Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Taylor Swift – The Man

«What man?» “The man,” Marco explained, explaining nothing.


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[5.67]

Jonathan Bradley: For a feminist song by an artist whose music is rarely explicitly political, “The Man” focuses its attentions on one woman in particular. That is a good thing; Taylor Swift writes best from personal experience, and this is a more immediate and sharply felt song than the blandly participatory, elections-inspired “Only the Young.” “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can,” says Swift, but she doesn’t sound weary; she sounds resentful. And she should be, too: the public and critical response to Swift has been explicitly gendered for her entire career. One of the sharpest songwriters of her generation, she has been abjured as frivolous and feminine; petty and jealous; a scold and a snake; too nice, too nasty, too promiscuous, too prudish. (“The negative traits ascribed to Taylor always sound like a greatest-hits list of every bad characteristic associated with womanhood,” Molly Lambert wrote in 2014.) “The Man” is, as Swift tunes often are, broadly applicable. But it’s also specific in its indignance. These are wounds felt personally.
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Vikram Joseph: Taylor’s lyrics are normally best when she’s writing about heartache, but they are so strong here — incisive, funny and bitingly on point about the ways in which women in the public eye are castigated for things that men are celebrated for. “What I was wearing / if I was rude / could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves” is particularly good, and the bridge contains probably the only acceptable instance of a mad/bad rhyme in pop history. Musically, “The Man” is deceptively amiable, almost to a fault — it’s fun synth-pop but feels like 1989-lite, “Out Of The Woods” with too much of the fizz dissipated.
[7]

Katie Gill: Swift’s superpower is the ability to release all the worst songs off of her album as singles. (Calling it now, her next single will be “London Boy.”) “The Man” is far too happy and peppy for a song about institutional sexism, with a chorus that heavily relies on the line “I’m so sick.” The mixing choices are bizarre: those “yeah”s hiding in the background are so awkwardly placed that it makes me wish goat remixes were still in vogue. And for an artist who still struggles to get past that iconic moment of being compared to Beyoncé, it’s a weird choice to make a song that will inevitably be compared to Beyoncé.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: For all the Discourse that smogs up everything Taylor Swift does, especially (but not only) when it involves politics or feminism, “The Man” is not really of that world. It’s Taylor Swift finally getting around to releasing her own “If I Were a Boy” or “If I Was a Guy” or “Do It Like a Dude”: a standard topic for pop songs, alongside “fame sucks” and “I rule.” These songs are rarely great, tending lyrically to The Wing ad copy (lowlight here: “my good ideas and power moves”) and musically to midtempo resignation: sure, if I were a man then I’d be the man, but I’m not and won’t be, so why get angry or excited? (To Swift’s credit, she works with the resignation; there’s genuine wistfulness to the “running as fast as I can” line, if not wistfulness that’s explored far.) These songs also subsume personality: The artist is no longer herself, just a woman among the class of women — and actually not even that defined, just not a man. Taylor Swift, being Taylor Swift, doesn’t make herself totally anonymous — the multiple lines about getting to chase models, specifically in the way Leonardo DiCaprio does, seems like a deliberate reference to the tabloid world of the Squad, Kaylor, etc. But for every spot where her vocal inflections sound indelibly like herself, there’s one where she sounds exactly like Katy Perry, one where she sounds exactly like Sia, one where she sounds exactly like early Britney, and many where she sounds like late Britney, who by then sounded like everybody else. (And since Swift and Joel Little are the only writers, for once it isn’t a demo vocal’s fault. Which means neither are the scanSION isSUES.) Will it shift the narrative? That’s the main reason this exists. Will it be anyone’s feminist awakening? Given that her stans recently exhumed and endorsed a slimy blog post by one of the most notorious pustular men of publishing because it let them harass a woman for reviewing her PR documentary — another standard form of pop-star content — the snooze button’s been hit on that. Will it take up man-sized space on the radio? Clearly; it is a song by Taylor Swift. You’re the man now, dawg.
[5]

Brad Shoup: For someone who’s gotten so adept at threading personal storytelling in and out of celebrity narrative, Swift suddenly, inexplicably, writes like someone who hasn’t browsed a magazine in years. She must know that Leo’s romantic excursions are a punchline at best, and that anyone else dropping a couplet like “What’s it like to brag about raking in dollars/And getting bitches and models” would be in for a straight week of surgical editorialization. As usual, her verses are intricate machines of melodic development and rhythmic gymnastics. But the chorus makes me wish she’d pulled a reverse Porter and gone full pitch-down. I know she can afford it; she’s the man.
[3]

Kylo Nocom: Taylor’s precise satire ends up a greater priority on “The Man” than the melodies, leaving a more impressive statement than a tune. Neither Blue Neighbourhood squeals nor choral presets are intriguing by 2020, making me wonder whether Joel Little realizes, almost seven years after Pure Heroine, that its influence is getting boring now. (Yeah!)
[3]

Alfred Soto: Those staccato synth chords and Taylor Swift’s stentorian delivery distracted on a rather effective album sequence last August. Radio play, however, has revealed the mild gender subversion explicit in the chorus, especially the way the electronic space fails to distinguish it from the competition. Exposure, alas, spolights “If I were a man/Then I’d be the man.”
[7]

Tobi Tella: For an album billed as her “most political yet”, Lover mostly sidesteps real discourse. “The Man” is gloriously unsubtle, but I’m not sure how true Swift’s conceit rings. There are some great confrontations of double standards here, mostly of her dating history; but would Taylor Swift, a woman who writes gooey emotional pop songs about love, be “the man” in any circumstance, regardless of gender?
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Michael Hong: Does anyone remember that interview around the release of Lover, where she explained why she wrote that dreadful second verse of “You Need to Calm Down?” It’s hilarious: a statement by a woman whose allyship stretched as far as a throwaway “boys and boys and girls and girls,” now expressing public indignation at the mere idea that one might perceive her as a homophobe. As a result, we had to suffer through “why are you mad, when you could be GLAAD,” which somehow earned her GLAAD’s Vanguard Award, further proof for cynics that Taylor Swift had become an expert at gaming the system. “The Man” is more of the same, Taylor Swift honing in one way she’s a minority and filtering out all her other privilege. It’s punctuated by a weak statement: “if I was a man, then I’d be the man,” ignoring the fact that “the man” is more commonly used as a symbol of oppression. Nothing about the track challenges any piece of existing culture; even the call-out of Leonardo DiCaprio is more of a playful little ribbing, something Taylor might joke about to him during one of her extravagant yacht parties. “The Man” is a brilliant piece of marketing, a demonstration of Swift’s ability to flip social issues into sounding personal and branding herself as a feminist. It helps her sell her own records while elevating her own standing. But as a song, it’s another awkward and clunky moment that she seems to perceive as her own little mic drop. Hopefully next time she’ll a) hire some women personnel in the studio and b) learn about the concept of intersectionality.
[1]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’ve criticized Taylor Swift before for her political silence, so I feel hypocritical now — especially as a cisgender man, especially in the context of her recent Netflix documentary — saying this sounds heavy-handed and awkward. Taylor explores the political less clumsily than Katy Perry circa 2017, but that’s hardly a compliment. “The Man” is a message song, and it achieves its goals confidently, without mincing words. But Swift is a talented songwriter with many more interesting things to say, and has even talked about similar themes in more interesting ways (see “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”). Lover is full of intimate, gorgeous pop songs like “False God” or “Daylight,” so to push this as a single is disappointing. #JUSTICEFORCRUELSUMMER
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Lauren Gilbert: “The Man” is a theme song for every woman who has had a man explain to her that if she just smiled a little more and tried a little harder, of course it’ll all work out. It feels like walking out of a horrible job for the last time, looking at the sky and knowing — absolutely, with a certainty you never have about yourself — that you’re better than that place, and you’ll make more than they will, anyway. And I’m completely here for these MUNA-esque synths and Taylor’s half-rapped “bitches and models.” OK, so I docked a point for rhyming “man” and “man” in the chorus. But Taylor’s still got it; this bitch still knows how to write a damn song.
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Ashley Bardhan: The production is deceptively honeyed — gumdrop bass and candy button high hats. It does its job in distracting from how frustratedly deadpan Taylor sounds, probably proving her point that “it’s all good if you’re bad/and it’s okay if you’re mad,” as long as you’re a man. She uses the word “bitch” twice in the bridge, a testament of anger from the pop star who doesn’t publicly curse very much at all. She spits it out, “I’d be a bitch, not a baller,” as if singing the word will get rid of it. Of course, a famous white woman like Taylor Swift wields the kind of power that most women won’t even allow themselves to dream about, but still, I feel sorry for her. 
[7]

Edward Okulicz: In a sea of competing takes, cut-through is achieved by blending the incisive thoughtfulness of Taylor Swift with the head-scratching vacuousness of…. Taylor Swift. I wonder which man wrote the hook that made it so catchy. If you’d once written an entire multi-platinum record by yourself and still people assumed you were ghostwritten, you’d throw your hands up too.
[8]

Alex Clifton: “The Man” is a bit basic and one-note, but then again, I never expected a detailed intersectional rundown of systemic oppression in a four-minute pop song on an album titled Lover. The message of the song–“if I was a man, then I’d be the man“–is one of Swift’s weaker chorus lines, because it’s so redundant and clunky. Still, other lines like “when everyone believes you, what’s that like?” hit like a dart. I’ve had my share of those experiences myself, some which I still struggle to talk about, and unfortunately I know way too many other women do. To hear someone as big as Swift sing about it in a song, knowing she’s had her own experiences with sexual assault and harassment, is really powerful to me. “The Man” is not the best song on Lover, but it does make me feel more hopeful about the state of the world, if only because there are going to be teen girls listening to this and deciding that they’re going to make a change in the world for themselves. There were no songs like this on mainstream radio for me when I was thirteen, and I wish there had been. So if this song makes young girls feel like they can and should fight for their rights, Swift has done her job.
[6]

Isabel Cole: I mean, it could have been SO much worse.
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Reader average: [7.37] (8 votes)

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