On Feb. 5, Taylor Swift, pop icon and international superstar, won the Grammy’s Album of the Year for the fourth time in her 20-year-long career. While this win was likely no surprise to viewers or her fellow nominees, Swift’s most recent album, “Midnights,” did not deserve the award. Although Swift has, without a doubt, earned her fame, the album is far from her best work. Featuring sloppy lyrics, repetitive tunes and poorly chosen production elements, “Midnights” feels rushed, uninspired and monotonous.
While I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on Swift’s music overall, it is important to acknowledge that Swift’s vocals and songwriting are commendable. I would not consider myself a “Swiftie,” but it is hard to deny her talent. She has made some of the most iconic albums in recent history, and many of her albums will have a lasting legacy in pop culture and the music industry. However, “Midnights” is not one of those albums. It is underdeveloped, confused, overall bland, especially compared to its predecessors. The hype surrounding this album had little to do with the music or execution; the appeal of the album came purely through the element of mystery, fostered by Swift’s signature easter eggs and a tagline alluding to dark, sleepless nights. Yet, even with all of this mystery, the album largely fell flat, leaving an overall taste of mindless pop. Critics’ opinions of “Midnights” have been lukewarmly positive; there have been few disparaging remarks, yet there has been little emphatic praise. In stark contrast, Swift’s 2020 release, “Folklore,” was praised as an incredible display of storytelling and lyricism, and many of Swift’s other albums have received critical acclaim.
In this context, it is clear that Swift is more than capable of truly great music and chose to release “Midnights” anyway. Some have speculated that “Midnight’s” release was purely a strategic move to remind the public of Swift’s dominance in pop music before the announcement of the Era’s Tour. Although Swift’s popularity certainly puts her in a position to be a nominee for this award, the quality of this album was not on par with her previous work nor the other nominees. Many on social media have been quick to criticize Swift’s win and point out the artists they feel were snubbed. 2023 nominees included Lana Del Ray’s “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” SZA’s “SOS,” boygenius’ “The Record,” John Batiste’s “World Music Radio,” Janelle Monáe’s “The Age of Pleasure,” Olivia Rodrigo’s “GUTS” and Miley Cyrus’s “Endless Summer Vacation.”
Appreciation of music is highly subjective in many cases, and it could be argued that the voters did enjoy “Midnights” more than its competitors; however, an award of this prestige should not fall into the hands of subjectivity. Albums released by artists of this caliber are made–or, at least, should be made–with extreme intentionality. Releases will be subjectively enjoyable to many, yet they must also be objectively good. By looking at quality of writing, quality of production, cohesiveness of the theme, order and flow, originality and uniqueness and relevance and longevity, nominees can be judged on their objective traits. Viewing nominees subjectively renders the award meaningless, which many have already accused Grammy’s of being, given their extensive list of snubs to artists of color.
However, racial discrimination has not been the main topic of controversy in the Album of the Year conversation. A contributor to a popular Hollywood prediction blog, Gold Derby, leaked the alleged notes of one of the Grammy voters. In these notes, the voter refers to Swift as “the inescapable face of music,” despite admitting to not enjoying the album. He cites a poor 2012 Saturday Night Live performance by Lana Del Rey as his reason for not taking her seriously and deems both boygenius and Fiona Apple unsatisfactory and “dull.” In his remarks on the lack of Morgan Wallen nominations, he seemingly refers to Wallen’s public use of slurs as a “simple harmless mistake” and laments the “cancel-culture nonsense”. The media response to this leak on X, Instagram and TikTok has been general outrage, and many believe the organization’s voter corruption is to blame for Swift’s Midnights win.
Regardless of the controversy, “Midnights” was not the album of the year. Talented, trail-blazing artists were denied music’s biggest award simply because Taylor Swift was the easy choice. For the Recording Academy, the supposed authority on good music, to allow such an award to go to a mediocre album is unacceptable. Even if Midnights had been on par with the other nominees, another Grammy is no more valuable to Swift than a five-dollar scratch off. The other nominees were not just more deserving, but the impact of such an award on the artist’s career would have been more meaningful.