It’s bad music but it’s a bop? Revisiting ‘Midnights’ by Taylor Swift

Today I have been alternating between the music of five era-defining musicians:

1. Taylor Swift (Midnights),

2. Kanye West (Donda),

3. Jacob Collier (Djesse Vol. 3),

4. Drake (Honestly, Nevermind), and

5. Blackpink (Born Pink).

Mastermind or pretender to the throne? Ms. Swift’s tenth LP Midnights echoes Mr. West’s tenth full-length Donda in more ways than one.

I think Taylor Swift is in some ways the musical genius of the five, while Kanye West is the artistic mastermind. But Kanye makes the best music, and Blackpink makes the most globally successful music today. Drake makes almost purely commercial music, while Jacob Collier makes almost purely conceptual music, appealing in its harmonic complexity but not in its artistry as such. Arguably Mr. West inspired all the other musicians listed. His influence is almost impossible to downplay. But with the news Drake wrote ‘Say You Will’ from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, it is at least worth revisiting the wider cosmos within which Kanye continued to operate, albeit without sitting on the throne he once occupied at the head of modern music.

Midnights echoes Drake and Jacob Collier while faintly imitating Kanye West and Blackpink. There is little to be said for a record that pretends to be self-aware but paints depression in such lurid lights that it is impossible to believe what the writer is saying. And even if we did, so what? It is hard to avoid the conclusion some have come to with Drake and pop successor the Weeknd, that the writer is loveless and reviewers are tired. Except with Taylor Swift it is the inverse: Ms. Swift is in a happy relationship, and it is tiring to hear the same song about Mr. Alwyn — however wonderful he may be — again and again. Kanye made one of the most outstandingly audacious songs of his career with ‘Bound 2’, but has not since felt fit to adorn now-estranged ex-wife Kim Kardashian with the same adoration. Perhaps it is for reasons given in Ms. Swift’s ‘Vigilante Shit’, which delights in revenge against Mr. West for claiming to make Ms. Swift famous on the Rihanna collaboration ‘Famous’. Well, didn’t he?

Jacob Collier seems to stand out from the crowd. A jazz musicians and a modern Mozart (or, as I have argued, Stravinsky) — what is he doing among pop plebeians? Well, Djesse, Vol. 3 does bridge to pop. It isn’t exactly popular, but the world tour indicated university students like to pretend to enjoy it to impress their friends. It is a bit of a cult. It’s kinda sad, because the album has many good moments. I think the melodic line is intriguing. But as with Drake’s artistry, Collier’s melody is buried under ten feet of overproduction. If Mr. West and his inspiration Ms. Lauryn Hill have taught the new millennium anything about modern music, is it the lesson that less is more. More, as if we have learned since, is less. Who’d have thought?

Blackpink is enjoyed by Taylor Swift, but it is clear where Blackpink’s inspiration comes from. (Note Taylor has always admired Kanye’s musicality, echoing this in her own ventures — although this may now be preventing her from being herself.) Mr. West remains the sleeping sovereign of modern music. If you wish for a new regime, then you cannot hope to overthrow the old regime without correctly identifying its leader and the creative powers that keep him or her on top. Only a leader with even greater powers could hope to lead to a new era of music beyond the current hegemony. I wonder how long we’ll wait. Perhaps the time is nearly upon us. Or perhaps we are deeper into the darkness of despair than ever before. Honestly … nevermind. Let there be —

Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?

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