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?"
The song was reportedly written in response to a cruel review by music criticnote who claimed Swift "couldn't sing" and would have a short career. The video expands on this message, turning it into a general anti-bullying aesop. It shows scenes of other underdogs brushing off haters and eventually achieving their dreams, as Swift would go on to do.
"Someday, I'll be troping in a big old city":
- Ambiguously Gay: One of the characters is a young man (in a purple sweater and bow tie) who is tormented by jocks when they catch him with a fashion magazine; he ends up being a successful designer. He could be gay or just bullied for his "feminine" interests.
- An Aesop: When you devote your life to criticizing and putting people down, you become a Jaded Washout while your victims actually improve their lives.
- Bad Job, Worse Uniform: Chippy Cheddar's, where you're the star! (The waitress has to dress up as a giant cardboard star.)
- Brand X: The boy in the locker room reads Fashion magazine, while the Chippy Cheddar's girl graduated from "College".
- Caustic Critic: The critic makes the narrator feel like nothing, lies to humiliate her, and rants about how she can't sing. And sure enough, this person is a Future Loser.
- Chained to a Railway: Swift winds up tied up on a railroad tracks by the villain, but she frees herself without much difficulty.
- The Chain of Harm: The narrator speculates that her bully has become the way they are because they were bullied, too, and vows to break the chain and not become like them.I bet you got pushed around
Somebody made you cold
Well, the cycle ends right now
'Cause you can't lead me down that road
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The girl bullies in the video all wear pink, while their victim wears blue.
- Damsel out of Distress: Chained to a Railway Taylor gets out on her own.
- Dastardly Whiplash: The mustachioed villain who ties Taylor up.
- Drinking on Duty: The bad guys doing this is how Taylor gets away.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Literally, for the Chippy Cheddar's girl, who is working a job she hates to save up for college. She gets there in the end!
- Eating Lunch Alone: A girl who is dressed differently from her peers is ostracized and forced to eat lunch alone in the bathroom.
- Evil Gloating: The bad guy does this. A lot.
- Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: The narrator suspects that person tormenting them was once bullied in the same way, but refuses to give them any sympathy for it.
- Future Loser: Taylor anticipates this fate for her critic: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
- The Great Depression: An inspiration for the music video's setting.
- Individuality Is Illegal: A girl in the video has to eat lunch alone because she's wearing a different dress than everyone else.
- Jerk Jock: A group of them bully a Kurt Hummel-esque boy in the locker room.
- Kids Are Cruel: The girls in pink, who torment a girl they've decided to exclude.
- Kick Them While They Are Down: The subject of the song calls her out when she's wounded.
- Nemesis as Customer: A high-school girl has a demeaning job working in a fast-food restaurant where she has to dress like a five-pointed star. A lot of her mean classmates show up to mock her.
- On a Soundstage All Along: The Performance Video aspect turns out in the end to have been a live performance in what looks like a high school auditorium. The video ends with the bullied little girl applauding from the audience.
- Performance Video: The video alternates between the scenes with other characters and footage of Taylor's band performing the song.
- The Power of Language: Following the album's theme, the bully's words are knives to torment the narrator, and the song is her retaliation against this guy.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The whole song, but especially the bridge.All you are is mean
And a liar, and pathetic
And alone in life and mean
- Revenge Ballad: The song is the revenge.
- The Roaring '20s: Another inspiration for the setting Taylor's dress in the performance bits is flapper-esque.
- Take That, Critics!: "Mean" was reportedly written in response to a cruel review by music critic (speculated by many to be Bob Lefsetz), who claimed Swift "couldn't sing" and would have a short career. The song and the video bunch Caustic Critics up with bullies and mean jerks of all sorts and paints them out to be bitter, pathetic losers.
- Troubled Abuser: The narrator speculates this about her bully:I bet you got pushed around / Somebody made you cold
- "The Villain Sucks" Song: The song brands Caustic Critics, bullies and jerks as mean, pathetic liars and Future Losers.