Doug Mills/The New York Times

November 16, 2022

Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” Reminds Us How the Real Villain is Ourselves

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Taylor Swift released her 10th album, Midnights, on October 21st. The album has two music videos accompanying it so far: “Anti-Heroand “Bejeweled.” The first video, created for lead single “Anti-Hero,” is a delightful, self-referential video full of Swift’s trademark “Easter eggs.” It also offers an honest glimpse into her insecurities, which she has been vocal about sharing.

The video begins with Swift being interrupted in her meal by bedsheet ghosts that chase her around the house. Although these ghosts aren’t scary to the audience, they are scary to her, since they represent how she has her own fears and insecurities that the mainstream audience may not understand. Her insecurities may seem silly to us, but they are very real to her.

As the chorus begins, Swift opens the front door to find a doppelganger of herself. This “Anti-Hero” version of herself is accompanied by the hook, “I’m the problem, it’s me,” and manifests as a visual representation of her self-criticism and overwhelming insecurities. On Instagram, Swift spoke about her insecurities, saying “I struggle a lot with the idea that my life has become unmanageably sized, and not to sound too dark, I struggle with the idea of not feeling like a person.” This manifests in the music video through her giant self and the lyrics “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / And I’m a monster on the hill / Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favorite city.”

Though many fans constantly search for Easter eggs in her work, this video also seems to poke fun at that by having a story scene that directly addresses them. The song fades out into a scene of Swift’s imaginary funeral. Her two sons and daughter in law are clearly only there because they were hoping to benefit from her death, but are appalled when they learn that they were only left 13 cents. They begin to wonder if there’s a secret message somewhere leaving them more, but they find a note that says,  “P.S. There’s no secret encoded message that means something else. Love, Taylor.” This scene seems pretty random, but it actually represents Swift’s fear that people only try to get close to her for personal gain, while also poking fun at fans’ tendencies to search for Easter eggs everywhere.

It is important to recognize that the video has received some backlash regarding a scene where Swift steps on the scale and it reads “fat,” while her alter-ego shakes her head in disapproval. Many have been disappointed by this scene, calling it fatphobic, while others argue that it simply represents Swift’s eating disorder, which she has publicly addressed in the past, such as in her 2020 Netflix documentary “Miss Americana.” In the film, Swift said the amount of photos and criticism about her physical appearance in the media triggered her eating disorder, which she is “not as articulate about as she should be.” In a 2020 interview with Variety she said, “there are so many people who could talk about it in a better way. But all I know is my own experience.”

When she released the music video, she said “Watch my nightmare scenarios and intrusive thoughts play out in real time,” and in response to criticism of the video, a fan tweeted “So finally when she is opening up about her insecurities they made her feel like she needs to shut up about them again.”  This scene has since been edited out of the video and Swift has received praise for being one of the latest celebrities to edit their work after receiving backlash, following Lizzo who changed the lyrics to “Grrrls” in June following criticism for using an ableist slur.

Though people in the public eye often seem to have problems that differ vastly from those of regular people, they struggle with issues like mental health just like the rest of us. The scale scene is just a small part of the video, and though controversial, represents an important discussion we should be having about the stigmatization of fatness in today’s society. Despite backlash, the video is one of her most personal and vulnerable, creating a version of Swift that is deeply relatable to anyone who knows what it feels like to have their own “anti-hero.”

Freya Nangle is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]