Mean

Single | Speak Now (2010)

“Mean” was released as a single off Taylor’s third studio album, Speak Now (2010). It is an anti-bullying anthem Taylor wrote as a response to people who are critical of her. She won two Grammys for the song.

Background and Lyrical Theme

“Mean” is heavy on fiddle and banjo and “the most country-sounding thing” Taylor has ever done, according to producer Nathan Chapman. Taylor wrote the song alone in the kitchen of her since-sold LA cottage. It is aimed at a critic who rebuked her performance with Stevie Nicks at the 52nd Grammy Awards. The critic in question is said to be Bob Lefsetz, who had given a captious review of her performance on his blog. Taylor said:

«When you do what I do, you put yourself out there for a lot of people to say whatever they want about it. There are a million different opinions from a million different people. 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. This song is about how I handle it and sort of my mindset about the whole situation.»

Taylor Swift

As the years went by, Taylor got more comfortable sharing the details behind the story of the song. She told her audience at a concert at Harvey Mudd college in October 2012: “I wrote the song ‘Mean’ about a critic who really, really, really strongly disliked me. And with critics and journalists I respect that it’s their job to put out constructive criticism. I usually will take that criticism and be like, ‘Okay, maybe they’re right about that, I will work on that.’ This critic hated me. Hated. Just like, assault rifle, one after the other just like, mistles. Hated me. So I felt really helpless and I felt, ‘There’s nothing I can do about this,’ and so I did what I always do: I went into my lonely little corner and I wrote a song about it. And then it went out into the world and it became like an anti-bullying thing about the fact that people pick on each other and it’s not okay. Wherever you are in life. Whether you are in middle school – middle school’s awful for the bullying thing, oh my God – but in junior high? It’s still there. High school? Still bullies, awesome. College? People still picking on you. And then you go out into the real world and people still pick on you. It just affects everybody. All I can say is with this song, I wanna thank you for everything that you did to make it into something that was bigger than just a critic who hated me. Because we won two Grammys for this song and it’s all because of you.”

As a testimony to its positive message, “Mean” was used for the “Free Falling To End Bullying” campaign in conjunction with the Anderson Center for Autism.

Music Video

The accompanying music video for “Mean” was directed by Declan Whitebloom. It was shot over a two-day period in Los Angeles, with the Orpheum Theatre serving as its backdrop. The concept of the video was developed by both Taylor and Whitebloom, who praised her commitment and involvement with the production of the music video. In an interview with MTV News, Whitebloom said that “Mean” is very personal to Taylor 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.”

Live Performances

“Mean” was first performed during the mini documentary Taylor Swift: Speak Now which aired as a Thanksgiving special on NBC in 2010. Taylor later sang the song at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 3, 2011 and at the 54th Grammy Awards on February 12, 2012, famously changing the first line of one of the final choruses to “Someday, I’ll be singin’ this at the Grammys”. She performed “Mean” as part of the set list during her “Speak Now World Tour” (2011-2012), and part of “The RED Tour” (2013-2014) set list as well. Taylor later performed it on selected dates on “The 1989 World Tour” (2015) and during her “reputation Stadium Tour” (2018) as the surprise song for the first Dublin show.

Critical Reception

The song garnered critical acclaim for its lyrical detail and country sound. 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).” 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.” 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.”

Rolling Stone ranked “Mean” at No. 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. Taste of Country ranked “Mean” as the 15th best country song of the 2010s.

Commercial Performance

“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. Upon its release as a promotional single, “Mean” debuted at No. 2 on the Hot Digital Songs with approximately 163,000 downloads. This led to the song debuting and peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Taylor the first act to claim the chart’s top debut (Hot Shot Debut) in three successive weeks. 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. The week of November 6, 2010, the song also debuted on Hot Country Songs at No. 55.

Upon its release as an official single, “Mean” re-entered Billboard Hot 100 at No. 90 and No. 17 on the Hot Country Songs. The week of May 14, 2011, Taylor made a record when “Mean” jumped from No. 12 to No. 9 on Hot Country Songs, becoming her 13th consecutive Top Ten hit on that chart. It made her one of two women (the other being Carrie Underwood) to begin her chart histories with 13 consecutive Top Tens since the survey’s 1944 launch.

Two Grammys

In 2012, “Mean” won two Grammy Awards, one for “Best Country Solo Performance” and the other for “Best Country Song”. In her acceptance speech, Taylor said:

«This one really means a lot to me because this is for a song called 'Mean' that I wrote. There's really no feeling quite like writing a song about someone who's really mean to you, and completely hates you, and makes your life miserable...and then winning a Grammy for it.»

Taylor Swift

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me
You have knocked me off my feet again
Got me feeling like a nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded
You, picking on the weaker man

[Pre-chorus 1]
Well you can take me down with just one single blow
But you don’t know, what you don’t know

[Chorus]
Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

[Verse 2]
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
I walk with my head down
Trying to block you out ’cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again

[Pre-chorus 2]
I bet you got pushed around
Somebody made you cold
But the cycle ends right now
‘Cause you can’t lead me down that road
And you don’t know, what you don’t know

[Chorus]
Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

[Bridge]
And I can see you years from now in a bar
Talking over a football game
With that same big loud opinion
But nobody’s listening
Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things
Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing
But all you are is mean

All you are is mean
And a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life
And mean, and mean, and mean, and mean

[Chorus]
But someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean, yeah
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so?

[Final Chorus]
Someday I’ll be living in a big old city (Why you gotta be so?…)
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean (Why you gotta be so?…)
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me (Why you gotta be so?…)
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

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General Information
AlbumSpeak Now
ReleasedOctober 19, 2010
Recorded2010
GenreCountry
Bluegrass
Length3:59
LabelBig Machine Records
SongwriterTaylor Swift
ProducersNathan Chapman
Taylor Swift
SPEAK NOW CHRONOLOGY
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