Mean by Taylor Swift, a song review

taylor swift mean
Yes, THAT Taylor Swift

Wait, am I reviewing a song by Taylor, you might ask?  Alice listens to that chick, the one no one wants to admit to listening  to, yet somehow is a multi-millionaire?  Yup, that one.  And I’m not going to mock it – much.  Because while “Mean” is one of her earliest, still country-ish songs, it’s one of her best ones.  Because it is that simple.  Sometimes people are simply mean.

The song is more country, almost hokey-ish, yet there’s a lot of good stuff there.  Taylor is well known and often criticized for taking her enemies to task in her song writing.  She’s not unusual there, though.  Writers of all stripes use their lives in their writing.  That’s why you should probably be careful about angering one.

mad writer
True.

The pen truly is mightier than the sword, and it smarts just as much inside.  While most people think of romantic relationships when it comes to exes, not as much is spoken about friendships, even though many women especially will tell you it is their closest girl friends they most value.  They are the ones they tell their innermost secrets to, the ones they go to when the guy dumps on them.  They aren’t supposed to be the ones who dump you.  But it happens from the time we are children, and it can hurt every bit as much as a romantic relationship.

The video is a good one.  You are presented with three different young people who are being bullied; a boy interested in fashion, a girl working a demeaning job to save up college money, and a little girl who is forced to eat in a bathroom to avoid the mean little brats who I’d really like to shake.  These situations are all real.

mean little girl
There’s nothing funny about this little girl’s face.

The lyrics are simple, but powerful.

You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me
You, have knocked me off my feet again,
Got me feeling like a nothing
You, with your voice like nails
On a chalk board, calling me out when I’m wounded
You, picking on the weaker man

Remember kids, children are like packs of hyenas.  They smell fear, and they will take you down.  But be sure to never cry when others torture you; it’s a sign of weakness.  I know this, because I was that little girl.  I even wore my hair like that when I was that age.  And I got picked on a lot.  I remember the extra creative names like “cry baby” from the kids, or worse, “too sensitive” from the adults.  For goodness sake’s, don’t be too sensitive!  Seems to me like it’d be nice to have a little more sensitivity in this world, not less.

mean boy
Spotted in the wilds of the football lockers, the bow-tied teen is easy prey.

You can take me down
With just one single blow
But you don’t know what you don’t know

Taylor sings about how, in the future, things will be better.  You might move to a “big old city”.  Someday you’ll be big enough so they can’t hit you.  In other words, you will grow up, and you will gain strength to fight off people not just physically (I’m pretty sure I could take those little grade school girls) but emotionally.  You will move on, while the worst of the bullies will just stay mean.

I’m not saying I have never bullied anyone. I did it when I was a kid, a time when I hung out with someone who would put any of my fleeting mean thoughts into practice.  Pretty sure she’d have helped build a nuke if I’d thought it up.  Anyway, I haven’t forgotten the look on the girl’s face when I hurt her, ever.  Because what I did was wrong, and it didn’t make me feel better.  It made me feel worse.

taylor swift mean 2
Hey, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

You, with your switching sides
And your wildfire lies and your humiliation
You have pointed out my flaws again
As if I don’t already see them
I walk with my head down,
Try to block you out ’cause I never impress you
I just want to feel okay again

I’d like to say it gets all better when you are an adult.  Yes, you have more options then, more knowledge, but it still hurts.  I’ve actually experienced this recently, as a forty-one year old.  A friend I was very close to, who claimed she loved me, who often spoke of how long we’d been friends, and that we’d always be together – she dumped me.  She was an online friend, but more real than many friends I’ve had offline.

First she blocked me during an argument.  Facebook makes it easy.  Unfriend.  Block.  Nanner, you can’t speak to me anymore!  I win!  I was very shocked.  She was angry and accusing me of hurting her.  I was angry at being accused.  I waited it out a while.  After all, we were both adults.  Maybe we just hit each other at the wrong time.  I would apologize, though I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong – certainly I would not have done it on purpose.  So I emailed her.

She came back with – well – “words like knives, And swords and weapons that she used against me.  She knocked me off my feet again.  Got me feeling like a nothing.”  I’m not saying I’m by any means perfect, and sometimes words can definitely be misunderstood, but good gravy this was unreal.  And the email went on “with her switching sides, And her wildfire lies and her humiliation.  She pointed out my flaws again.  As if I don’t already see them.”  

mean little girl 2
And I’m back in the restroom with my lunch again.

As Taylor says, “I just want to feel okay again.”

So why did she do this?  I have a few ideas.

I bet you got pushed around
Somebody made you cold but the cycle ends right now
‘Cause you can’t lead me down that road
And you don’t know what you don’t know

She’s hurting.  I know she is.  We all do.  But it doesn’t give us the right to put others down and step on them, to find their weakest points and exploit them, to do to someone else what someone did to us.  You find out Taylor’s gripe, when she says someone is “grumbling on about how I can’t sing”.  Specifically, it was a reviewer.  And as popular as she already was at this point, clearly it hit her hard.  Because deep down, we all still have insecurities, no matter how much proof there is to the contrary.

The video ends with each of the kids finding better lives in the end.  The kid into fashion gets a job – in fashion, where his opinions are finally respected.  The girl stuck in the Mcjob earns enough to go to college, and get a professional job she enjoys.  And the bullied little girl, sitting in the theater watching Taylor perform, gets a bit of hope.

mean little girl 4
I love this part.

So, yeah, I do like this Taylor Swift song.  I admit it!  I also like the one where she goes totally psycho on her boyfriend!  Wait . . .that’s a lot of them.  Nevermind, I’m talking about “Mean” which has probably the best last lines of a song.

But all you are is mean
All you are is mean and a liar and pathetic
And alone in life and mean, and mean, and mean, and mean

Tell us how you really feel, Taylor.  Oh – and thank you.

~Alice

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6 thoughts on “Mean by Taylor Swift, a song review

  1. My main beef with Taylor Swift is that, based on this song, she can’t tell the difference between professional criticism and bullying. That could have just been immaturity at the time she made this. I wish she’d grow up already. Her most recent album is the worst. “Look What You Made Me Do” strikes me as a narcissist rant. I do like a couple of her songs, and this is a good video and message.

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    1. No doubt she has plenty of faults. But like you said, this one is a good video and message. I don’t like many of her songs, but I’m not really the primary audience either.

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  2. That’s definitely a thought-provoking song. And very true, too, about how people do act towards each other.

    It’s far too easy to go on the attack because you’re fed up of always being on the defense so you get the first blow in to save yourself the pain. Maybe, one day we’ll learn. Or maybe President Fart will just nuke us all to kingdom come…

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  3. I like Taylor Swift, I admit it. Or at least I like her music. I haven’t any opinion of her as a person because I’ve never met her, though my vague perception of her as a human went up with the lawsuit filed against the creepy radio host who groped her beneath her dress. I have little doubt she’s endured worse, and finally decided enough was enough.

    As for her music, I take it for what it is — essentially bubblegum-y top 40 pop. Taylor actually reminds me of Britney Spears with her latest album, Reputation. (Oh yes, I like Britney, too.) The tracks are different and clever and (finally!) grown up.

    I do have to say with regard to this song, I’ve always loved the double meaning, intentional or not. Along with the more obvious, mean is also defined as small, petty, “lacking dignity or honor,” and contemptible (for starters).

    I never realized this one had anything to do with a reviewer. I always thought it was more reaction to how she was bullied in school — and by most accounts she WAS actually bullied.

    I’m sorry you went through the situation with the loss of a “friend” recently. Been there, and no matter how much people ought not to be behaving like this when they’re grown and then some (theoretically), plenty still are. And it almost hurts worse because it’s more of a blindside from another supposed adult.

    By the way, I love what you wrote here:

    “She’s hurting. I know she is. We all do. But it doesn’t give us the right to put others down and step on them, to find their weakest points and exploit them, to do to someone else what someone did to us.”

    Bravo to you. And I think we need to remember that whether you are a blogger on the internet or Taylor effing Swift, you are a person. And no one has the right to “put others down and step on them,” which the anonymity of the internet in one case, and the idea that someone is so big they are no longer a human being and are essentially fair game to be endlessly criticized and critiqued in the other often makes us forget.

    (Sorry I’m a bit ranty. And good for you for giving a shit about other people. That’s always been one of the things I love so very much about you, Alice.)

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