no body, no crime” where Taylor Swift leans into a darker persona as she plays vigilante to seek justice against men who have wronged their partners. 

On the contrary, “Karma” is not dark, instead imbuing a playful atmosphere accompanied by drums, guitar and synths. But Swift’s repetition of “karma” and the airy vocals convey her wry, mocking message that those who mess with her will face the consequences. Considering Swift’s life and career, it is no surprise the thought of “what goes around comes around” eases her mind. Definitely not a very heroic thought. After all, heroes are supposed to let go of grudges and forgive, right?  

“All of me changed like midnight,” sings Swift. But as much as the artist has evolved throughout the years, what has not changed is Taylor Swift’s loyalty to her signature songwriting style backed by catchy synth-pop production.



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