Mean (song)

Mean (song)
"Mean"
A blonde woman is shouting forward with both of her hands tied with a coil of rope. She is sitting atop a railway line. Above the woman 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 the woman.
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Speak Now
Released March 7, 2011
Format CD single, digital download
Genre Country pop
Length 3:58
Label Big Machine
Writer(s) Taylor Swift
Producer Nathan Chapman, Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Back to December"
(2010)
"Mean"
(2011)
"The Story of Us"
(2011)

"Mean" is a song by American country pop singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, taken from her third studio album, Speak Now (2010). The song, written by Swift alone, and produced by Nathan Chapman and Swift. It was first released as a promotional single for the album on October 17, 2010, by Big Machine Records. The song was later released as an official single on March 7, 2011. The song contains heavy elements of fiddles and banjos, with critics saying that it was the most country song on Speak Now. According to Swift, she wrote the song to get back at her critics who constantly question her songs as well as her ability to sing.

Upon its release as a promotional single, the song garnered mixed to positive reviews from critics for its lyrical detail and profound country sound. "Mean" received commercial success in the United States and Canada, debuting at number eleven on the Billboard Hot 100 and number ten on the Canadian Hot 100. The song also appeared on the Australian Singles Chart at number forty-five. It was later re-released as the third official single from Speak Now, and re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number ninety. Additionally, "Mean" became Swift's thirteenth consecutive single to reach top ten on Hot Country Songs when it jumped from number 12 to number nine on the week ending May 14, 2011. This achievement makes Swift as one of the two women (the other being Carrie Underwood) to begin their chart histories with as many consecutive top 10s dating to the survey's 1944 launch.

The song's accompanying music video was directed by Declan Whitebloom, who developed the concept together with Swift. Upon release, 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.

Contents

Background

In an exclusive interview with E! News as part of an ongoing series leading up to the release of her third studio album, Speak Now, Swift expressed that "Mean" is a response to people who constantly 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 another interview with Dose.ca, Swift revealed 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]

Swift also wished that the song would appeal to people of all ages in different situations. She continued, "this happens no matter what you do, no matter how old you are, no matter what your job is, no matter what your place is in life, there's always gonna be someone who's just mean to you. And dealing with that is all that you can control, how you handle it. This song is about how I handle it."[4]

In NBC's 2010 Thanksgiving Special, Swift indicated that this song was about feeling small because of somebody else. She said, "there are certain things that make me feel better. One of them is writing songs, and the other is having people around that I really love. Some of them are my band."[5]

It was released to country radio as the third single on March 7, 2011.[6] 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.[7] The other package (which is still available) has 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 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]

Composition

"Mean" has a length of three minutes and fifty-eight seconds.[10] It is set in time signature of common time and has a moderate tempo of 82 beats per minute. According to Theon Weber of The Village Voice, the song is "made of handclaps, amiable banjo strums, and multi-tracked Taylor Swifts."[11] Bill Lamb from About.com expressed that ""Mean" is one of the most overtly country sounding of all of Taylor Swift's recordings with clear banjo leading the way,"[12] and Matt Bjorke of Roughstock commented that the song is "the most 'country' with an extremely down-home, almost bluegrass sound."[13] The song is written in the key of E major, and Swift's vocals span two octaves, from G♯3 to C♯5.[14] 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."[15] The chorus has sequence of C#m/G#—B/F#—A/E as its chord progression.[14]

Lyrically, the song talks about Swift addressing her haters and critics in particular who continuously question her 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."[16] 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."[17] 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."[13] Bill Lamb of About.com also wrote that "the song can also easily serve as a general purpose response to bullies in the world.[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.[18]

Critical reception

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."[19] 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."[20] Karlie Justus of The 9513 called it "damn catchy" and said "the song’s take on the universal challenge of rising above being unfairly attacked works well", but thought that Swift "slams on the breaks [sic]" by calling attention to those who criticize her singing ability. She thought that the lines targeting detractors made the song "impossible to experience as anything more than a reality television show or tabloid centerfold."[21]

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.[22][23] Upon its release as a promotional single, "Mean" debuted at number two on the Billboard's 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 eleven on the Billboard Hot 100, making Swift the first act to claim the chart's top debut (Hot Shot Debut) in three successive weeks.[24] The following week, the song fell off the chart.[25] On the weeking ending November 6, 2010, the song also debuted on Hot Country Songs at number fifty-five.[2] Upon its release as an official single, "Mean" re-entered Billboard Hot 100 at number ninety.[26] It also re-entered the Hot Country Songs at number seventeen after its release as a single.[27] On the week ending May 14, 2011, Swift made a record when "Mean" jumped from number twelve 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. It peaked at number two for two weeks in June, behind Blake Shelton's "Honey Bee.".[28][29][30] On the week ending August 14, 2011, "Mean" becomes Swift's 13th song to sell more than 1 million copies which is more than any other country artist in digital history.[31]

Additionally, "Mean" has since become Swift's sixth song and third straight song from Speak Now to fail to reach the top of Billboard Hot Country Songs, but instead peaked at the top three. The others being "Teardrops on My Guitar" at number two, "Picture to Burn" at number three, "White Horse" and "Mine" at number two, and "Back to December" at number three.[32]

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 the Canadian Hot 100 and peaked at number ten.[33] It also made an appearance on the Australian Singles Chart at number forty-five on the week ending November 7, 2010.,[34] On May 17, 2011, "Mean" was certified Gold by the RIAA for shipments of 500,000.[35] On July 28, 2011 it became Swift's eighth number one song.[36]

Live performances

"Mean" was first performed at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards on April 3, 2011.[37] On May 30, 2011, Swift performed the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.[38] Swift also performs this song on her Speak Now World Tour.[39]

Music video

Background and release

Swift depicted as a woman who was tied up on the train tracks by a villain to show the persecution victims feel when bullied.

The accompanying music video for "Mean" was directed by Declan Whitebloom.[40] It was shot over two days in Los Angeles, with the Orpheum Theatre serving as its backdrop.[40][41] The concept of the video was developed by both Swift and Whitebloom,[42] who praised Swift's commitment and involvement with the production of the music video.[43] 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."[44] 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?.[43] He also stated that the video was inspired by Swift's performance at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.[44]

Child star Joey King is featured in the video.[45][46] 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."[47] The music video premiered on Country Music Television on May 6, 2011, at 22:00 EST (03:00 UTC).[40][42]

Synopsis

The video begins with Swift and her band playing a banjo, 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 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. The final scene shows the other girl sitting as an audience watching and applauding as Swift finishes performing.

Reception

The music video was met with mixed reviews from the critics. Story Gilmore of Neon Limelight perceived the clip to be "adorable",[48] while Amanda Lynne of Gather.com was not disappointed with the video and thought that Swift delivered once again.[49] The Huffington Post called the video as effective that puts Swift alongside the underdogs and dreamers.[50] Daily Mail praised the theme of the video which is about self-empowerment clip, 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."[51] 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")."[52] 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.[53]

In a different perspective, 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?"[54] 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."[55] Kyle Buchanan of New York described the video as the most cliched, didactic, self-impressed and studiously unrevealing.[56] 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."[57] Sophie Schillaci of Zap2it noticed that the flaw in the video was the assumption that "mean ole' bullies just rot in their hometown" - in real life, there are successful people who are just mean."[58]

Track listing

  • Digital download / Limited Edition CD single[59][8]
  1. "Mean" – 3:58

Charts and certifications

Weekly charts

Chart (2010–11) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[60] 45
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[61] 10
US Billboard Hot 100[62] 11
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[2] 2

Certifications

Country Certification
(sales thresholds)
Canada Gold[63]
United States Gold[35]

Release history

Country Date Format
Canada[64] October 19, 2010 Digital download
United States[65]
United States[6] March 7, 2011 Country radio
United States[8] May 6, 2011 CD single

References

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  60. ^ "Australian-charts.com - Taylor Swift - Mean".". Hung Medien. http://australian-charts.com/showitem.asp?interpret=Taylor+Swift&titel=Mean&cat=s. Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  61. ^ "Canadian Hot 100: Week of November 6, 2010 (Biggest Jump)". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. November 6, 2010. http://www.billboard.com/charts/canadian-hot-100?chartDate=2010-11-06&order=gainer. Retrieved November 1, 2010. 
  62. ^ Caulfield, Keith; Pietroluongo, Silvio (October 28, 2010). "Chart Moves: Susan Boyle, Willow Smith, Taylor Swift, Bo Burnham, Cee Lo". Billboard (Prometheus Global Media). http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/content_display/genre/e3ifa81d8937706f99fbd198110deb7f7d3. Retrieved October 28, 2010. 
  63. ^ Gold and Platinum
  64. ^ "Taylor Swift - Mean - Single". iTunes Store. Apple Inc. http://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/mean/id398548415?i=398548832&ign-mpt=uo%3D4. Retrieved 2010-12-19. 
  65. ^ "Taylor Swift - Mean - Single". iTunes Store. Apple Inc. http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mean/id398548415?i=398548832&ign-mpt=uo%3D4. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 

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