As a lifelong Swiftie, I have a confession to make: I didn’t really like Midnights that much.

When I say lifelong, I mean it seriously. I used to sing along to “Love Story”, looking out the window of my dad’s pickup truck, pretending that I was Juliet waiting for Romeo to save her. I had just turned 14 years old when 1989, the singer’s fifth studio album, was released, and I made my mom take me to buy it at Target the day it came out. I bought the ‘polaroid edition’ with, as it says on the tin, 13 polaroids of Taylor Swift, and hung the pictures all over my bedroom walls, accompanying my Selena Gomez poster and my shrine to Niall Horan (that’s a story for another time). I wear the locket from the All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) short film as a lucky charm to my tutes.

I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan. I’m not quite big enough of a fan to stay up until 5am for the album release when I am in the UK. It’s a lot easier to do so back home, where the albums actually drop at midnight. Either way, Taylor Swift is seriously important to me. So not really loving her ninth album was, to put it plainly, a huge disappointment. 

I’m not here to review Midnights. but I am here to passionately defend Swift and her lyricism, something I’m no stranger to. Of course, I don’t defend her uncritically: the private jet scandal is absolutely terrible, and I’m not quite sure how to reckon with her corporate, celebrity brand of feminism which has been taken as non-intersectional. However, recently she’s been getting some flack for something I think is completely unjustified. I’m talking about the now infamous lyric from Midnights’ lead single, Anti-hero.

In the second verse, Taylor sings:

“Sometimes, I feel like everybody is a sexy baby

And I’m a monster on the hill

Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favourite city

Pierced through the heart, but never killed”

Everyone’s immediate, knee-jerk reaction when hearing the words “sexy” and “baby” together is disgust, of course. Why would Swift use this kind of seriously questionable wording? As others have asked, why is this line, with its paedophilic implications, put into a song about self-loathing? 

Really, the line is a reference to a plotline in the NBC sitcom ‘30 Rock’ where Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey, admonishes her new coworker, Abby, for acting like a “sexy baby” by acting dumb, wearing pigtails and childish clothes, and speaking in a high-pitched voice. Lemon tells Abby, played by Cristin Miloti, to “drop the sexy baby act” to be taken more seriously. Abby takes offence to this, telling Liz, 

“The whole sexy baby thing isn’t an act! I’m a very sexy baby … What’s the difference between me using my sexuality and you using those glasses to look smart?”

But Liz’s problem with Abby isn’t simply that she uses her sexuality to get ahead: it’s the way Abby uses it. With her blonde pigtails, pink outfits, and cutesy voice, Abby infantilises herself to get people (mostly men) to pay attention to her. We see this trend even now, 11 years after the episode aired. 

We see the “Sexy Baby Phenomenon” everywhere: in ‘sexy schoolgirl’ halloween costumes, on “teen” categories of porn sites, on the #Lolita TikTok hashtag with two billion views. But it’s not just the obvious pedophilic creepy stuff: it’s anti-ageing skin creams. It’s injections of botox to prevent wrinkles. It’s shaving your entire body to look like you don’t grow any hair except on your head. Our culture prizes youthfulness over healthiness and our natural human states, and our obsession with looking young is founded in male sexual desire. Women are supposed to be tiny – both in weight and stature – and innocently adorable  to be attractive.

As a tall (5’10) and fat person, I just can’t fit into that. I’m never going to be tiny and cute, and I simply don’t know how to act innocent and shy to get attention. I speak too loudly at restaurants, I take up too much space. I’m loud and fat and Amazonian. I am the antithesis of the sexy baby.

Though Taylor Swift is skinny (Anti-Hero music video controversy aside), she’s also tall, like me. That’s where the ‘monster on the hill’ line comes from: when you’re the biggest person in the room, and everyone else seems tiny. Their tininess makes them more desirable, but you stick out like a sore thumb. You’re just big. 

And there’s nothing wrong with being big. But because our culture rewards the “sexy baby” and punishes the “monster on the hill”, it can be hard to feel like you deserve the same amount of respect and attention as your “sexy baby” friends. 

I don’t feel like Anti-Hero is empowering. I think it is, at its core, a song about self-loathing. But part of its importance, at least to me, is that it vocalises the feeling that I’ve lived with for so long: of being “too big to hang out,” of feeling like I have to make myself smaller to fit in and be more desirable. The pressure to become that ‘sexy baby’ stereotype to feel attractive. And if someone as conventionally beautiful as Taylor Swift feels that way too, it means that that feeling is bullshit.