Mean (song)

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"Mean"
Taylor Swift is shouting forward with both of her hands tied with a coil of rope. She is sitting atop a railway line. Above Taylor the words "Taylor Swift" and "Mean" are written in grey color. Next to her is a man with a handlebar moustache wearing a black top hat. He is standing astride with an open clasp and his eyes are looking towards Taylor Swift.
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Speak Now
Released March 13, 2011 (2011-03-13)
Format CD single
Recorded 2010
Genre Country, bluegrass
Length 3:58
Label Big Machine
Writer(s) Taylor Swift
Producer(s)
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Back to December"
(2010)
"Mean"
(2011)
"The Story of Us"
(2011)

"Mean" is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift for her third studio album, Speak Now (2010). It was written by Swift, who produced the song alongside Nathan Chapman. The song was sent to country radio in the United States on March 13, 2011, as the third single from Speak Now. "Mean" garnered mixed to positive reviews from critics for its lyrical detail and profound country sound. The song received commercial success in the United States and Canada, debuting at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number ten on the Canadian Hot 100. The song also appeared on the Australian Singles Chart at number 45.

The song's accompanying music video was directed by Declan Whitebloom, who developed the concept together with Swift. It received mixed reviews from critics who perceived ambivalent messages in the video, despite the prevalent self-empowerment and anti-bullying themes. "Mean" was performed for the first time by Swift at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 3, 2011. The song won the Grammy Awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance at the 54th Grammy Awards. The magazine The Rolling Stone ranked Mean #24 on their list of the 100 greatest country songs of all time.

Background[edit]

In an interview with E! News before the release of her third studio album, Speak Now, Swift said that "Mean" is a response to people who criticize whatever she does. She said, "there's constructive criticism, there's professional criticism, and then there's just being mean. And there's a line that you cross when you just start to attack everything about a person."[1][2] In an interview with Dose.ca, Swift said that she wrote the song to get back at her critics, saying, "There's a song called 'Mean,' that I guess you could categorize it into feelings and or relationships but it's actually about a critic."[3] In a later interview with 60 Minutes, Swift revealed that the critic was someone who attacked her performance with Stevie Nicks at the 52nd Grammy Awards, where she sang off-key.[4] This critic is reputed to be Bob Lefsetz who gave a critical review on his blog, The Lefsetz Letter.[5][6][7]

Release[edit]

Two exclusive packages were released to Swift's official store one included a T-shirt, an individually numbered "Mean" CD single and an autographed lithograph. This package is no longer available.[8] The other package had just the T-shirt and CD single. Only 2,500 copies of the CD single were made.[9] The single was later included in another package that is exclusive to Swift's official store. The package includes the Target exclusive deluxe edition of Speak Now, a free pair of headphones, and the choice between either the "Sparks Fly", "The Story of Us", or the "Mean" CD single.[10]

Composition[edit]

A 24-second sample of "Mean" by Taylor Swift.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

According to Theon Weber of The Village Voice, the song is "made of handclaps, amiable banjo strums, and multi-tracked Taylor Swifts."[11] Matt Bjorke of Roughstock commented that the song is "the most 'country' with an extremely down-home, almost bluegrass sound."[12] The song is written in the key of E major, and Swift's vocals span an octave and a perfect 3rd, from G♯3 to C♯5.[13] Jon Caramanica from The New York Times noted the song for its "rootsy sound," where Swift sings "over a bluegrass-influenced acoustic track unlike anything else she’s yet recorded."[14] The chorus has sequence of C#m/G#—B/F#—A/E as its chord progression.[13]

The song's lyrics address those who question Swift's ability to sing.[1] This is echoed by Jill Serjeant from Billboard, writing "[the song] appears to take aim at critics who slammed Swift's shaky vocal performance at the 2010 Grammy Awards and at other live shows last year."[15] Ann Powers of Los Angeles Times also agreed that "Mean" "smacks down critics who say she can't sing (I stand accused) by declaring that someday she'll be "livin' in a great big city" and they'll be drunk in some dive bar, bloviating into the void."[16] Additionally, the song lyrics reflect the issue of bullying, which is transparent in a review by aforementioned Matt Bjorke of Roughstock, commenting "'Mean' is an interesting song in that it finds Taylor chewing out many people, particularly bullies. It's a song that really could become part of the anti-bullying campaigns for schools everywhere."[12]

The song's couplets, ("You with your switching sides and your wildfire lies and your humiliation / You have pointed out my flaws again, as if I don't already see them"), were ranked at number five out of ten best couplets from Speak Now sheet by Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly.[17]

Critical reception[edit]

The song garnered mixed to positive reviews from music critics. Mandi Bierly of Entertainment Weekly praised the production of the song, writing "[the song] is a nice touch: It brings a sincerity to her pain and lets you focus on the words, which do, near the end, turn cheeky (proving she handles it with a sense of humor)."[1] Theon Weber from The Village Voice described the song as "huge and hugely compassionate, and fearless" and lauded it for being "chipper and funny because the narrator is predicting escape from someone she dislikes: "Some day, I'll be living in a big ole city/And all you're ever gonna be is mean."[11] Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe graded the production of the song as "A", complimenting the message of the song which "articulates the distinction between honesty and cruelty so well."[18] On the other hand, Jonathan Keefe from Slant Magazine lambasted the song for its lyrical content, writing "instead of actually doing something to improve on her inability to find or hold pitch consistently, Swift has simply written a song about how it's 'mean' for people to point out that problem."[19]

Commercial performance[edit]

"Mean" was released as a promotional single from Speak Now on October 19, 2010, as part of Countdown to Speak Now, an exclusive campaign by the iTunes Store.[20][21] Upon its release as a promotional single, "Mean" debuted at number two on the Hot Digital Songs with approximately 163,000 downloads, which led to its appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 on the week ending October 30, 2010. "Mean" debuted and peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Swift the first act to claim the chart's top debut (Hot Shot Debut) in three successive weeks.[22] The song fell off the chart the following week when Speak Now was released, a victim of iTunes' Complete My Album scheme where the costumers returned their early purchased tracks from Speak Now to upgrade to a full album purchase.[23][24] On the week ending November 6, 2010, the song also debuted on Hot Country Songs at number 55.[2] Upon its release as an official single, "Mean" re-entered Billboard Hot 100 at number 90 and number 17 on the Hot Country Songs.[25][26] On the week ending May 14, 2011, Swift made a record when "Mean" jumped from number 12 to number nine on Hot Country Songs, becoming her 13th consecutive Top Ten hit on that chart. It made Swift one of two women (Carrie Underwood) to begin their chart histories with 13 consecutive Top Tens dating to the survey's 1944 launch.[27][28] It peaked at number two for three weeks in June, behind Blake Shelton's "Honey Bee",[29] but it reached number one on the Mediabase / Country Aircheck Country Singles Chart on July 28, 2011 .[30] On the week ending August 14, 2011, "Mean" became Swift's 13th song to sell more than one million copies which is more than any other country artist in digital history.[31] The song was number 24 on the Billboard Year-end Country Songs chart for 2011.[32] It was certified triple platinum by the RIAA in August 2014.[33] As of November 2014, "Mean" has sold 2.3 million copies in the United States.[34]

Prior to the official release of the song as a single, digital sales accounted for "Mean"'s appearance on international charts. In Canada, the song entered and peaked at number ten.[35] It also made an appearance in Australia at number 45 on the week ending November 7, 2010.[36] The song has won at the 54th Grammy Awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance.[37][38]

Music video[edit]

Background and release[edit]

The accompanying music video for "Mean" was directed by Declan Whitebloom.[39] It was shot over two days in Los Angeles, with the Orpheum Theatre serving as its backdrop.[39][40] The concept of the video was developed by both Swift and Whitebloom,[41] who praised Swift's commitment and involvement with the production of the music video.[42] In an interview with MTV News, Whitebloom said that "Mean" is very personal to Swift because lyrically it's about a critic who was a little too harsh on her. However, he added that people can relate to its message, saying "We all have similar stories in our life that hit similar emotional cues, and to open it up and make it broader about lots of people and situations .. makes it much more accessible."[43] Whitebloom described the video as vignettes that feature scenes from all different time periods, from vaudevillian scenes to scenes resembling O Brother, Where Art Thou?.[42] He also stated that the video was inspired by Swift's performance at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.[43]

Actress Joey King is featured in the video.[44][45] Prior to the release of the video, Jocelyn Vena of MTV predicted that the video of "Mean" will be "a honky-tonk-type performance video, in which [Swift] and her band have a little fun at someone's expense."[46] The music video premiered on Country Music Television on May 6, 2011, at 22:00 EST (03:00 UTC).[39][41]

Synopsis[edit]

Taylor Swift's dress from the music video "Mean"

The video begins with Swift and her band playing a banjo guitar, all dressed in vintage-inspired clothes. The stage is set up like a front yard of a farmhouse. Then, Swift is shown being tied to the tracks by a villain, similar to the song's artwork. The villain and his friend laugh as she sits there helpless. However, Swift and the others are hardly the only victims in the video. A montage of Swift plucking away at her banjo is shown alternately throughout the video with scenes of a boy being bullied while reading a fashion magazine in a locker room by the football team and a girl, wearing a fast-food uniform, who is being made fun of by her peers. Another cut-scene shows a girl (who is played by Joey King) who is not allowed to sit with the popular clique at lunch and is forced to eat in the school bathroom. The next scene shows that the stage is transformed into a ritzy nightclub, with the singer all dazzled up in a sparkly flapper gown performing in the big leagues. It is revealed that the boy reading the fashion magazine is now a famous fashion designer; the fast food girl saves up for college and is a big-time executive. Then the villain and his friend get extremely drunk and faint, Taylor rolls her eyes at the scene, effortlessly removes the ropes and taunts them as she leaves. The final scene shows the other girl sitting as an audience watching and applauding as Swift finishes performing.

Reception[edit]

The music video was met with mixed reviews from the critics. Story Gilmore of Neon Limelight perceived the clip to be "adorable",[47] while Amanda Lynne of Gather.com was not disappointed with the video and thought that Swift delivered once again.[48] The Huffington Post said the video was effective at putting Swift alongside the underdogs and dreamers.[49] Daily Mail praised the theme of the video which is about self-empowerment, writing "her new video for her upcoming single Mean depicts how young people picked on at school rise up and become successful later in life."[50] The same opinion was echoed by Jocelyn Vena of MTV who wrote that the video "is the latest entry in an avalanche of empowering clips, which we've seen from artists like Katy Perry ("Firework") and Pink ("Raise Your Glass")."[51] Ashley Iasimone of Taste of Country complimented Swift's looks in the video which corresponded with the video's art direction. She concluded that "it's difficult to not feel as empowered as superstar Swift.[52]

Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly thought that the message in the music video was confusing, writing "Is she really equating a professional critic questioning her ability to sing at an awards show to getting bullied because you're different?"[53] Donna Kaufman of IVillage also felt the mixed messages in the video, stating "the video doesn't show Swift being bullied...Instead, she's a kind of savior to the outsider kids, who are all shallow stereotypes."[54] Kyle Buchanan of New York described the video as the most cliched, didactic, self-impressed and studiously unrevealing.[55] Drew Grant of Salon.com felt that the video tried to disseminate anti-bullying message from a person who has never been bullied by equating it with an evil vision of fairy tale."[56] Sophie Schillaci of Zap2it noticed that the flaw in the video was the assumption that "mean ole' bullies just rot in their hometown," whereas in reality plenty of successful people are simply mean.[57]

Live performances[edit]

"Mean" was first performed at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 3, 2011.[58] On May 30, 2011, Swift performed the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[59] Swift also performs this song on her Speak Now World Tour.[60] She also performed "Mean" live at the 2012 Grammy Awards, changing the first line of one of the final choruses to "Someday, I'll be singin' this at the Grammys" and receiving a standing ovation afterwards. And in 2013 and 2014 she also performed it at the The Red Tour

Track listing[edit]

  • Digital download / Limited Edition CD single[9][61]
  1. "Mean" – 3:58

Charts and certifications[edit]

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2011) Position
US Country Songs (Billboard)[32] 24

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label
United States[69] March 13, 2011 Country radio Big Machine Records

References[edit]

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External links[edit]