A guide to the hidden references and Easter eggs in Taylor Swift's 'The Man' video
Taylor Swift has dropped her new music video for “The Man,” off her Lover album, and she doesn’t pull her punches. The video is as much a critique of how society treats women through depictions of various gender hypocrisies as it is about specific moments from Swift’s own life. “The Man” could be seen as an extension of the singer’s Miss Americana documentary, which is often referenced in the video and shows Swift — who put on extensive prosthetics to play the song’s titular Man, in addition to directing the video — grappling with how “a nice girl doesn’t force their opinions on people, a nice girl smiles and waves and says ‘thank you,’ a nice girl doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable with her views.”
Like the rest of the singer’s work, details for which are meticulously thought out, this latest release comes jam packed with hidden references and meanings. Here’s a guide to them.
The Wolf of Wall Street
The video opens with a scene that would be right at home in Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street. Swift’s male persona walks through an office, motions to his subordinates to make that paper, and extends his arms out like Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Jordan Belfort in the film, all while he’s applauded by everyone in the office.
The song itself features lyrics like, “And we would toast to me, oh, let the players play/ I’d be just like Leo, in Saint-Tropez,” as a reference to DiCaprio’s routine vacationing with much younger women — something Swift also sends up later in the video, with her character lounging on a yacht surrounded by swimsuit-clad ladies.
One of Swift’s biggest points of contention is her masters, which were purchased by producer Scooter Braun when he acquired Big Machine Label Group. She previously said she felt “sad and grossed out” by the news and called the situation “the worst case scenario.” She plans to re-record all of her earlier music to reclaim some ownership of her past work, but she’s been vocal about how Big Machine apparently tried to block her from using those songs for an American Music Awards performance and in her Netflix documentary Miss Americana.
In “The Man” video, Swift appears to call out Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Big Machine. Many fans on Twitter noted how the “BO$$ Scotch” subway ad sounds close enough to “Boss Scott.” Plus, the ad bears the “capitalize on the feeling,” like how Swift and her fans feel Braun and Borchetta were capitalizing on Swift’s work. The word “greedy” is also spray painted next to the image.
In a 2019 Rolling Stone interview, Swift discussed Braun and Borchetta and referenced some scotch. “These are two very rich, very powerful men, using $300 million of other people’s money to purchase, like, the most feminine body of work,” she said. “And then they’re standing in a wood-panel bar doing a tacky photo shoot, raising a glass of scotch to themselves. Because they pulled one over on me and got this done so sneakily that I didn’t even see it coming. And I couldn’t say anything about it.”
In the same music video scene, which features Swift’s male persona smoking a cigar and man-spreading on a subway train, one of the passengers is wearing a “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” hoodie, referencing another song (and perhaps another forthcoming single?) from Lover.
Throughout Swift’s career, tabloids have fixated on the singer’s romantic history and speculated over the subjects of her songs. One red carpet clip of Swift that is often shared shows the singer at the 2015 Grammy Awards being interviewed by Entertainment Tonight correspondent Nancy O’Dell. O’Dell says Swift, in her dress, could walk home with many men. She responds, “I’m not gonna walk home with any men tonight.”
The newspaper Swift is reading in the music video features multiple headlines, including one that calls out that double standard and asks, “What Man Won the Year in Celebrity Dating?”
Stopping at the 13th Street Station — 13 being her favorite number — Swift pauses to take a leak on a wall covered in graffiti. Each piece is the name of one of her past albums, including 1989, Reputation, Red, Speak Now, and Fearless (spelled backwards on the wall). And if you take a closer look…
No Scooters allowed
Swift didn’t forget about Braun.
Among the graffiti flurry of her masters album titles is a sign that reads, “Missing: If found return to Taylor Swift.” The word “karma” is spray painted in the middle and right next to that is another sign, this one with the image of a scooter crossed out. We’re in a no-scooter zone!
Walk of praise
While the “walk of shame” is more associated with women who have sex, man-Swift gets a walk of praise. After sleeping with a woman, he walks down a hallway with white arches and high-fives hands jutting out from the walls.
In the days leading up to the video reveal, Swift wrote of this moment on Twitter, “There are 19 hands in the hallway… but only 2 days until The Man Music Video.” The video was then released on Feb. 27, on the anniversary of the 19th amendment, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1922. The law prohibits the government from denying women their right to vote based on sex.
The 19 hands could also be a reference to Kanye West, who notoriously interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards and feuded with her multiple times since. Swift was 19 when that moment happened. The scene in the video also resembles a hallway inside West and wife Kim Kardashian West’s home.
Stand with Serena
Among the many misogynist dilemmas professional tennis player Serena Williams had to face in her career, she received particularly negative press by certain media outlets when, during a 2018 match, she fired back at umpire Carlos Ramos. He issued Williams a warning when he perceived her coach to be signaling her on the court. She disputed the call, but the matter grew more contentious when she slammed her racket on the ground in frustration and Ramos issued her a point penalty. He then gave her a verbal abuse penalty when she called him a “thief.” The issue refueled conversations about how people respond to male tennis players — John McEnroe being the main example — when they get angry or frustrated on the court versus the response to female players.
Swift, as “The Man” of the video, appears to reference this moment when he throws a fit at the umpire, smashing his racket and throwing tennis balls.
And who is playing the umpire? It’s Scott Kingsley Swift, Swift’s dad.
Mandance Film Festival
Swift’s Netflix documentary premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in January. But she retools the film’s poster in her music video. Sundance becomes the “Mandance Film Fesitval,” Miss Americana becomes Mr. Americana, and Taylor Swift becomes “Tyler Swift.”
Swift appears as the director of the video (again, which she is) to have a discussion with her own male alter-ego in the same scene. The voice of man-Swift is none other than Dwayne Johnson. Poking fun at how women are often told to be “more likable” and “sexier” by society, Swift gives him the same critiques while praising the female background actor with no dialogue for her “astonishing” work.
“My pleasure to voice THE MAN,” Johnson tweeted Thursday. “What a transformation and more importantly, great message about women’s equality and the importance of straight up being kind and good to people. Next we sing our duet. You bring the guitar, I’ll bring the tequila.”
Owned and operated by
In the video’s final moments, Swift makes a point, through title cards, to state that this music video was “directed,” “written,” and “owned” by her.
Speaking about the controversy with Braun and Big Machine just before a Good Morning America performance, Swift told anchor Robin Roberts of Lover, “One thing about this album that’s really special to me is that it’s the first one that I will own of my work.”