Mean (song)

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Taylor Swift is shouting forward with both of her hands tied up 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
ReleasedMarch 13, 2011 (2011-03-13)
LabelBig Machine
Songwriter(s)Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Back to December"
"The Story of Us"
Music video
"Mean" on YouTube

"Mean" is a song written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift for her third studio album, Speak Now (2010). Produced by Swift 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 positive reviews from critics for its lyrical detail and profound country sound. The song received commercial success in the United States and Canada, debuting and peaking 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.[1][2] Rolling Stone ranked "Mean" at number 24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time, the highest ranking for a song released in the 21st century and only one of three to be released in the 2010s.


In an interview with E! News, 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."[3][4] In an interview with, 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."[5] 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.[6]


Two exclusive packages were released to Swift's official online store. The first included a T-shirt, an individually numbered "Mean" CD single, and an autographed lithograph. This package is no longer available.[7] The second package contained just the T-shirt and CD single. Only 2,500 copies of the CD single were made.[8] The single was later included in another package that is exclusive to Taylor 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.[9]


According to Theon Weber of The Village Voice, the song is "made of handclaps, amiable banjo strums, and multi-tracked Taylor Swifts."[10] Matt Bjorke of Roughstock commented that the song is "the most 'country' with an extremely down-home, almost bluegrass sound."[11] The song is written in the key of E major, and Swift's vocals span an octave and a perfect 4th, from G♯3 to C♯5.[12] 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."[13] The chorus has a chord progression sequence of C#m/G#—B/F#—A/E.[12]

The song's lyrics address those who question Swift's ability to sing.[3] This is echoed by Jill Serjeant from Billboard, who wrote that "[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."[14] Ann Powers from the 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."[15] Additionally, the song lyrics reflect the issue of bullying, which is evident in a review by Matt Bjorke of Roughstock, who commented that "'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."[11]

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.[16]

Critical reception[edit]

The song garnered positive reviews from music critics. Mandi Bierly from Entertainment Weekly praised the production of the song, saying "[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)."[3] Theon Weber from The Village Voice described the song as "huge and hugely compassionate, and fearless" and praised 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."[10] 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."[17] On the other hand, Jonathan Keefe from Slant Magazine criticized 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."[18]

The song won awards at the 54th Grammy Awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance.[1][2] Rolling Stone ranked "Mean" at number 24 on their list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time, the highest ranking for a song released in the 21st century and only one of three to be released in 2010s after "Springsteen" and "Follow Your Arrow" performed by Eric Church and Kacey Musgraves, respectively.[19] Taste of Country ranked "Mean" as the 15th best country song of the 2010s.[20]


Year Organization Award/work Result Ref.
2011 American Country Awards Female Single of the Year Nominated [21]
Country Music Association Awards Song of the Year Nominated [22]
Music Video of the Year Nominated [22]
MTV Music Video Awards Best Video with a Social Message Nominated [24]
Teen Choice Awards Choice Country Song Won [25]
2012 Academy of Country Music Awards Video of the Year Nominated [26]
BMI Awards Top 50 Songs Won [27]
Publisher of the Year Won
Grammy Awards Best Country Solo Performance Won [28]
Best Country Song Won

Commercial performance[edit]

"Mean" was released as a promotional single from Taylor Swift's third album, Speak Now, on October 19, 2010, as part of Countdown to Speak Now, an exclusive campaign by the iTunes Store.[29][30] Upon its release as a promotional single, "Mean" debuted at number two on the Hot Digital Songs with approximately 163,000 downloads. This led to its appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of 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.[31] The song fell off the chart the following week when Speak Now was released, a victim of iTunes' Complete My Album scheme where the customers returned their early purchased tracks from Speak Now to upgrade to a full album purchase.[32][33] The week of November 6, 2010, the song also debuted on Hot Country Songs at number 55.[4]

Upon its release as an official single, "Mean" re-entered Billboard Hot 100 at number 90 and number 17 on the Hot Country Songs.[34][35] The week of May 14, 2011, Swift made a record when "Mean" jumped from number 12 to number nine on Hot Country Songs, becoming her thirteenth consecutive top ten hit on that chart. It made Swift one of two women (the other being Carrie Underwood) to begin her chart history with 13 consecutive top ten hits since the survey's 1944 launch.[36][37] The song peaked at number two for three weeks in June, behind Blake Shelton's "Honey Bee",[38] but it reached number one on the Mediabase / Country Aircheck Country Singles Chart on July 28, 2011 .[39] The week of August 14, 2011, "Mean" became Swift's thirteenth song to sell more than one million copies, which is more than any other country artist in digital history.[40] The song was number 24 on the Billboard Year-end Country Songs chart for 2011.[41] It was certified triple platinum by the RIAA in August 2014.[42] As of July 2019, "Mean" had sold 2.5 million copies in the United States.[43]

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 10.[44] It also made an appearance in Australia at number 45 the week of November 7, 2010.[45]

Music video[edit]

Background and release[edit]

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

The accompanying music video for "Mean" was directed by Declan Whitebloom.[46] It was shot over a two-day period in Los Angeles, with the Orpheum Theatre serving as its backdrop.[46][47] The concept of the video was developed by both Swift and Whitebloom,[48] who praised Swift's commitment and involvement with the production of the music video.[49] In an interview with MTV News, Whitebloom said that "Mean" is very personal to Swift because "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."[50] Whitebloom described the video as sketches that feature scenes from all different time periods, from vaudevillian scenes to scenes resembling O Brother, Where Art Thou?.[49] He also stated that the video was inspired by Swift's performance at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.[50]

Actress Joey King is featured in the video.[51][52] Prior to the release of the video, Jocelyn Vena of MTV predicted that the video of "Mean" would be "a honky-tonk-type performance video, in which [Swift] and her band have a little fun at someone's expense."[53] The music video premiered on Country Music Television on May 6, 2011, at 22:00 EST (03:00 UTC).[46][48] To date, the video has over 190 million views on YouTube.


The video begins with a shot of the inside of an empty theater. As the song begins, the curtains open to reveal Swift, wearing a cream-colored dress and playing a banjo guitar. The stage lights are brightened and Swift is accompanied by her band. They are dressed in vintage-inspired clothing. The stage is set to look like the front yard of a farmhouse. Shots of Swift and her band are alternated with shots that tell several stories about people who are the victims of bullying. One is a boy who is pushed around by members of a football team for reading a fashion magazine. Another is a girl who is earning money for college by wearing a costume to promote a fast food restaurant. The video shows the girl's peers throwing food at her. One story features Swift herself, who is tied to railroad tracks by a villain. The villain then sits at a table and laughs and drinks wine with his friend. The final story is about a girl (played by Joey King) who is not allowed to sit with a group of other girls at lunchtime, because she is wearing a different colored ribbon around her waist than they are.

At the 3-minute mark, the stage that Swift and her band is on is transformed into a ritzy nightclub. Swift is now dressed in a sparkly flapper dress, and she is now performing in the big leagues. For the video's conclusion, each of the different stories resolve themselves, and they all end happily. It is revealed that the boy reading the fashion magazine is now a famous fashion designer, the fast food girl has saved up for college and is now a big-time executive, and Swift effortlessly removes the ropes binding her and walks away from the tracks once the villain and his friend have passed out from drinking heavily. The final scene shows the girl with the unique-colored ribbon sitting as the only audience member in the theater, watching and applauding as Swift finishes her performance.


The music video was met with mixed reviews from critics. Story Gilmore of Neon Limelight perceived the clip to be "adorable",[54] while Amanda Lynne of was not disappointed with the video and thought that Swift delivered once again.[55] The Huffington Post said the video was effective at putting Swift alongside the underdogs and dreamers.[56] Jocelyn Vena of MTV 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")."[57] Ashley Lasimone of Taste of Country complimented Swift's looks in the video. She concluded that "it's difficult to not feel as empowered as superstar Swift."[58]

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?"[59] 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."[60] Kyle Buchanan of New York magazine described the video as clichéd, didactic, self-impressed and studiously unrevealing.[61] Drew Grant of felt that the video tried to disseminate an anti-bullying message from "a person who has never been bullied by equating it with an evil vision of a fairytale."[62] 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.[63]

Live performances[edit]

Swift playing a banjo
Swift performing "Mean" at the Speak Now World Tour

"Mean" was first performed at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 3, 2011.[64] In May 2011, Swift performed the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[65] Swift also performed the song live at the 54th Grammy Awards on February 12, 2012, changing the first line of one of the final choruses to "Someday, I'll be singin' this at the Grammys".[66] She performed "Mean" as part of the set list during her Speak Now World Tour,[67] and part of The Red Tour set list as well.[68] Swift also performed it on selected dates on The 1989 World Tour in place of "You Are In Love"; and during her Reputation Stadium Tour as the surprise song for the first Dublin show.[69]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from Tidal.[70]

  • Taylor Swift – vocals, songwriter, producer, acoustic guitar
  • Nathan Chapman – producer, acoustic guitar, piano, digital piano, banjo, bass guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, organ, synthesizer
  • Bryan Sutton – acoustic guitar
  • Amos Heller – bass guitar
  • Tim Marks – bass guitar
  • Tommy Sims – bass guitar
  • John Gardner – drums
  • Nick Buda – drums
  • Shannon Forrest – drums
  • Grant Mickelson – electric guitar
  • Mike Meadows – electric guitar
  • Paul Sidoti – electric guitar
  • Rob Hajacos – fiddle
  • Tim Lauer – piano, Hammond B3
  • Al Wilson – percussion
  • Eric Darken – percussion
  • Smith Curry – steel guitar


Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2011) Position
US Country Songs (Billboard)[41] 24


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[76] Gold 35,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[77] Gold 40,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[78] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[79] 3× Platinum 3,000,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]

Country Date Format Label
Various October 25, 2010 Digital download Big Machine
United States[80] March 13, 2011 Country radio


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External links[edit]