Taylor Swift sings her way from victim to hero, triumphs at Grammys

When my daughter was seven years old, she turned me on to Taylor Swift. Every time the car radio scanned to a Swift song, she’d call out from the back seat, “I like this!” So last night when Swift sang “Mean” at the Grammys, I got chills. Swift’s original lyrics and radiant performances make her a great role model for girls. She shows kids that, with some creativity and perseverance, you can write your way from victim to hero.

In “Mean” Swift sings:

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…

Swift’s “Mean” has become a beloved anthem for girls around the world. I think the lyrics resonate with kids in part because the song takes on the false belief that permeates so much of kidworld. Especially for girls, being mean is too often seen as cool or powerful. As you get older, in college, cruelty can continue to be equated with being smart, masquerading as a cynical or skeptical brand of superior intelligence. Whereas being kind can be seen as weak, uncool, or even dumb. Too many grown-ups go on to maintain this warped view.

In contrast, Swift directly challenges the mean-cool dogma with her sweetness, her songs about how she loves her mom, and the devoted way she treats her fans. Swift is also a brilliant lyricist who writes openly about her humiliations and, again and again, turns them into triumphs.

What humiliations? Many involve love and relationships, but some are less personal, more public, and have everything to do with her career.

At the 2009 MTV music awards, after the 19-year-old Swift won Best Female Video for “You Belong to Me,” rapper Kanye West stormed the stage, claiming the award should’ve gone to Beyonce. Both Swift and her mother were reportedly crying backstage. Later that night, when Beyonce won her own MTV award for Video of the Year, she asked Swift to take that time speak (which was cool of Beyonce and a good moment for females supporting each other publicly.)

Swift wrote a song about Kanye West and forgiveness called “Innocent.”

A year later, at the 2010 Grammys, Swift performed a duet with her idol, Stevie Nicks. She sang off key. A well known critic tore her apart, saying that Swift should reconsider her career as a singer.

It was about that experience that Swift wrote “Mean:”

You have pointed out my flaws again
As if I don’t already see them
I walk with my head down
Trying to block you out ’cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again…

And I can see you years from now in a bar
Talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion
But nobody’s listening
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing…

The chorus goes likes this:

Someday I’ll be living in a big ol’ city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

But last night she sang:

“Someday, I’ll be singing this at the Grammys.”

Congratulations Taylor, you rock.

Click here to see Taylor Swift singing “Mean” at last night’s Grammys. Show this to your kids.

Here’s my eight-year-old daughter dressed as Swift for Halloween:

Here are all the lyrics to “Mean.”

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 I’m nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded
You picking on the weaker man

Well you can take me down with just one single blow
But you don’t know, what you don’t know…

Someday I’ll be living in a big ol’ city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

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
Trying to block you out ’cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again

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…

Someday I’ll be living in a big ol’ city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

And I can see you years from now in a bar
Talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion
But nobody’s listening
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing
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

But someday I’ll be living in a big ol’ city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean, yeah
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so?..

Someday I’ll be living in a big ol’ city (Why you gotta be so?..)
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean, yeah (Why you gotta be so?..)
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me (Why you gotta be so?..)
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

11 thoughts on “Taylor Swift sings her way from victim to hero, triumphs at Grammys

  1. Hi Margot

    I don’t know much about Taylor Swift but I thought I’d draw your attention to at least a couple of songs with lyrics that include slut-shaming. “Better than Revenge” (adversary is sexually active ie bad) and “You Belong to Me” (shorts skirts and high heels – bad). It would be good if Swift could use her popularity to send the message that slut-shaming is wrong.

    • Hi Tamara,

      I am familiar with “You Belong to Me,” and I recall the lyrics are “She wear short skirts, I wear T-shirts…” I don’t think that’s slut shaming, but a girl expressing she feels insecure because she’s not fashionable. But I won’t deny Swift has lyrics that bug me like in “Fifteen” how Abigail “lost everything she had to a boy that changed his mind.” I assume that means she had sex with him. The whole idea “losing your virginity” really bugs me. But as my husband pointed out for that song, the Taylor Swift character does the same thing to her boyfriend, deciding there are better things out there for her. That said, so many of Swifts songs are about boys, boys, boys. So I guess my point is, she may not be the “perfect feminist, but she’s young, she writes her own lyrics, which I think are great as far as syncopation and storytelling, and she is not always flashing her bellybutton. I dig her as asinger and as a role model. One more thing, on SFGate so many people commented that she’s only successful because she’s “pretty.” So annoying. You seriously can’t win. Or maybe you can, she does.

      MM

  2. It’s so sad and lonely when you are a child. I thank my lucky stars I had my mother and my older brother too. Their advice and support were different. My brother gave me a knife and taught me how to flash it and it took just one more “incident” and I was prepared and it never happened again. I was 10. My mother held me and cradled me and I never had to try and hide myself all alone again.

  3. I love Taylor Swift! I can’t name a single song by her, let alone know any of her lyrics. But I think she is one of the best role models out there! This is the main reason I love her so much :)

  4. Margot, My 7 year old daughter also loves Taylor Swift and the song “Mean” is her favorite. Thank you for telling us the backstory. It means alot more to us now. Thank you for posting the video. We didn’t watch the Grammys but loved seeing her performance on your blog. I loved how she looked beautiful and interesting without being half naked or shocking. I loved how her backup singer was wearing glasses and also looking gorgeous. And how they all rocked the house. i don’t always agree with your posts, but they always make me think. Keep up the great work! Best, Megan Fitzgerald (now Crossman), your bespectacled classmate from 800 years ago at Burkes!

    • Hi Megan,

      So great to hear from you!

      I LOVE how Taylor looks too. I read some criticism of her “dressing up poor” but I think that’s bullshit. It’s theater and she is dressing just like Gillian Welsch looks every time she performs. And what a relief not see belly buttons and cleavage.

      MM

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