Go Behind the Meaning of the New Taylor Swift Single, “Anti-Hero”

Pop quiz: what’s got more than 30 million YouTube views and a lot of self-deprecating self-reflection? That’s right. The debut single and accompanying music video from Taylor Swift, “Anti-Hero,” from her latest LP, Midnights, which Swift dropped on Friday (October 21).

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Here, we will dive into the meaning of the new song and its music video, from the melodies to the lyrics to the self-piercing inspiration and intent.

The Meaning

I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror.

This line is the crux of the new track. It’s a song about taking responsibility—or, well the lack there of. So often people, especially those who seem to crave more and more from pop stars, look outwardly but never (or rarely) internally. Personal development, Swift seems to say, is as important (if not more so) than examining the lives and careers of others.

[RELATED: Taylor Swift Drops ‘Cinderella’ Inspired Music Video for “Bejeweled”]

Instead of taking shots of alcohol and puking up purple glitter (as Swift does in this humorous and poignant music video), maybe we need to look “in the mirror” a bit more. Her life is not your life. Indeed, it’s a sentiment also expressed by Kendrick Lamar on his latest album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. Pop stars are great but they are not your saviors.

Don’t wallow in self-loathing masquerading as affection. Instead, love thyself.


The new song from Swift’s 10th album was written by her and longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff driven by synths and a sense of both the new and nostalgia. Guess what else is old and new? Anxiety. And this is a major theme for Swift and Antonoff on the track.

Swift said the song was inspired by her nightmares and her issues with self-hatred. Even mega global pop stars have shortcomings and worries. So, she wanted to show her audience this as a way of showcasing that she is far from perfect. But it’s an okay thing to examine. So, maybe her listeners should feel free to, as well.

In the song’s music video, we see several versions of Swift: drunk, worried, and even one with an eating disorder. Worries over her legacy and her place in the world drive these issues, largely. And the track seemed to resonate with fans as it broke the global and U.S. records for the biggest opening-day streams on Spotify, earning over 17.4 million plays in its first 24 hours.

In Her Own Honest Words

Talking about “Anti-Hero” on Instagram, Swift said:

“I don’t think I’ve delved this far into my insecurities in this detail before. 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. […] This song really is a real guided tour throughout all of the things I tend to hate about myself. We all hate things about ourselves. It’s all of those aspects of the things we dislike and like about ourselves that we have to come to terms with if we’re going to be this person. So, yeah, I like ‘Anti-Hero’ a lot because I think it’s really honest.”

Swift has said the song is one of her favorite tracks she has ever written.

Last Will and Testament

In the music video for the song, there is a segment that resembles a short film or television show in which Swift’s fictional heirs quibble and fret about what her will has left them after her death. She is not remembered for herself as a person, her heart, or what she meant to them. Instead, she’s remembered for her beach house and the country clubs that opened their doors to her fictional kin.

[RELATED: Taylor Swift Drops ‘Anti-Hero’ Music Video Alongside New Album Release]

The scene is yet another example of the worry Swift is expressing in the song. Is she a person? A businesswoman? Or simply a business? The video was written and directed by Swift and it features excellent special effects with the artist even slapping “five” with herself.

Final Thoughts

To look inward is hard. We’re not often incentivized to know what’s wrong with ourselves. So, to have a pop star of the caliber of Swift implore us to do so is valuable. Though it may not spurn the masses to do so, this song and video offer an example to the many who will do so, and, for that, Swift should be applauded.

Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

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