It is no secret that I am an avid fan of everything Taylor Swift, but one of my proudest moments as a fan was the recent release of her music video for her single, “The Man,” on Feb. 27.
“The Man” is unlike any song she has ever released. It reflects the struggles she has faced in recent years and makes a timely arrival in the midst of Donald Trump running for a second term in office.
Swift uses the song and its accompanying video to critique gender roles established by the media and to highlight double standards that are in place. The song captures her contemplating what her relationship with the public would be if she were a man and makes the bold statement: “If I were a man, then I’d be the man.”
The music video was teased prior to its release on Swift’s social media using an image of 19 gloves. This has been the cause of a lot of discussion, as Swift is famous for placing Easter eggs in her work. In her acceptance speech for “Woman of the Decade” at the 2019 Billboard music awards, Taylor named 19 female artists who she named as the future of music. The number 19 is significant for the reason of the 19th Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote in the United States and because 2019 was the year she put out the first album that she owns the masters to herself.
The video opens showing a typical white man standing in front of his office window, looking over the city. Think “The Wolf of Wall Street.” This is not the last reference to Leonardo DiCaprio in the video. The man then walks out of his luxury office into a crowded, desk-filled office space of employees who he begins lecturing to work harder. He gives a congratulatory fist bump to another man in the room. As he raises his arms, everyone stands at attention and applauds him.
This scene is layered over the first verse of the song, which opens with the lines, “I would be complex. I would be cool.” These lines represent Swift stating that if she had her same personality that is often dubbed as complicated, overbearing and dramatic, but as a man, she would be complex and cool. People would worship how much thought she put into things. “They’d say I played the field before I found someone to commit to, and that would be okay for me to do. Every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss to you,” she sings.
With these lines, she strikes down the slut-shaming culture that has followed her for the last decade as she has navigated her way through various relationships. Referencing it to sports, a stereotypically masculine topic, she states that no one would have been so concerned with the details of her dating life, and in fact, she would be praised for having dated so many high profile figures, which for the sake of the song, she refers to as “conquests.”
The line “When everyone believes you, what’s that like?” holds a lot of weight in the aftermath of her sexual assault trial, which she references in depth in her recent documentary, “Miss Americana.” In the music video, the man winks at the camera as this line is delivered.
We are then transported to the New York subway, where the man sits, blowing his cigar smoke in the faces of the women seated next to him with his legs spread so far that at least 3 other people could be sitting down. This shows the entitlement that some men possess. The subway is adorned with posters, including one that says “capitalize on the feeling,” something Swift is often accused of doing in her songwriting.
On the walls of the station are the spray painted titles of Swift’s six studio albums prior to “Lover” that she has lost the rights to. A decade of her work is now owned by “the man” or the men at Big Machine Records, specifically, new owner Scooter Braun, who has publicly tormented Swift over not being able to perform her own material. A sign hangs on the wall that reads “if found, return to Taylor Swift.” The man literally urinates on the wall, expressing the amount of respect the men of Big Machine Records have for her work.
The man walks along the deck of a boat that is covered with women in bikinis, showing the objectification of women and their bodies. He yells into the phone, on what appears to be an important business call, while the women lay there idly, only being appreciated for how they look. The man is served alcohol and drinks alongside these trophy women. This time she directly calls out DiCaprio and his charity galas in Saint Tropez.
Next, the man sits in the park, hardly paying attention to his young daughter, yet he is being praised for being a single father. The women in the park fawn over him for doing the bare minimum, meanwhile, single mothers in the exact same area are being ignored.
Without a doubt, the most impactful line in the song is, “What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars and getting...models?” This line is delivered while the man sits in a bar, gawking at women, taking body shots and getting in fights, but no one is concerned because that is his personal life, after all.
The man then finds himself losing a tennis benefit, where “women’s charity” is generically printed on the wall. The scene mimics Serena Williams at 2018 US Open, which she was highly criticized for, yet when the man does the same thing, no one notices.
The video tackles stereotypes in dating, as it shows a man being celebrated for marrying a woman significantly younger than him, when Swift herself is criticized for dating someone two years younger than her.
When the scene is called to a cut, Director Swift requests that the man look “sexier” and be “more likeable” in the video, then tells the women on set they are doing a good job in a classic role reversal scene.
In the end, the credits roll and Swift is credited with directing the video and writing and owning the song rights that she has fought for over the last few years. It is also revealed that under much special effects work, Swift herself was playing “the man” the entire time, yet the casual viewer had no idea because she was so well-disguised.
Overall, the song and the music video for “The Man” are an expression of the capability and equality of women in all aspects. Both are so well done and get Swift’s message across loud and clear. She shows herself as being unashamed of herself and her narrative, and she does not have to hide behind a man to do so.