Band: Taylor Swift
Album: Midnights
Best song: The first three songs are all terrific. I like “Question…?” and “Bejeweled” a lot, too.
Worst song: “Vigilante Shit” is extremely not my shit.

I’ve written on this site twice about Taylor Swift, once in an overwhelmingly condescending tone and once avoiding her for most of the post. So, let me present a mea culpa for the first: I was wrong.

Taylor Swift kicks ass. She’s terrific. In the years since I wrote about Speak Now, she released a bunch of good-to-amazing records, rerecorded some of her earlier released records (as a way to own her masters. As Albini noted, there is a capital P Problem with the music industry) and became even more of a big star. 1989 is one of my favorite albums of the last 15 years, to the point that some of my softball teammate would make fun of me for singing – under my breath, but apparently not low enough – “New Romantics” while I was in the field.

The obvious misogyny of my early dismissals of Swift is evident. A lot of the femme-gendered stuff is considered stupid or shallow by the male-dominated cultural press, so things like “chick flicks” are less lauded than anything styled in a different manner, but masc-gendered. The easiest example is Hard Knocks is the same format as any reality show on Bravo, but gets far less criticism for the genre of any of the same notes that it hits.

Swift gets this as much as anyone, despite her massive talent and terrific catalog. She gets dinged for writing about her past relationships, but songwriters like Ben Gibbard get lauded (or used to. I’m very out of touch here) for the exact same songwriting moves. More than anything, her ability to craft a pop song out of disparate genres and her vulnerability mark her real talent. Her songs are relatable, poppy and fun. That’s a tough needle to thread.


I guess, insomuch as my mea culpa is of any value, I should note that this year is another in my evolution of being able to say “well, that’s just not meant for me.” Swift’s music isn’t necessarily written for me, a middle-aged white guy, though I do love it. Sometimes stuff that isn’t written for me clicks (Lizzo’s records come to mind, but of course, Swift’s oeuvre fits) and, often, it doesn’t (never have I said “nah” quicker than with the widely-beloved Olivia Rodrigo record).

The opposite is true, too, of course. For the life of me, I struggle to enjoy Modest Mouse. It’s about as tailormade a band for my music tastes, but Ike Brock’s voice still bugs me. Give them a different singer and I might get into it.)

I’ll make an excuse for myself in the Swift discourse to say that I have never been a particular fan of country music and that is, in fact, where she got her start. This excuse holds little water, but it is nonetheless how I think the more pop-infused Red and 1989 turned me.

Which brings me to Midnights. Like 1989, I am tired of Jack Antonoff’s annoying production and I wonder how the record would sound live (not enough to spend a buttload of money on a stadium show, but I’ll definitely watch the tour film), but the simple fact is that Swift overcomes the soft-boom-bap that Antonoff does. She’s simply too good.

A lot of the early reviews of the record noted that Swift uses more profanity in her lyrics and it can be jarring for her to sing “Weird, but fuckin’ beautiful” with Lana Del Rey on “Snow on the Beach” or “That’s a real fucking legacy” on “Maroon.” Once you get over that, though, the record really expands.

“Sweet Nothing” revolves around a tinkling keyboard riff that harmonizes well with layered Swift vocals, while “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” is dreamy and sweetly sad. “Lavender Haze,” “Maroon” and “Bejeweled” show Swift’s skill at thematic lyrics explored earlier in her career, while “Question…?” is a pure radio hit.

It’s hard to argue against “Anti-Hero” as the album’s best – and most talked-about – track. For one, the video garnered a bunch of accusations of fatphobia, but the lyrics also seemed to stir people quite a bit. I am very much of a mixed mind on it. It is an undeniably great song, but I cannot figure if the lyrics are sincere, winking or something else. It’s hard not to hear the lyrics as defensive and the words of a wildly successful person can ring hollow there, especially since Swift has dealt with a lot of really shitty misogyny in her life (see above). But, taken within her whole career, the song seems more contemplative, knowing and clever (I say that partially because I choose to believe the “sexy baby” line is a reference to my favorite all-time TV show ) and her other songs exploiting similar topics – “Nothing New” from the Red recording comes to mind immediately – are often amazing.

The record still has its moments of “Wow, this is not made for me” (I think of her writing about her “Draw the cat eyes sharp enough to kill a man” lyric in “Vigilante Shit” immediately), but the record remains one of the best of 2022.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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