Taylor Swift’s music video of her newest single, “The Man,” dropped on February 27. There is no way that a 4 minute, 14 second video could be extremely complex, right? Wrong. Swift, known for her ability to create deeper meaning in her videos, has once again blown the minds of viewers with her work. This time, she directed the entire video, too.
When Swift released Lover in August of 2019, “The Man” immediately gained a lot of clout for its boldness and audacity. The song calls out society for its double standards towards women and explains the discrepancies in the space for success between genders in the music industry. Swift blatantly describes the idea of toxic masculinity throughout the song and makes a case for women to fight back for their equality.
The music video for “The Man” is a perfect visual representation of what Swift tries to express through her song. The establishing shot, or first frame of the video, depicts a businessman standing, looking out an office window over the city. While there is no particular, distinct reason for the window shot, it might actually hold a lot of significance specifically in reference to the male gaze.
According to feminist theory, the male gaze describes a way of looking at something or someone that “empowers men and objectifies women.” A stare, as depicted in Swift’s video, could be heterosexually masculine in an attempt to belittle and sexualize a woman. People largely condemn this traditional “male gaze” and criticize films or media that still utilize shot work depicting women in an objectifying manner. The very opening scene of “The Man” quite possibly references the gaze and the materialization of women.
The next scene of the video illustrates the same businessman on the subway next to a diverse group of regular busybody people. While every other person tries to keep their distance and mind their business, the man is “manspreading” (legs spread apart, taking up lots of space) and enjoying a cigar. He opens a newspaper and discards the already-read pages onto other people. He violates others’ spaces but does not acknowledge their presence, a distinct nod to Swift’s notion that powerful men are not cognisant of and do not care about their surroundings. The others on the bus appear uncomfortable and awkward, as if the man creates a hostile and uneasy environment.
The third scene shows the man in the subway, urinating on a wall covered in the names of Swift’s previous albums. Two signs decorate the walls, one reading “Missing: If found, please return to Taylor Swift.” This signage references Swift’s struggle with Scooter Braun and her former record label, as she has attempted to gain the rights back to her albums for several months now. The second sign is a “No Scooters Allowed,” another jab at Braun, illustrating her frustration and anger towards a powerful businessman that has seemingly attempted to eliminate Swift’s power in the music industry. Although a more personal reference, the subway scene is vital to the video as it gives background on Swift’s fight for her old music and equality.
After the subway, viewers watch the same man on a yacht with women in bikinis and in a bed with a naked woman. Again and again, the video paints him to be the alpha-type player kind of man, the type of man that Swift attacks for holding her to a double standard.
Then, the man appears walking down a hallway, high-fiving 19 multi-colored hands. The tunnel gives a nod to the appreciation and encouragement men receive after sexual relations with a woman. The man celebrates his conquest, contrasting how a woman would be shamed and ridiculed for doing the exact same. Lyrics in “The Man” say “Every conquest I had made/Would make me more of a boss to you.” Swift visually demonstrates her feelings as the man receives congratulations from random people in the tunnel.
Swift continuously develops the commentary that men receive copious amounts of attention for simple or mundane tasks that women complete daily. The best scene to depict this is the man with his daughter at a park. At first, he picks up a phone call and pays no attention to the little girl. The second he puts his phone away and lifts the girl up, all of the mothers in the park gush and crown him “World’s Greatest Dad.” By doing virtually nothing other than treating his daughter as a parent should, people gave the man tons of credit. Back to Swift’s original point: Society holds women to a double standard. People naturally expect mothers to go above and beyond when taking care of their children yet crown fathers for doing the bare minimum.
The tennis court scene follows, a direct homage to Serena Williams’ “scandal” last year. During a tennis match, Williams confronted the umpire for unfair treatment. She later used the incident to highlight sexism in professional athletics. In “The Man” video, the man seems to receive very little to no backlash for his rather outrageous actions. The contrast once again illustrates a double standard in society towards women, expecting their behavior to be much more composed than a man’s.
Towards the end of the video, the filming appears to stop and the man walks over to the director. The director is Taylor Swift. She asks the man to “try to be sexier and more likable this time.” While it seems extremely offensive, Swift has been treated this way more times than she can count. Sexism towards women in the workplace occurs very often and the role-switching allows viewers to see what would happen if the positions were switched. Swift then praises a female actress, again building a commentary that men are constantly complimented while women receive unfair criticism.
As the credits begin to roll, the video reveals that Swift is the man. Excessive makeup and prosthetics transformed her to the man throughout the music video. For the first time in her professional history, every part of this video is hers. Swift wrote the song, starred in and directed the video, and acquired the rights to every part of it. “The Man” comments on unfair and unequal treatment towards women, but the music video illustrates that Swift’s strength and confidence allows her to dominate nonetheless and achieve her goals.