The Man (Taylor Swift song)

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"The Man"
Taylor Swift - The Man.png
Live version cover artwork
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Lover
ReleasedJanuary 27, 2020 (2020-01-27)
Format
Studio
  • Electric Lady
    (New York City)
  • Golden Age West
    (Auckland, New Zealand)
Genre
Length3:10
LabelRepublic
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
  • Joel Little
  • Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Christmas Tree Farm"
(2019)
"The Man"
(2020)
Music video
"The Man" on YouTube

"The Man" is a song by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. The song was serviced to US adult contemporary and pop radio formats on January 27 and 28, 2020 as the fourth single from Swift's seventh studio album, Lover (2019). Swift wrote and produced the song with Joel Little. It is a synth-pop song which features flashy harmonies and murky synths. Over an uptempo production, Swift imagines the media's treatment of her if she were a man. The song received acclaim from critics, who praised its feminist message.

"The Man" peaked at number 23 on the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming the fourth consecutive single from Lover to peak inside the top 40 of the chart. It also debuted at number 4 on the Rolling Stone Top 100. It entered the top 40 on charts in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. On February 7, 2020, an animated lyric video of the song was released on YouTube. On February 18, 2020, a live acoustic version of the song, titled "The Man (Live from Paris)", was released on all music platforms, accompanied by its live video.

An official music video for "The Man" was released on February 27, 2020 and was directed by Swift herself, marking her solo directorial debut. The satirical video sees Swift in her theoretical male alter-ego named "Tyler Swift", presenting several prevalent examples of double standards in society, including objectification, sexualization of women, toxic masculinity and patriarchy.

Background and composition[edit]

Leonardo DiCaprio attending a film premiere
American actor Leonardo DiCaprio is name-checked in the lyrics of the song, whose films, Inception and The Wolf of Wall Street, are further referenced in its lyric video and music video, respectively.

The recording process for Taylor Swift's seventh studio album Lover took under three months, and concluded in February 2019.[1] Joel Little was revealed as one of the producers for the album with the release of lead single "Me!" in April. He co-wrote and co-produced four of the eighteen tracks for the album.[2] The song title was revealed along with the lyrics "I'd be a fearless leader / I'd be an alpha type / When everyone believes ya— / What's that like?" in Swift's Vogue cover interview for the September 2019 issue.[3]

"The Man" is a synth-pop song which features flashy harmonies and murky synths. Over an uptempo production, Swift imagines the media's treatment of her if she were a man. She challenges societal sexist double standards, with lyrics including a noteworthy reference to American actor Leonardo DiCaprio.[4] Swift uses the actor as an example to explain sexism, singing "And they would toast to me, oh, let the players play/I'd be just like Leo in Saint-Tropez".[5] In outtakes from an interview with Billboard in December 2019, Swift said she wrote the song not only from personal experience, but also from hearing the general experiences of women working across all parts of the music industry.[6] She added:

We [women] have to curate and cater everything, but we have to make it look like an accident. Because if we make a mistake, that's our fault, but if we strategize so that we won't make a mistake, we're calculating. There is a bit of a damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don't thing happening in music.

According to Billboard's Gil Kaufman, "The Man" is a pointed statement about "how much harder women need to work than men to get to the same finish line".[7] Jason Lipshutz of the same magazine described the song as a "biting look at gender dynamics within both the pop industry and celebrity-driven culture", noting that it is sonically composed of a rumbling beat and crackling synths and lyrically provides wry humor and an honest perspective.[8] An animated lyric video for "The Man" was released on February 7, 2020 at 12pm.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

"The Man" received critical acclaim upon release, with praise towards its lyrics about sexism and women empowerment.

The Atlantic's Spencer Kornhaber described "The Man" as "one of the most straightforwardly catchy songs" on Lover, and further called it Swift's "most explicit musical statement on sexism".[10] He opined that the DiCaprio reference is the "most memorable" line of the song. Brittany Hodak of Forbes, praised the song as "the most important song she's [Swift has] ever written". She also stated that the song is "a brilliant portrayal of the subtle and not-so-subtle sexism women face every day".[11] Time's Raisa Bruner labelled the song as "a bombastic, empowering bop" that is "an anthem for anyone who's felt blocked by sexist double standards".[12] Comparing the song to Swift's 2017 album, Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone described "The Man" as "a righteous feminist bombshell Reputation could have used".[13] Slate's Carl Wilson opined that the song "widens the lens and makes a more convincing case for her [Swift's] grievances than on any beefing track she's ever written". He further described the song as a "synth-strut mode very reminiscent of Haim" that "takes aim at sexist music industry and media double standards and just keeps firing bull's-eyes".[14]

Writing for Elite Daily, Sade Spence and Kristen Perrone stated that the lyrics of the song are "super bold and carry a powerful message about women". They further stated that the song is an addition to the "legendary canon of crafty takes on sexism" in music.[15] Allie Gemmill of Teen Vogue stated that the song "gives women permission to keep challenging sexist double standards, and fans are here for it", adding that the "fierce" song includes "many incredibly good lyrics".[16] Writing for Billboard, Jason Lipshutz called it "a complete jam" and ranked it as the 12th best track on the album, and further expanded that it "will draw attention for its searing subject matter, but it's also one of Lover's most complete productions".[8] The same magazine's Gab Ginsberg opined that "The Man" is "catchy-as-all-heck".[17] Writing for The New York Times, Jon Caramanica described the song "excellent and pointed" and stated that the song is a "stern synth-pop take" on sexism.[18] Jordan Sargent of Spin negatively compared the song to "You Need to Calm Down", stating that the lyric "If I was a man, then I'd be the man" doesn't really offer much insight.[19]

Commercial performance[edit]

In the United States, following the release of its parent album Lover, "The Man" debuted at number 4 on the Billboard Streaming Songs chart, number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 32 on the Billboard Digital Song Sales chart, all dated September 7, 2019.[20][21] It was serviced to the US adult contemporary and pop radio formats on January 27 and 28, 2020 as the fourth single from Lover.[22][23] The single quickly became pop radio's most added song of the week dated January 27, 2020, picked up by 87 Mediabase-monitored pop stations.[24] It also topped the list of most added songs of the week by adult contemporary radio, picked up by 26 Hot AC Mediabase-monitored stations.[25] The song further peaked at number 21 and 12 on Billboard Pop Songs and Billboard Adult Pop Songs charts, respectively.[26]

In Europe, "The Man" charted at number 16 in Ireland,[27] 62 in Netherlands,[28] 24 in Norway,[29] 82 in Scotland, 63 in Sweden and 80 in Switzerland.[30][31][32] It reached number 21 on the UK Singles Chart.[33] It was also commercially successful in Oceania, peaking at number 17 in Australia and 15 in New Zealand.[34][35]

Music video[edit]

Background[edit]

Man smiling
American actor Dwayne Johnson voices Swift's male alter-ego in the music video.

On February 25, 2020, Swift announced via her social media accounts that the music video will be released in two days' time.[36] The video was directed by Swift, making it her official solo directorial debut.[37] Swift answered fan questions in the hour before the music video's premiere on YouTube on February 27, 2020. She stated that the entire preparation for the music video—including planning meetings, creating mood boards, scouting locations, and costume and set design—took several months. She also confirmed that there would be many of her trademark "easter eggs" in the video.

With the "The Man" music video, I wanted to show a hightened reaction of how the world reacts to someone who's male, hot, rich, young and cocky. I wanted to show how there's immediate approval and benefit of the doubt given, in a ridiculous way.

— Swift, The Man (Behind The Scenes: Directing), YouTube[38]

The video features cameos from TikTok stars Loren Gray (the second most followed on the platform) and Dominic Toliver, actress Jayden Bartels, and Swift's father Scott Swift; actor Dwayne Johnson appears in a brief voice role.[39] The video's production team includes producer Jil Hardin, executive producer Rebecca Skinner, assistant director Joe Osborne, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, production designer Ethan Tobman, and makeup artist Bill Corso. Swift's transformation involved a "muscle suit", prosthetic makeup, eyebrow wigs, and facial sculptures, which took between four and six hours to apply each day.[40] She also worked with movement coaches Stephen Galloway and Spenser Theberge, as well as editor Chancler Haynes.[40] Visual effects were handled by Ingenuity Studios, which previously worked on several of Swift's videos such as "Look What You Made Me Do", "End Game", "...Ready for It?", and "Lover".

Synopsis and analysis[edit]

The satirical music video explores Swift's life as her theoretical male counterpart, an alter-ego named "Tyler Swift". The video presents numerous prevalent examples of double standards in society, and comments on the objectification and sexualization of women, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, as well as performative allyship. Throughout the video, the male version of Swift is seen rudely inconveniencing the people around him, leading a luxurious and promiscuous lifestyle, manspreading, receiving praise for the bare minimum, and throwing tantrums without consequences. It contains visual references to The Wolf of Wall Street, a film involving the lyrically name-checked actor Leonardo DiCaprio and cinematographer Prieto, and tennis player Serena Williams' match controversy with a chair umpire at the 2018 US Open Championships.[41]

Man smiling
Swift's male alter-ego, Tyler Swift (in the middle), manspreading in a metro train.

The video has several easter eggs alluding to Swift's other work, including Speak Now, Red, 1989 and Reputation graffiti on a wall. Fearless is written backwards, while the title of her eponymous debut album appears in a sign saying "Missing: If Found Return to Taylor Swift". The "missing" sign, along with another wordless sign that appears to ban riding scooters, references her battle with Scooter Braun and Big Machine Records over the ownership of the master recordings of her first six studio albums. Lover, the first album that Swift completely owns herself, is absent, but the word "karma" is written twice on the wall, a possible reference to Swift's plan to re-record her previous works thus lowering the value of the originals. The camera subsequently pans over a "Mr. Americana" poster for a film starring Tyler Swift, directed by Larry Wilson, and premiering at the 2020 Mandance Festival, a word play on Swift's Netflix documentary Miss Americana directed by Lana Wilson, which debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Swift's alter-ego runs down a hallway giving high-fives to nineteen disembodied hands, alluding to double standards behind the walk of shame that women are often forced to take after a sexual encounter. The hands are said to be a reference to the 19th amendment of the United States constitution, which granted women the right to vote in the country.[42]

In the final scene, Swift herself appears as the video's director to instruct her male alter-ego to be both "sexier" and "more likeable" in the next take—a subtle dig at the entertainment industry's blatant objectification of and sexist treatment toward women. Ending on messages of female empowerment, Swift then turns to praise Loren Gray for her acting performance as a tennis ball girl, despite her role consisting of nothing more than an eye roll. The end credits list Swift as the director, writer, owner and star of the music video, Johnson as the voice of "The Man", and shows photos of Swift's transformation process into the male lead of the video. It ends with a disclaimer stating "No men were harmed in the making of this video".[43][44]

Swift's masculine appearance as "Tyler Swift" has been compared with that of Christian Bale, Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhal and Joe Alwyn.[45][46]

Critical reception[edit]

The video received critical acclaim upon release, with many commentators complimenting the video's concept and Swift's "unrecognizable" transformation into the male alter-ego.

Bryan Rolli of Forbes, highlighted that the video is characterized by an "exaggerated and cartoonish" attitude "in a self-aware way", typical of Swift's "most memorable videos". He further expanded that "obviously, not every man acts like her [Swift's] character; that's not the point. The point is to make a caricature of the buffoonish men who feel the need to criticize successful women like Swift for merely existing and dissect every public decision they make, whereas their male counterparts would receive praise for the same actions".[47] Avery Blank, also writing for Forbes, opined that the video is a "reminder that women continue to face challenges when it comes to owning their ideas and maintaining control over their own careers" and that the society "expects women to be team players and not worry about getting credit for their work". She further added that the video makes it clear to viewers that Swift "will not let people mess with her".[48] Glamour's Chloe Laws wrote that the "empowering" video "calls out sexism and the industry's double standards", which is "a small part of the bigger journey she's [Swift is] embarked on lately", by "refusing to let someone else control her narrative".[41] Vox's Constance Grady opined that Swift is "one of our great pop storytellers", proved by the video that becomes "the climax of her quest to own her voice".[43]

Billboard's Rania Aniftos commended that Swift undergoes an "intense make-over" in the "visually stunning clip", to become a "bearded, belligerent corporate titan whose rocket fuel is non-stop high-fives, fist-pounds, empty praise and rounds of shots with his amped-up bros".[49] Vulture's Zoey Haylock commented that Swift as a man resembles Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal and Joe Alwyn combined, appreciating the makeup and prosthetics as "award worthy".[44] Vogue's Hayley Maitland and Noami Pike described Swift's male alter ego as "the human embodiment of toxic masculinity".[45] Rolling Stone's Claire Shaffer stated that Swift "dons full drag to portray the worst of masculinity".[50] iHeartRadio's Paris Close commended that the video "does well to demonstrate how the hubris of male privilege plays out in the real world".[51] CNN's Lisa France opined that Swift is "unrecognizable" in the video, that "brings to life Swift's lyrics about how differently the world views men and women".[52] Writing for The Washington Post, Katie Shepherd and Allyson Chiu pointed out that the video is Swift's "gender-bending takedown of the patriarchy", that "skewer toxic masculinity and double standards, while airing personal grievances with an industry that has often subjected her to intense scrutiny". They added that Swift takes aim at "the cultural norms that allow, and at times even encourage, men to develop overinflated egos".[53] Fast Company's Starr Rocque stated that Swift "examines the ridiculousness of gender roles and weaves that into a satirical spin on her own personal experiences and observations", adding that Swift "catches a lot of flack, but she's a fighter and always true to her brand of female empowerment".[46]

Lyric video[edit]

An animated lyric video for the song was released on February 7, 2020, exploring visual themes of women empowerment, feminism and workplace sexism.

A staircase in a square format. The stairs make four 90-degree turns in each corner, so they are in the format of a continuous loop.
Penrose stairs are incorporated into the lyric video to portray the never-ending difficulties faced by women in the corporate world.

The video depicts a power suit-wearing woman, the only female figure in a maze-like city full of taller and larger corporate male drones, as she tries to navigate through staircases that lead to nowhere. She is forced to run past the sauntering men to avoid getting trampled. When the woman finally reaches the top of a building, symbolizing her climb up the corporate ladder, the male drones push her off and leave her to freefall to death; thankfully, she is caught by another, benevolent, giant woman and shown to a place where all the women walk together in solidarity towards the city. The ending of the video implies that the true key to success for women is to lift each other up.[54][55][56]

Some of the visuals featured in the video bear resemblance to those from the 2010 movie Inception, which stars the actor name-checked in the song, Leonardo DiCaprio.[57]

Impact[edit]

In honor of International Women's Day in 2020, "The Man" was added to playlists on streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal. Public figures such as Malala Yousafzai and Kristin Chenoweth added the song to their International Women's Day playlists.[58] Furthermore, Swift included the song in her Apple Music "Playlist by ME!", which was updated to spotlight songs from rising female artists such as Beabadoobee, Clairo, Phoebe Bridgers, Caroline Polachek, Celeste, Charli XCX, Daya, Grimes, Haim, Halsey, Léon, H.E.R., Kesha, King Princess, Marina Diamandis, MUNA, Oh Wonder, Brittany Howard, Margaret Glaspy, Princess Nokia, Selena Gomez, Låpsley, Yebba etc.[59]

In March 2020, British politician Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities of the United Kingdom, quoted the song's lyrics during a special International Women's Day debate in the British parliament, while talking about the need for gender equality across the workforce and greater protection for women against domestic violence. Truss stated: "And so that, in the words of the brilliant Taylor Swift in her new song, 'women aren't left running as fast as they can, wondering if they'd get there quicker if they were a man'."[60]

American journalist Jody Rosen, writing for The New York Times, listed "The Man" as one of the "25 songs that matter now". Describing Swift as "pop's best humblebraggart", Rosen termed "The Man" as a "sly protest song", explaining that Swift "has been pop's top bellyacher, turning a now-familiar set of grievances into great songs". He added that Swift "channels that indignation into a broader protest against the sexism and skepticism that all women face". Rosen also opined that the song's "most hard-hitting line is a plaintive rhetorical question that calls to mind a #MeToo movement slogan: #BelieveWomen".[61] Naming "The Man" as the "most important" song Swift has ever written, Brittany Hodak of Forbes, commended that "the magic of "The Man" is not just that it captures a complex (and often misunderstood) issue so brilliantly and simply, but also that it conveys to Swift's female fans that even she isn't above the BS that so many of us are regularly subjected to". Hodak concluded that she is "hopeful that Swift’s spotlight on the issue will spark a national conversation about sexism, power, and equality".[62]

Live performances[edit]

On September 9, 2019, Swift performed an acoustic version of the song at the "City of Lover" one-off concert in Paris, France.[63] This version was later released as "The Man (Live from Paris)" on all music platforms on February 18, 2020.

The acoustic version was also performed at a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR Music on October 11, 2019.[64] During the 47th Annual American Music Awards, held on November 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, Swift performed a medley of her hits that included "The Man".[65]

Live acoustic version[edit]

On February 17, 2020, Swift announced on her social media platforms the release of a live acoustic version of the song titled "The Man (Live from Paris)", recorded at her one-off "City of Lover" concert at L'Olympia in Paris, France on September 9, 2019. The song was released the next day along with the live video of its performance.[66][67]

Billboard commented that the "glorious" live video is a "work of beauty", that sees Swift playing acoustic guitar, with her looking "relaxed and confident as the audience sings back every word of the song".[68] E! News stated that video "will empower you to conquer all", where "the superstar once again proved her unbelievable talent". They added that Swift "lit up" the stage, with just a single spotlight, "as she plays the acoustic guitar, the audience cheers along to the feminist anthem".[69] Calling the video "intimate yet grand", Uproxx opined that the song "retains its earworm qualities in the acoustic rendition", despite the original version being "a catchy, synth-led tune".[70]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[71]

  • Taylor Swift – vocals, songwriter, producer
  • Joel Little – producer, songwriter, drum programmer, keyboards, recording engineer, studio personnel
  • John Hanes – mix engineer
  • Serban Ghenea – mixer
  • John Rooney – assistant recording engineer

Charts[edit]

Chart (2019–2020) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[34] 17
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[72] 66
Belgium (Ultratip Flanders)[73] 21
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia)[74] 7
Bolivia (Monitor Latino)[75] 5
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[76] 21
Canada AC (Billboard)[77] 29
Canada CHR/Top 40 (Billboard)[78] 26
Canada Hot AC (Billboard)[79] 14
Czech Republic (Singles Digitál Top 100)[80] 33
Estonia (Eesti Ekspress)[81] 34
Hungary (Stream Top 40)[82] 30
Ireland (IRMA)[27] 16
Lithuania (AGATA)[83] 24
Malaysia (RIM)[84] 12
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[28] 62
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[35] 15
Norway (VG-lista)[29] 24
Portugal (AFP)[85] 52
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[30] 62
Singapore (RIAS)[86] 10
Slovakia (Singles Digitál Top 100)[87] 31
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[31] 63
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[32] 80
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[33] 21
US Billboard Hot 100[88] 23
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[89] 22
US Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[90] 11
US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard)[91] 21
US Rolling Stone Top 100[92] 4

Release history[edit]

Region Date Format Version Label Ref.
Various August 23, 2019 Original Republic [93]
United States January 27, 2020 Hot adult contemporary [94]
January 28, 2020 Contemporary hit radio [95]
Australia [96]
Italy February 14, 2020 Universal [97]
Various February 18, 2020
  • Digital download
  • streaming
Live version Republic [67]

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