Taylor Swift’s new album Midnights offers rare insight into her personal life and relationship with her boyfriend, British actor Joe Alwyn, while also embracing a dramatic new sound.
The pop megastar, 32, has described the record as the story of “13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life” and “a journey through terrors and sweet dreams”.
It sees her turn away from the intimate indie songwriting of her two last albums, Folklore and Evermore, in favour of electronica, synth-pop and sometimes even hip hop-influenced beats.
Swift has once again written the majority of the album with Jack Antonoff, lead singer of rock band Bleachers, although this time they have opted for much darker sounds and lyrics.
Album opener Lavender Haze appears to contain direct references to Swift’s own life, although many other tracks refer to fictional characters and narratives.
Swift rails against “the 1950s shit” she says many women face and appears to reference media speculation over whether she is engaged or married to Alwyn.
“All they keep asking me is if I’m gonna be your bride,” she sings. “The only kinda girl they see is a one night or a wife.”
The track also features background vocals from Zoe Kravitz, the Hollywood star daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet.
The penultimate track, Sweet Nothing, is co-written by Swift and William Bowery, the pseudonym of Alwyn, and describes a holiday to Wicklow in Ireland in July 2021.
The romantic piece recalls a pebble she picked up from the beach and how she finds herself “running home to your sweet nothings”.
During the semi-acoustic ballad, Swift adds: “Outside they’re push and shoving / You’re in the kitchen humming.”
Swift and Alwyn have been together since 2016 and he helped write several songs on Folklore and its sister record Evermore under the pseudonym.
The track Anti-Hero, meanwhile, describes a character haunted by self-loathing in the middle of the night.
Swift sings: “When my depression works the graveyard shift / All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room.
“I should not be left to my own devices, they come with prices and vices, I end up in crisis / Tale as old as time.”
The song also sees her admitting, “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / And I’m a monster on the hill”.
Swift also cryptically references politics, although it is not clear whether she is describing her own feelings or those of a character.
“Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism like some kind of congressman,” she sings.
Swift has been increasingly vocal about her politics in recent years and backed Joe Biden and his vice-presidential pick Kamala Harris during the last US election.
There is a collaboration with Lana Del Rey, who also worked with Antonoff on a recent album, on the song Snow On The Beach.
Midnight Rain, meanwhile, sees Swift’s voice electronically manipulated to sound deeper and more robotic.
It describes a protagonist whose former partner “never thinks of me except when I am on TV”.
Vigilante Shit offers a darker perspective with lyrics about “dressing for revenge”.
Swift took fans by surprise when she announced the new album in the closing moments of the 2022 MTV VMAs in New Jersey in August.
In a post on her Instagram to mark the album’s release, she shared a photo of herself with her collaborators, and singled out Antonoff as her “co-pilot”.
“He’s my friend for life (presumptuous I know but I stand by it) and we’ve been making music together for nearly a decade HOWEVER… this is our first album we’ve done with just the two of us as main collaborators,” she wrote.
“We’d been toying with ideas and had written a few things we loved, but Midnights actually really coalesced and flowed out of us when our partners (both actors) did a film together in Panama.
“Jack and I found ourselves back in New York, alone, recording every night, staying up late and exploring old memories and midnights past.”
She continued: “Midnights is a collage of intensity, highs and lows and ebbs and flows.
“Life can be dark, starry, cloudy, terrifying, electrifying, hot, cold, romantic or lonely. Just like Midnights. ”
Swift has been busy in recent months, releasing a stand-alone single titled Carolina for the film Where the Crawdads Sing, and continuing to re-record her first six albums after the master recordings were acquired by talent manager Scooter Braun.
By creating new versions of the songs, the star can regain ownership of the music.
Midnights by Taylor Swift is out now.