Why Taylor Swift’s ‘Midnights’ Sounds So Acquainted

It’s her; she’s the issue, Taylor Swift confesses on her new hit “Anti-Hero.” But listeners who’ve points along with her tenth authentic studio album, Midnights, are blaming another person: Jack Antonoff, who co-wrote 12 of its 13 songs and co-produced all of them. Ever for the reason that various rocker received his massive break into pop manufacturing with Swift’s 2014 music “Out of the Woods,” he has develop into a go-to collaborator for titans together with Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and Diana Ross. However Midnights is Antonoff and Swift’s first album-length team-up. His guileless, bespectacled face options in her newest music video. And he’s the middle of the primary controversy surrounding her new album: Is it any good?


Promoting higher in its first week than any album previously seven years, and receiving its share of upbeat opinions, Midnights is plainly a hit for Swift. But each followers and haters have needed to reckon with the truth that though the very best Swift albums have developed her sound, this one takes a U-turn. Midnights’ moody synth pop remembers the Fifty Shades of Gray soundtrack that outlined the zeitgeist of 2015. Its melodies and rhythms resemble earlier moments in Swift’s catalog—and Antonoff’s—to a distracting diploma, making the mission really feel a bit redundant. Essentially the most fawning, fannish opinions tackle this problem by politely nicking the producer (“Antonoff’s in depth credit imply he has a tough time stopping musical concepts from bleeding into one another,” says BuzzFeed). Different takes merely name for Antonoff to go to jail.

For a behind-the-scenes collaborator to be so central to a pop album’s reception is, in a approach, refreshing. Mass-market artwork is all the time collaborative, and too usually, superstars resembling Swift get portrayed as solo auteurs or puppets for a shadowy company. Actually, usually, they’re extra like staff leaders. However the Antonoff backlash doesn’t get that proper, both. The dialogue round Midnights amplifies shaky assumptions concerning the ever-mysterious inventive course of, downplays the elements which have made Antonoff a key pressure in current music, and dangers doing one thing that Swift would hate: ascribing her authorship to a person.

The time period producer can check with an entire vary of actions. Some producers principally simply seize the sound of artists taking part in their very own music within the studio. Some, against this, are like one-person bands who whip up accompaniment for a vocalist. Some producers are beatmakers who ship their contributions by e mail. Some are tyrants who use the singer as a mere ingredient for their very own creation (and, in lots of circumstances traditionally, exploit or abuse the singer within the course of). And a few are therapists-slash-craftspeople, coaxing an artist to pour out their soul after which serving to form the outcomes.

By all accounts, Antonoff falls into that final class. Reducing towards the domineering archetype set by Phil Spector, he is named a listener and a technician who’s particularly good at working with ladies. (“I write a full octave above the place I sing … There’s simply numerous melodic DNA that works higher for girls than males,” he advised Pitchfork in 2017.) A 2022 New Yorker profile depicted Antonoff’s speciality for turning hanging out into an artwork kind: Informal banter within the studio results in deeper conversations, which bleed into jam classes, which coalesce into tracks. The supposed level is to make musicians sound extra like themselves. “Who is that this particular person, and what’s the absolute most right-to-the-bone approach of expressing them?” Antonoff stated once I interviewed him in 2019. “How do you narrow all of the bullshit out?”

But Antonoff additionally has a recognizable sound. His affection for the Eighties—each the karaoke-ready rock of Bon Jovi and the campy roboticism of Depeche Mode—comes via in classic gear he makes use of, and in his penchant for placing daring, reverberating vocals on the middle of the combination. As a songwriter, he breaks with tight-and-tidy Max Martin sorts: The melodies in Antonoff songs take rambling, careening shapes, recognizing hip-hop’s perception that syncopated talking might be as catchy as tuneful singing. Shut listeners can level to different tics and tips. Caleb Gamman, a video producer who went viral for snarking on Midnights’ manufacturing, advised Vice that Antonoff’s signatures embrace “detuned oscillators,” “‘Christian music’ harmonies,” and “digital tinkly stuff.”

Nonetheless, Antonoff’s monitor document is hardly a narrative of homogeneity. Simply examine two basic albums he virtually solely produced and co-wrote: Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! in 2019 and Lorde’s Melodrama in 2017. Del Rey’s album channeled Child Boomer rock right into a Twenty first-century masterpiece that included cozy piano ballads and an almost 10-minute showcase for Antonoff’s guitar taking part in. The vibe of the album was intricate and shaggy, like some heat, fine-woven blanket. Melodrama, against this, was a futuristic cityscape rendered in synth pop: exhausting beats, gushing keyboards, exclamatory whispers. Although vastly totally different, the albums each include a few of the greatest pop songs of the previous decade. They reveal that Antonoff’s worth just isn’t a lot a specific sound however an ear for reconciling punchiness and persona.

His work with Swift demonstrates this identical variability. A few of their greatest songs collectively—“Out of the Woods,” “Merciless Summer season,” “Getaway Automotive”—are stereotypical Antonoff, blowing the aesthetic of a New Jersey video-game arcade to enviornment scale. However then you’ve a monitor resembling “Lover,” a dusky rock ballad from 2019 whose replay worth is available in half from refined shadings of acoustic reverb. Throughout her lockdown-era inventive burst, Swift turned to the indie rocker Aaron Dessner for a extra contemplative set of songs. Antonoff’s smattering of contributions to Folklore and Evermore each slot in and stood out: “August,” “Mirrorball,” and “Gold Rush” rank amongst her best, and most distinctive, tracks ever.

Ascribing any music’s high quality to its producer, nonetheless, is dicey—particularly in the case of Taylor Swift, an adept guitarist, piano participant, singer, and songwriter who’s usually some of the willful, self-directed celebrities in pop historical past. Beginning along with her 2006 self-titled debut, she has written or co-written each authentic music she has put out. She has co-produced most of her albums as effectively. Nonetheless, she generally faces the sexist notion that she is a mere vessel for males. Final 12 months, the Blur singer Damon Albarn questioned her inventive autonomy in an interview. Swift and her collaborators responded with ferocious corrections. “I’ve by no means met Damon Albarn and he’s by no means been to my studio,” Antonoff tweeted, “however apparently he is aware of greater than the remainder of us about all these songs Taylor writes and brings in.” (Albarn apologized.)

So any analysis of Midnights ought to begin from the proposition that it sounds the way it sounds as a result of that’s how Swift wished it to. Stacked harmonies, voice-of-God vocals, digital tinkling stuff—these Antonoff-ian tropes are what she likes proper now. Absolutely she hasn’t been tricked into making a repetitious album: She has the knowhow to listen to that “Snow on the Seashore” rewrites “Gold Rush” and that “Vigilante Shit” apes what Lorde did on “Royals” a decade in the past. Her intention could also be so simple as first-thought-best-thought immediacy (the album got here collectively when she and Antonoff have been left alone whereas their companions have been each taking pictures a film). Or possibly, as some followers suppose, she is appearing like a self-referential, postmodern novelist by purposefully recycling songs to suit Midnights’ theme of reevaluating recollections.

For what it’s value, after a couple of week of listening, the album’s personal distinct sound world is rising. I’m loving the way in which that the oozing and panning noises of “Midnight Rain” conjure a sense of suspended time. I’m hung up on the twisty storytelling and last-dance wistfulness of “Query …?” And I’m appreciating that the album’s echoing manufacturing invitations you into the cave-like interiority of 1 girl’s psyche. The album’s limitations—lyrics that baffle quite than evoke, songs that coast on one musical thought—proceed to frustrate too. Many followers had hoped she’d construct on the path hinted at in tracks resembling “August” and “All Too Nicely (10 Minute Model),” handing over a confessional rock epic of refinement and ambition. However she will nonetheless make that album. She will be able to nonetheless make it with Antonoff, if she so chooses.

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