There was once a time when Taylor Swift made music. Then she encountered the music of Billie Eilish, and she decided to make art to rival nemesis Kanye West. But she herself anticipated Billie Eilish’s 2019 LP with her 2017 LP reputation, inspired by Kanye West’s Yeezus. Now Taylor Swift prefers to follow trends rather than advance them. Midnights echoes Dua Lipa and the Weeknd in production style and Billie Eilish and Lana Del Ray in lyrical style. But beneath this stylistic synthesis, what is the substance? Alas, therapy has made Taylor Swift more attention-seeking, not less; and the comparison is Drake.
Unfortunately Kendrick Lamar has already followed up Drake with an interesting take on Kanye West’s Donda, which competed with Drake’s miserable record Certified Lover Boy in 2021. Taylor Swift’s ideas are limited to romance and revenge, including an apparent confession of helping Kim Kardashian take custody of Kanye West’s devoted children, with the aid of the FBI. Take Drake, add manipulation, and minus soulful meditation — that’s the recipe for Taylor Swift’s Midnights.
To take another comparison, Jacob Collier makes harmony without lyricism, and Taylor Swift makes lyrics without harmony. Neither can cook up a real melody, and lack the artistic nous to make songs that really catch on — at least anymore.
But Taylor Swift used to be better than this. She used to make lyrical and musical songs. In her attempt to overtake Kanye West, she has fallen further than Kanye has ever fallen musically, or politically. To be outspoken and controversial is one thing; to be almost uncritically endorsed by a world in chaos without having anything substantial to say is, to quote Ms. Swift, ‘sweet nothing’. And as the medieval philosophers endlessly insisted: ex nihilo, nihilo fit.
Taylor Swift used to be a ‘mastermind’ of music; but now she is a mastermind of one thing: marketing, masked as artistry. It is what the Lacanian psychoanalysts call ‘psychoanalysis in reverse’. It is intended not to overcome repression but to entrench it. Taylor and Drake, as Kanye predicted once about himself, have ‘switched sides like Anakin’. The promised saviours of pop and hip hop are holding back the future. The West is nearly exhausted of musical potential. A wind from the East has promise: but the Blackpink revolution is already unravelling as it falls prey to the perils of westernisation and Orientalism.
This is sad. I have finished the 13-track album and know Taylor Swift albums can sound better on repeat. I will endeavour to update if I change my mind. But for now at least, I must mourn the passing of one of the greatest musicians of our time. To misquote Dostoevsky: The Queen is dead, and everything is permitted. May better gods emerge from the coming chaos. This time, let’s not let things fall apart so easily.
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?