By Lauren Huff
July 24, 2020 at 08:29 PM EDT
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Universal Music

If there's one through-line in Taylor Swift's work, it's that hell hath no fury like a Taylor scorned. And "Mad Woman," off her newly released eighth studio album, Folklore, proudly (if cynically) continues this tradition.

At first glance, the song appears to be a reference to her ongoing spat with music exec Scooter Braun, the details of which have been covered ad nauseam by the media (present company included) and Swift herself. The basic gist of Swift's ire goes like this: The singer-songwriter expressed public outrage last year when Braun, whom she claimed perpetrated bullying against her, bought the rights to her masters when he acquired her old label, Big Machine Records (Swift has since released two albums under a new deal with Universal Music Group). Swift later vowed to re-record her earlier songs to regain control of them.

On "Mad Woman," she sings, "What did you think I'd say to that/Does a scorpion sting when fighting back/They strike to kill, and you know I will/You know I will." These first lines feel like a reference to her very public airing of incidents involving Braun, and "What did you think I'd say to that" specifically feels like a reference to the offer Swift said she was given "to sign back up to Big Machine Records and 'earn' one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in." The line in "Mad Woman" that goes "I'm taking my time, taking my time/'Cause you took everything from me" certainly appears to be a reference to her old masters.

The possible references don't stop there, though. Later in the song, she sings, "Now I breathe flames each time I talk/My cannons all firin' at your yacht/They say, 'Move on,' but you know I won't." It's hardly unheard of for a music mogul to frequent yachts, but coincidentally Braun is known to do just that. And their issues over the use of her old music continued well into the fall of last year, which would explain the "move on" lyric.

It's also likely, of course, that the song is a larger critique of the gaslighting women face. Specifically, it feels as if Swift is railing against the idea that if a woman is emotional or angry, she gets labeled as "crazy." And indeed, with lyrics such as "And there's nothing like a mad woman/What a shame she went mad/No one likes a mad woman/You made her like that," it's clear that parts of the song, at least, are about just that.

Regardless, it's all a darker spiritual cousin of sorts to the ideas that Swift played around with on last year's "The Man," off her seventh album, Lover. That song and its sly music video (which also seems to call out Braun) are much more on-the-nose, with Swift pondering what her career would look like if she had been born a man. "They'd say I hustled/Put in the work/They wouldn't shake their heads/And question how much of this I deserve/What I was wearing, if I was rude/Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves," she sings.

Both songs tackle the ways in which women are defined, but where "The Man" is broad in its complaints, "Mad Woman" is more specific. Where "The Man" is cheeky, "Mad Woman" is dark, cynical, and angry. In the bridge of "The Man," Swift contemplates what it's like to brag about your wealth and sleeping with multiple women. She concludes that, for men, it's okay for them to be "bad" in those ways, and it's acceptable for them to be angry. And in the next verse, she gives herself permission to be mad: "If I was out flashin' my dollas/I'd be a bitch, not a baller/They'd paint me out to be bad/So it's okay that I'm mad."

With "Mad Woman," then, it seems that Swift feels as though she's been made out to be crazy and angry, and has made good on the license she previously gave herself to be livid about that. In fact, she owns it. "Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy. What about that?" she croons. What about that indeed.

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