Taylor Swift just made her directorial debut in the new video for her Lover track “The Man.” The video also stars Swift in male drag — and, as the final credits go out of their way to remind us, the video and its accompanying song are both owned by Taylor Swift, too. That’s fitting for this stage of Swift’s career, which has seen her emphatically taking ownership of her voice, her image, and her music, both literally and figuratively.
On a literal level, Swift secured her ownership of the master recordings for all her new music in 2018, when she switched record labels. Her old, pre-Reputation masters all belong to her enemy Scooter Braun now, but Swift made it clear last year that she doesn’t plan to let things stay that way. She’ll be re-recording all her old music so that she owns it again.
More metaphorically, Swift has spent the past couple of years beginning to speak out about the subjects she’s traditionally kept quiet on. For most of her career, Swift refused to talk about politics, but during the 2018 midterms, she broke her silence to endorse two Democratic candidates in Tennessee.
In the recently released Netflix documentary Miss Americana, Swift describes that endorsement as the climax of her long struggle to take ownership of her voice. For most of her life, Swift says, she was intensely focused on making people like her and on getting them to think of her as good. “I became the person who everyone wanted me to be,” she tells the camera. So she avoided discussing politics whenever possible because her managers told her she should, lest she face the fate of the Dixie Chicks.
But by 2018, Swift was beginning to think she had a duty to use her platform to endorse Democratic politicians. A lot of her fans thought so, too: She faced some intense backlash for never endorsing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. (Swift said last year that in 2016, she felt she was so unpopular that she would have been a liability to Clinton.)
In Miss Americana, Swift fights bitterly with her father and staff as she decides she’s going to finally start talking politics. It could be dangerous, her father says. She might get bad press, her publicist warns her. “Fuck that,” Swift replies.
The moment plays as Swift finally beginning to reject her people-pleasing ways. She’s deciding to speak out on the subjects that matter to her, and to own what she says.
Swift is one of our great pop storytellers, and the video for “The Man” is the climax of this mini-narrative she has been building since the end of the Reputation era in 2018. She’s always written her songs, either by herself or in collaboration, and she’s always starred in her own videos. Now she’s directing them, too — and all of it belongs to her.