The Taylor Swift–Jack Antonoff Conundrum
The producer has been one of Taylor’s most trusted collaborators in recent years, but after ‘Midnights,’ is it time for her to move on? Nora Princiotti and Nathan Hubbard discuss as part of their review on ‘Every Single Album.’
On Friday, Taylor Swift released her 10th studio album, Midnights. Like many of her recent offerings, it prominently featured the pop producer du jour, Jack Antonoff. And while their work together is some of the most important of Swift’s career, is there a certain sameness to much of it? Would she be better served looking elsewhere for her next projects? On the latest Every Single Album, Nora Princiotti and Nathan Hubbard discuss all things Midnights, including other production options Taylor could explore in the future. To hear the full conversation, listen here and subscribe for upcoming episodes dissecting Midnights.
Nathan Hubbard: It’s really easy to say that Jack Antonoff is her most important collaborator, isn’t it?
Nora Princiotti: Yeah, I think we should each identify our runner-up for her most important collaborator who’s not Jack, but let’s give Jack a performance review here first. What do you think?
Hubbard: I can’t fucking believe that in the span of eight days, he put out the 1975 album and he put this album out. And that four other people are going to show up at the Grammys thinking they have a chance to win Producer of the Year.
Princiotti: Ryan Tedder posted something on Instagram that was like, “Wanted to share some of the stuff that I’ve done this year.” And it just was like, “I don’t know if this was the right time, buddy.”
Hubbard: It’s like Carly Rae Jepsen’s album being put out the same night as Taylor Swift.
Princiotti: Which slaps, by the way.
Hubbard: Yeah, it’s really good. And it’s going to get somewhat lost in the shuffle of this. It doesn’t matter. It’s the reason Rihanna moved her album away from Adele back when people actually bought physical albums. You gotta get out of the shadow.
But I’m going to say this, though: The sort of lasting impression, 36 hours after this thing came out, is I’m so glad that Jack and Taylor did this album together, and I am sure that they will continue to work together in some ways going forward. But this is the last time I want to hear a Taylor-and-Jack album for a bit, because it is getting somewhat redundant. They are, I think, consciously on this album, but possibly subconsciously, recycling a lot of things that they’ve done together.
I enjoy this album, I love it. But what we saw with Folklore and Evermore was that working with others, even Zoë Kravitz on this album—those interactions seemed to fuel a lot of creativity. And I understand this was a concept album. If she’s had criticisms before, it’s been the sort of inconsistent nature of the album. Even though each individual song is worthy. It’s that: Do these things really hold up end to end fully?
I’m ready to see her branch out from here and start challenging herself to work with other people and see what comes out of it. They’ve done some of this stuff before and, again, that might have been the point, but I’m ready to see her do something without the great Jack Antonoff next.
Princiotti: I’m with you there, and this is a good thing to kind of go out on. I don’t think that there’s really ever going to be an end to them being collaborators in some way. But in terms of him being the featured sound of an album, this is a Jack Antonoff–ass sounding album. The drums are incessant. It is incredibly heavy-handed. You’ve got the oohs and aahs all over the place. The nice stuff on “Bejeweled,” which also has all those sparkle shimmer sounds.
I think we talked about this on another pod when we were talking about Jack at some point. There’s that Coco Chanel quote about dressing before you leave the house: Take one thing off. Jack’s production style is the antithesis of that. It’s just like, “Let’s add people clapping at midnight in ‘Question …?’” You just keep putting stuff in, and here’s more drums, and here it is. I think it helps this album feel very sonically consistent. I love the overall aesthetic of Midnights. I am with you for a lot of reasons, but to use a Nathanism: They’ve reached the end of the forest together and are already going back and making references to past stuff.
I don’t know, we’re already kind of OD’ing on Jack Antonoff. You can’t go any Jackier, so I think she will go somewhere else.
Hubbard: So, if not Jack, because that’s the obvious one …
Princiotti: So Sounwave, a.k.a. Mark Spears, gets production and writing credits for “Lavender Haze,” “Karma,” and “Glitch.” And on an album that has a lot of backward-looking moments, or we can pinpoint where it’s derivative, all of those songs are very fresh to me. They do something very different. And I think the album is not as high quality if it doesn’t have that freshness on those songs.
Hubbard: And that’s case in point for why we would expect that going forward: She’d work with somebody other than Jack, because it’s in her. And we’re now talking about the upper echelon of all-time songwriters in the history of rock. This is an unprecedented white-hot fucking streak of—
Princiotti: She has 200 quality songs. She is going to repeat some things once in a while. That’s fine.
Hubbard: It sounds ridiculous to say this, but you have to put her on the same plateau as Lennon and McCartney. I think you probably would give the innovation award to McCartney, no doubt. But she is still creating, and I’m telling you that Paul McCartney’s 11th, 10th solo album did not have the same amount of creativity. And so her legacy is going to be the unbelievable amount of content that she has been able to create. Her productivity, her prolific nature is unparalleled. And another album with Jack Antonoff is going to waste it.
Princiotti: I agree with you, but I’m also not that worried, because think about her ability to shapeshift. Right? Two years ago we were in the Folklorian Woods knitting sweaters.
Hubbard: She knows. She moved from Nathan Chapman to Max Martin. She moved from Max Martin to Jack, then she brought in Aaron . Because it was a concept album, it feels like she went with the safety. I don’t think it was intentional. I do think both of their partners are actors and were working on a project together. And so naturally they fell into it together. And what happens when two of the most prolific and creative people get together and drink multiple bottles of wine? This album happens.
This transcript has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. To hear the full episode, listen on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.