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Music Video Breakdown: Taylor Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’

Cover art for Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero" from "Midnights" album.
Cover art for Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero" from "Midnights" album. By Courtesy of Taylor Swift/Republic Records
By Samantha H. Chung, Crimson Staff Writer

On Oct. 21, Taylor Swift released her highly anticipated 10th album “Midnights.” She soon revealed the news that “Midnights” would be a visual album, accompanied by a series of interconnected music videos written and directed by Swift. The first video, created for lead single “Anti-Hero,” is a delightfully kitschy, self-referential video full of Swift’s trademark Easter eggs. It also offers an honest glimpse into her insecurities.

The video opens with Swift being interrupted mid-meal by a group of bedsheet ghosts that chase her around the house. As the chorus begins, Swift opens the front door to find a doppelganger of herself. This “anti-hero” Swift wears sparkly outfits and has seemingly endless energy — she downs shots and smashes a guitar while the real Swift vomits in horror.

Accompanied by the hook “I’m the problem, it’s me,” Swift’s music video alter ego manifests as a visual representation of her intrusive thoughts and unwelcome self-criticism. In one scene, the anti-hero version of Swift points at a blackboard with the words “everyone will betray you” written on it, while her real self takes notes.

Swift further illustrates her self-consciousness in the second verse, where a giant-sized version of Swift tries in vain to participate in a dinner party. After accidentally ruining the too-small table, the guests scream and scatter, and one shoots her with an arrow.

“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,” Swift said on Instagram about the song. The “unmanageable size” of Swift’s life is brought to life in the music video through her giant self, as well as in the song’s 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.”

And yes, there are plenty of Easter eggs hidden throughout “Anti-Hero.” The video makes several references to Swift’s past work, such as the rotary phone from the music video for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” heart-shaped glasses and cat ears used in the “22” music video, and the blue guitar she played during the “Speak Now” tour.

However, the music video also seems to poke gentle fun at how fans constantly hunt for Easter eggs in her work and personal life. The song fades out as the video transitions to a scene of Swift’s vision of her funeral. Her two sons and daughter-in-law (played by Mike Birbiglia, John Early, and Mary Elizabeth Ellis) are appalled to learn that Swift has left them only 13 cents each and left the rest of her money to her cats.

In the scene, Swift’s son Chad insists that his mother must have left a secret message in her will that would reveal her children’s actual inheritance. Excited, the children look closely at the will to find an extra note: “P.S. There’s no secret encoded message that means something else. Love, Taylor.” An angry Chad accuses daughter-in-law Kimber of murdering Swift for her money, which escalates into a fistfight as Swift watches with shock from inside her casket.

Do Swift’s fictional children represent her fans, combing through tweets and counting fence holes to find secret messages? Possibly, but it’s more likely that they represent Swift’s fear of those who want to exploit her fame — for instance, people who get close to her only for her money. As her alter-ego points out, she’s afraid that everyone will betray her.

It should be noted that the music video has drawn some backlash due to a scene in which Swift steps onto a scale and watches the word “fat” appear on the screen, while her alter-ego shakes her head in disappointment. Some have criticized this scene as being fatphobic, while others maintain that it’s merely an accurate reflection of Swift’s disordered eating, which she has spoken about in the past. Regardless, the clip has now been edited out of the music video.

Swift wrote on Instagram that the music video was a way to “watch [her] nightmare scenarios and intrusive thoughts play out in real time.” These intrusive thoughts demand her attention through their flashiness and overwhelming presence, which is reimagined in the music video. The song and video are both entertaining and deeply personal, showing a vulnerability to Swift that’s relatable to fans, critics, and anyone who has ever been their own problem.

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