With her latest music video for fan-favorite Lover track “The Man,” Taylor Swift takes aim at all of the men she has a beef with by donning (very convincing) drag and reenacting as many sexist double standards as she could fit in four minutes and 14 seconds. And trust us when we say that there are a lot.
Released on Thursday morning, “The Man” opens on the silhouette of a man with his back to the camera, overlooking an impressive view of New York City from the window of his flashy office. This, of course, is Swift herself playing a rude, manspreading CEO who throws temper tantrums on the tennis court, smokes cigars on public transportation, and cheers on his buddies as they take body shots off of a scantily clad cocktail waitress. As the end credits highlight in all caps, the video is “directed by, written by, owned by, and starring” Taylor Swift.
Since October 2018 when Swift endorsed Democratic candidate Phil Bresden in the Tennessee midterm election, the formerly apolitical singer—who once notoriously refused to identify as a feminist or condemn her white supremacist fans—has significantly reshaped her stance on talking politics. The Pride Month release of the star-studded music video for her pro-LGBTQ anthem, “You Need to Calm Down,” marked the beginning of a new era of woke Taylor Swift. Along with “You Need to Calm Down” and the allegorical Trump-shading song “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” “The Man” is one of Lover’s boldest political statements.
Set to a funky HAIM-inspired beat, the playful lyrics rehash the sexist tabloid coverage of Swift’s love life over the years and the exhausting industry double standards that constantly require her to prove she’s earned her success. “What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars and getting bitches and models?” the 30-year-old asks rhetorically in the bridge.
Though Swift’s rightful frustration comes through in her words, she has plenty of fun acting out the privileged scenarios of her antagonist’s life. Wearing gold jewelry, a garish brocade-printed silk shirt, and aviator sunglasses, “the Man” shouts into his iPhone from the deck of a yacht, skillfully stepping over the bodies of sunbathing models. Later, the models surround him and toast champagne over the lyrics, “I’d be just like Leo in Saint-Tropez.”
Of course, it would not be a Taylor Swift release without a thinly veiled Kanye West reference. West, after all, is arguably one of the biggest offenders questioning Swift’s well-earned success. Fans first drew a connection to West when Swift posted a teaser image for the video to Twitter on Tuesday featuring a white arched hallway that many pointed out looks eerily similar to the interior of the rapper’s palatial Calabasas home. In this scene in the video, her character runs through the hallway high-fiving 19 disembodied hands, possibly in reference to her age when West infamously interrupted her 2009 VMAs speech. While this all undoubtedly sounds straight-up conspiratorial to non-Swifties, the star is known for peppering her songs and videos with meticulously coded messages for her most devoted fans.
Swift finally appears as herself in a breaking-the-fourth-wall moment at the end of the video. After wrapping the tennis court tantrum scene, “the Man” (hilariously voiced by Dwayne Johnson, the only actual man listed in the credits) walks off set to get feedback from Swift, who sits in the director’s chair. His performance was “pretty good,” she says, “but could you try to be sexier? Maybe more likable this time?”
It’s a darkly humorous callback to a poignant moment from her recent Netflix documentary Miss Americana. As she watches tape of herself on the set of her “Me!” music video, she unleashes a stream of relentless self-criticism. “I have a really slappable face,” she says as director Dave Meyers laughs uncomfortably. “You just want to be like, ‘What are you plotting? What’s she planning?’ I’m not meaning to look like that.”
She reserves her most pointed taunt, however, for Scooter Braun, with whom she has been playing out a heavily publicized battle over the rights to her master recordings. Swift and Braun have been feuding since June when the music exec acquired the singer’s former label, Big Machine Records, thus owning her musical catalog. In the new video, Swift’s male alter ego stops to relieve himself in front of a graffiti-adorned wall in a subway station.
The wall bears the names of all her albums prior to Lover, as well as a sign that says “Missing: If found return to Taylor Swift” and another of a scooter with a red cross through it. In case you somehow miss these glaring, literal signs that her feud with Braun is very much alive and well, her character steps back to reveal a new message on the wall, “The Man,” written in what we can only assume is meant to be dripping, glittery blue piss.
Though the subtlety ship has long ago set sail for Swift, winking digs at her detractors in the form of cheeky lyrics and Easter eggs are becoming a signature for the oft-scrutinized pop star, and this video seems to be the most fun she’s had in years.