Taylor Swift becomes ‘The Man’ in critical, complex new music video

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With the release of her music video for “The Man” Thursday, Taylor Swift proved she is just as complex and cool as any male in the industry. The singer’s portrayal of the double standards that women face pays testament to how society treats women and men differently and how Swift is fed up with it.  

When watching “The Man,” it’s important to keep in mind how deliberate Swift was with all the decisions she made making the video. Though her behavior might seem exaggerated, every scene demonstrates the issue she takes with society’s differing treatment of men and women.  

The video begins with a shot of a male corporate executive who’s back is turned to the camera as he looks out a window. When he turns around, viewers see a handsome professional. And who is this hunk? It’s none other than Swift herself. Cloaked under heavy prosthetics, Swift portrays her bro alter ego Tyler Swift.  

This Tyler quickly becomes a representation of the most inconsiderate and egotistical qualities attributed to males. He’s made into the worst sort of man to demonstrate Swift’s problem with double standards.  

Scenes throughout the video express her irritation at typical male behaviors and society’s reaction to them. In an allusion to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Tyler strides arrogantly through his corporate office and bosses his staff around, his employees literally applaud his management skills. Later on, when he manspreads on the subway, other passengers notice but fail to call him out on it.  

A more personal but especially symbolic scene is Tyler’s stop at 13th Street Station, where he urinates on the side of the walls. Of course, 13 is Swift’s favorite number, but there’s more to this picture than that. Written in graffiti on the walls are the names of Taylor Swift’s previous albums – “Reputation,” “1989,” “Red,” “Speak Now” and “Fearless.” A sign to the left reads “Missing: If found return to Taylor Swift” while a sign to the right indicates that no scooters are allowed.  

This scene is a nod to Swift’s battle with her former record label and her dispute with Scooter Braun, the new owner of her master recordings. Swift has spoken passionately about artists’ rights to their own music, and this scene in “The Man” calls out those record executives who’ve abused these rights. In true Taylor fashion, however, the word “Karma” is graffitied right in the middle of the shot, showing how she’s now speaking out about this unfair treatment.  

What’s more, Tyler’s urine spells out “The Man,” another symbol of how Swift is taking back power over her work and her image in the music industry. 

In other big scenes, Tyler brings his daughter to the park. He’s manspreading again as the little girl sits with her legs crossed. He checks out women, makes a call and absentmindedly pats his daughter on the head before a “World’s Greatest Dad” sign is erected to congratulate him on seemingly doing the bare minimum.  

Swift is here making a point about how mothers and fathers are treated differently by society. Less is expected of males when it comes to parenting, so any “extra” effort they show is often celebrated.  

Similarly, Tyler plays a tennis match and gets mad, smashing his racquet on the ground and throwing balls at the umpire (played by Swift’s father) before collapsing and whining on the court. Ball girl Loren Gray rolls her eyes, but no one reprimands Tyler.  

Many have analyzed this scene as a reference to when Serena Williams called out an umpire at the 2018 US Open. After the incident, Williams brought attention to sexism in the sport, and here Swift illustrates how men are not punished for certain behavior that would definitely have consequences for women.  

Other scenes focus on men’s romantic interactions with women. Tyler in one such case is on a yacht with 10 models. This is at the point in the song when Swift sings “And we would toast to me, oh, let the players play / I’d be just like Leo, in Saint-Tropez.” Notable here is Swift’s criticism of the media’s portrayal of her dating life. While media outlets have called her a player and focus on her string of boyfriends, the same sources don’t pay as much attention to the same aspect of male stars’ lives, even if they conduct themselves in a more or less similar manner.  

Right after this scene, Tyler is seen leaving a one night stand and high-fiving 19 hands as he runs down a hallway. Another critique by Swift, this moment demonstrates how society encourages men to pursue their (sexual) desires freely without any ramifications. Additionally, some have suggested the 19 hands stand for the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.  

As the video comes to an end, it turns out that Swift herself is the director, and Tyler approaches her for comments on his performance (he’s voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, by the way). She recommends that Tyler be “sexier, maybe more likeable this time,” a suggestion that Swift and other female stars have no doubt often received from directors.  

Before the video ends, attributions for writing, directing, starring and ownership all go to Taylor Swift in a powerful statement about her ownership and direction of her own work. Pictures showing her transformation into Tyler also roll.  

By the time it’s over, there’s no doubt Swift aired plenty of her grievances with society’s double standards. Her incisive critiques point out inequity between society’s treatment of men and women in a creative and compelling manner, and “The Man” as a song and video will remain a testament to this struggle.  

Thumbnail Image Courtesy of Instagram @taylorswift


Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.  

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