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mad woman

folklore (2020)

“mad woman” is the twelfth song on Taylor’s eighth studio album, folklore (2020). It touches on the feud between her and Scooter Braun who bought Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group in 2019, including the masters of Taylor’s first six albums without telling her anything about it.

Background and Lyrical Theme

Much like her previous songs “Blank Space” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” Taylor connects the concept of a delusional woman to her personal life. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in December 2020, Taylor implied that the song was inspired by the events that followed the masters controversy, in which she became embroiled in a publicized dispute with American businessman Scooter Braun, who purchased the masters of her back catalog after she signed a new recording contract. Though Taylor never explicitly name-checked Braun, in the documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions (2020), she spoke to producer Aaron Dessner about “mad woman”:

«[The song has] these ominous strings underneath it and I was like, ‘Oh, this is female rage.' And then I was thinking the most rage provoking element of being a female is the gaslighting that happens. For centuries, we were just expected to absorb male behavior silently. And oftentimes, when we – in our enlightened and emboldened state – now respond to bad male behavior or somebody just doing something that’s absolutely out of line and we respond, that response is treated like the offense itself. There’s been situations recently with someone who’s very guilty of this in my life and it’s a person who makes me feel (or tries to make me feel) like I’m the offender by having any kind of defense to his offenses. It’s like I have absolutely no right to respond or I’m crazy. I have no right to respond or I’m angry. I have no right to respond or I’m out of line. So [Aaron] provided the musical bed for me to make that point that I’ve been trying so hard to figure out how to make…How do I say why this feels so bad?»

Taylor Swift
Taylor dropped her first recorded F-bomb ever on “mad woman”. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2020,” It felt fucking fantastic. Every rule book was thrown out. I always had these rules in my head and one of them was, ‘You haven’t done this before, so you can’t ever do this.’ Or, ‘Well, you’ve never had an explicit sticker, so you can’t ever have an explicit sticker.’ But that was one of the times where I felt like you need to follow the language and you need to follow the storyline. And if the storyline and the language match up and you end up saying the F-word, just go for it. I wasn’t adhering to any of the guidelines that I had placed on myself. I decided to just make what I wanted to make. And I’m really happy that the fans were stoked about that because I think they could feel that. I’m not blaming anyone else for me restricting myself in the past. That was all, I guess, making what I want to make. I think my fans could feel that I opened the gate and ran out of the pasture for the first time, which I’m glad they picked up on because they’re very intuitive.”

Meaning Within the folklore Universe

Some of the story may also originate from Rebekah Harkness, who Taylor based earlier folklore track “the last great american dynasty” on. Describing the themes of the whole album in an Instagram post on the 23rd of July 2020, Taylor wrote about, “A misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out,” which might also apply to this song. Producer Aaron Dessner told Vulture:

«That might be the most scathing song on folklore. It has a darkness that I think is cathartic, sort of witch-hunting, and gaslighting, and maybe bullying. Sometimes you become the person people try to pin you into a corner to be, which is not really fair. But again, don’t quote me on that [laughs], I just have my own interpretation. It’s one of the biggest releases on the album to me. It has this very sharp tone to it, but sort of in gothic folklore. It’s this record’s goth song.»

Aaron Dessner

Critical Reception

The song received positive reviews from music critics. In the Dallas Observer, Alexandra Lang complimented Taylor for singing about social issues in “mad woman”, writing: “The contrast of the softer melody with the biting lyrics illustrates the fine line that women are expected to tread with their emotions. Swift may have grown up, but she’s showing her ability to use her music to criticize systemic social issues — not just an ex-boyfriend.” Cosmopolitan drew parallels between the song’s narrative to that of Daenerys Targaryen’s character arc in Game of Thrones, in which Targaryen is a powerful female character who goes “crazy” for the throne and has another female character as her greatest enemy. Elite Daily, Delish, and Metro made the same comparison as well. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said that “mad woman” sharpens the feminist rage of “The Man” (2019). The Sydney Morning Herald critic Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen opined that “mad woman” depicts the “feeling of expectations falling away” with Taylor dropping the first-ever F-bomb “in her decade-plus career”, which she interpreted as, despite the soft texture of folklore, Taylor is “developing her own steel.”

Commercial Performance

Upon the release of folklore, “mad woman” debuted at No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the chart week of August 8, 2020.

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
What did you think I’d say to that?
Does a scorpion sting when fighting back?
They strike to kill, and you know I will
You know I will
What do you sing on your drive home?
Do you see my face in the neighbor’s lawn?
Does she smile?
Or does she mouth, “Fuck you forever”?

[Pre-Chorus]
Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy
What about that?
And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry

[Chorus]
And there’s nothing like a mad woman
What a shame she went mad
No one likes a mad woman
You made her like that
And you’ll poke that bear ’til her claws come out
And you find something to wrap your noose around
And there’s nothing like a mad woman

[Verse 2]
Now I breathe flames each time I talk
My cannons all firin’ at your yacht
They say, “Move on” but you know I won’t
And women like hunting witches too
Doing your dirtiest work for you
It’s obvious that wanting me dead
Has really brought you two together

[Pre-Chorus]
Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy
What about that?
And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry

[Chorus]
And there’s nothing like a mad woman
What a shame she went mad
No one likes a mad woman
You made her like that
And you’ll poke that bear ’til her claws come out
And you find something to wrap your noose around
And there’s nothing like a mad woman

[Bridge]
I’m taking my time, taking my time
‘Cause you took everything from me
Watching you climb, watching you climb
Over people like me
The master of spin has a couple side flings
Good wives always know
She should be mad, should be scathing like me, but

[Outro]
No one likes a mad woman
What a shame she went mad
You made her like that

General Information
Albumfolklore
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
RecordedMay–July, 2020
StudioKitty Committee (Los Angeles)
Long Pond (Hudson Valley, NY)
GenreIndie Folk
Length3:57
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Aaron Dessner
ProducerAaron Dessner
FOLKLORE CHRONOLOGY
invisible stringmad womanepiphany
Song Artwork
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Official Audio
Official Live Audio