Swift uses Tyler to skewer toxic masculinity and double standards, while airing personal grievances with an industry that has often subjected her to intense scrutiny. Criticism of her career has ranged from endless speculation over her love life to questions about the motives behind the social and political stances she takes in her music.
Swift has said in the past that many of those critiques would not be made against a male performer in her position — a message she hammers home in the “The Man.”
“I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man,” Swift sings. “And I’m so sick of them coming at me again, ‘cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man.”
On Thursday, Swift’s gender-bending music video, which has already been viewed nearly 11 million times on YouTube, had everyone talking.
Here’s what she wants you to see in her symbolism-packed takedown of the patriarchy.
Throughout the music video, Swift takes aim at the cultural norms that allow, and at times even encourage, men to develop overinflated egos.
It begins with a shot of Tyler staring out the window of a posh corner office with stunning views of the surrounding cityscape. His dark brown hair is neatly coifed, and he’s dressed in a sharp navy suit, giving off all the vibes of the archetypal male executive. Tyler treats his employees dismissively and barks orders at them, but that does little to quell the adoration. Women fawn over him as he exchanges brotastic greetings with his male staffers (yes, we’re talking about the exploding fist bump).
“I’d be a fearless leader,” Swift sings as the entire office gives Tyler an enthusiastic standing ovation. ‘I’d be an alpha type.”
For fans of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, the opening scenes of Swift’s video probably looked pretty familiar: They’re a direct nod to the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It makes sense that Swift would choose to align her macho, overconfident male persona with a movie whose main character, portrayed by DiCaprio, is a corrupt New York stockbroker with a penchant for cocaine and prostitutes.
Swift’s criticism of entitled men continues with Tyler riding the subway. Much to the annoyance and disgust of his fellow passengers, Tyler has assumed the classic “manspreading” position — splaying his legs wide as he lounges in his seat. To make matters worse, Tyler is also nonchalantly smoking a cigar, flicking ashes into the lap of the woman next to him.
No ode to feminism would be complete without taking a shot at “manspreading,” a term that has come to symbolize male privilege at the expense of others. The widely criticized posture is most commonly used by men while seated to occupy as much space as possible and doubles as an attempt to highlight a specific area of their bodies.
The song’s bridge finds Tyler enjoying a rowdy alcohol-fueled night out with the bros at a dimly lit club. Tyler cheers as one of his buddies takes a body shot off a scantily clad woman lying among scattered bills. More money rains down on the group of partyers as Tyler aggressively knocks back a shot of his own.
“What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars and getting b----es and models?” Swift asks in the song, later singing, “If I was out flashin’ my dollars, I’d be a b----, not a baller.”
Through the behavior of Tyler and his friends at the club, Swift scrutinizes norms that encourage men to act like “playboys.” The scene could also be interpreted as a commentary on how women are often treated like objects that solely exist for the entertainment of men.
Another grievance Swift airs in “The Man” is the tendency for men to be held to a lower standard than women and be forgiven for shortcomings more easily.
Tyler’s metaphor-filled romp continues as he parties on a yacht surrounded by models in matching yellow bikinis, similar to a scene from “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The symbol isn’t subtle — and Swift’s lyrics let you know exactly who she is thinking of when she puts Tyler on a boat: “I’d be just like Leo in Saint-Tropez,” she sings.
She’s singing, of course, about DiCaprio. He’s not only the “Wolf,” but also in real life he’s known to take his young girlfriends and models who work with his charity on yacht rides in the waters around Saint-Tropez, France. Leo and Tyler can flirt and play with dozens of women without causing a stir, but Swift has long been publicly mocked for her long list of ex-boyfriends.
As Swift sings the chorus for the second time, Tyler wakes up in bed beside a beautiful woman. He leaves her sleeping alone and walks down an arched hallway, where colorful arms emerge from the walls and create a line of high-fives, a la the “tunnel” that welcomes football players after a win.
The shot clearly celebrates Tyler for his sexual conquest — and implies that Swift, or any woman, would not receive cheers and adulation if the roles were reversed. The scene is the visual representation of the opening verse of the song: “They'd say I played the field before I found someone to commit to, and that would be okay for me to do,” Swift sings. “Every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss to you.”
Swift also pulls into the music video more general complaints about the way men and women are treated differently. When Tyler visits a park with his daughter, he takes a call on his cellphone as the girl stares at her lap. All around them, women are playing and paying close attention to their kids. The second Tyler puts the screen away and picks up the girl, the women gush. A banner declaring “World’s Greatest Dad” appears over his head.
One of the most pointed critiques Swift offers comes near the end of “The Man.” Tyler ventures onto a tennis court, where he initially makes a big show of strumming his racket like a guitar and thrusting his hips with every successful hit. But when the game doesn’t go his way, he throws a tantrum.
The scene recalls the legendary outbursts of tennis legend John McEnroe, who freely shouted at officials and used his racket to send water cups flying. Other male tennis players have run afoul of sportsmanlike conduct, including Roger Federer, who cursed at an umpire, and Jimmy Connors, who once called an umpire an “abortion.” When Serena Williams fired back at an official who accused her of cheating during the 2018 U.S. Open, the U.S. Tennis Association fined her $17,000.
In short, Swift is pointing out that women are expected to act nice, but for men, “it’s okay if you’re mad.”
Perhaps more than anything else, “The Man” is a message for those who have personally offended Swift — particularly the man who took ownership of her master recordings against her wishes.
In several scenes, “The Man” makes direct references to Scooter Braun, the record executive who owns the master recordings from Swift’s first six albums. Swift tried to buy the rights to her music, but failed.
In the subway scene, Tyler stops to urinate on a wall decorated with graffiti referencing the albums “Fearless,” “Speak Now,” “Red,” “1989,” and “Reputation,” megahits all. Also on the wall: a sign depicting a scooter with a red circle and line cutting through it, which can be literally translated as “No Scooter.”
Braun and Swift have been locked in a messy feud that goes beyond a dispute over who should own the rights to the pop star’s music. He managed Kanye West when the rapper wrote a song lyric that called Swift a “b----” and made a music video that depicted her naked. Swift called it “a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked.”
The video is a sendup of sexism in general, and in the music industry Swift works in, where she has been shamed for her love life and criticized for appearing aggressive.
In the end, Swift steals the spotlight from her alter ego when the song ends and she calls “cut” on the set of the music video. Tyler rushes over to the director, played by Swift — who actually did direct the music video — and asks how he can improve his performance on the next take.
“Uh, could you try to be sexier?” Swift says. “Maybe more likable this time?”