What Taylor Swift’s ‘Anti-Hero’ Lyrics Really Mean

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Taylor Swift made it no secret: Her new album Midnights would explore the things that keep her up at night, and that “self-loathing” would be among them. The third track on Midnights tackles the subject head-on, albeit in Swift’s signature cheeky, relatable style. In lyrics like “I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror / It must be exhausting, always rooting for the anti-hero,” Swift addresses the reputation that has shifted beneath her feet since she first burst onto the country scene in 2006—and the mental health journey that’s proven crucial to managing it.

Swift spoke to Vogue in 2019 about how she handled the blow to her public image in 2016, following Kim Kardashian’s infamous Snapchat videos detailing Swift and Kanye West’s conversation surrounding his song “Famous” and its lyrics about Swift. “A mass public shaming, with millions of people saying you are quote-unquote canceled, is a very isolating experience,” Swift said. “I don’t think there are that many people who can actually understand what it’s like to have millions of people hate you very loudly. When you say someone is canceled, it’s not a TV show. It’s a human being. You’re sending mass amounts of messaging to this person to either shut up, disappear, or it could also be perceived as, Kill yourself.”

Swift continued, “I realized I needed to restructure my life because it felt completely out of control. I knew immediately I needed to make music about it because I knew it was the only way I could survive it. It was the only way I could preserve my mental health and also tell the story of what it’s like to go through something so humiliating.”

Swift ultimately released the 2017 album Reputation detailing her feelings at the time. But “Anti-Hero” seems to revisits those emotions with the perspective of additional years: She discusses the nights in her career when depression overwhelmed her, as well as her fear that her outsized public stature might damage relationships with those she loves—perhaps, in this case, Joe Alwyn, her boyfriend of six years. (The two started dating in the fall of 2016, when Swift felt her reputation was at its worst.)

The song contains lyrics like, “Midnights become my afternoons / When my depression works the graveyard shift / All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room” and “I should not be left to my own devices / They come with prices and vices / I end up in crisis I’ve realized all this time / I wake up screaming from dreaming / One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving / Cuz you got tired of my scheming / For the last time.”

Below, read the full “Anti-Hero” lyrics, along with a few contextual notes. Listen to the song below, too:

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I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser
Midnights become my afternoons
When my depression works the graveyard shift
All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room

Swift ignited and/or endured quite a few public feuds earlier in her career (including with West, Katy Perry, and others.). In the years since 2016, the singer has kept a significantly lower profile—and has been involved with substantially less drama in the news.

I should not be left to my own devices
They come with prices and vices
I end up in crisis
I’ve realized all this time
I wake up screaming from dreaming
One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving
Cuz you got tired of my scheming
For the last time

These lyrics seem to address Swift’s fear of losing Alwyn. Nor would this be the first time the artist has detailed such worries: Other examples include “Call It What You Want” (“I recall late November, holdin’ my breath / Slowly I said, “You don’t need to save me / But would you run away with me?”) and “Delicate” (“This ain’t for the best / My reputation’s never been worse, so / You must like me for me” and “Is it cool that I said all that? / Is it too soon to do this yet?/ ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate”) on Reputation. Even other songs on Midnights seem to address this anxiety, including “Snow on the Beach,” which features lyrics including, “I can’t speak afraid to jinx it / I don’t even dare to wish it.”

It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me
At tea time, everybody agrees
I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting, always rooting for the anti-hero

Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby
And I’m a monster on the hill
Too big to hang out, slowly lurching towards your favorite city
Pierced through the heart, but never killed

The “sexy baby” phrase stuck out to listeners, but some noted that it’s likely a reference to a famous 30 Rock episode. In it, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) hires female comedy writer Abby Flynn (Cristin Milioti), who ends up being oversexualized and childlike and talks with a “sexy baby” voice. Abby tells Liz, “The whole ‘sexy baby’ thing isn’t an act. I am a very sexy baby.” Jokes aside, fans have interpreted this lyric as a critique of predatory men who infantilize women. It could also represent Swift’s insecurities of feeling unwanted, seeing herself as the “monster on the hill.”

Did you hear my covert narcissism lightly disguised as altruism
Like some kind of congressman

Here, Swift seems to nod toward critics of her political involvement (or lack thereof), as well as those who’ve interpreted her charity acts as mere PR moves.

I wake up screaming from dreaming
One day I’ll watch as you’re leaving
And life will lose all of its meaning
For the last time

It‘s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me
At tea time, everybody agrees
I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting, always rooting for the anti-hero

I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money
She thinks I left them in the will
The family gathers around and reads it and someone screams out
“She’s laughing up at us from hell!”

It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me
It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me
It’s me, hi, everybody agrees
Everybody agrees…

It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me (I’m the problem, it’s me)
At tea time, everybody agrees
Everybody agrees
I’ll stare directly at the sun, but never in the mirror
It must be exhausting, always rooting for the anti-hero





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