Taylor Swift flips through her pink childhood notebook in the first shot of Miss Americana, the 2020 Netflix documentary about her life, and recalls her earliest principles: “The main thing that I always tried to be was a good girl”.

Since then, she has used this belief system to build a successful career in generating wholesome hits; even when she impersonated a campy villain on Reputation, the main goal was to highlight how uncomfortably the costume fit. Swift began to acknowledge her own frailty after spending so many years defending the moral high ground against ex-boyfriends, rappers, and label bosses.  “I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror,” she sings on “Anti-Hero,” from Midnights, her 10th studio album. “It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.


Three separate Swift periods can be heard colliding in the song: glossy synth-pop from 1989, neurotic image analysis from reputation, and rich lyrics from Folklore and Evermore. Swift and her go-to producer Jack Antonoff keep the production straightforward—a steady drum loop, simmering synths—and concentrate on a collection of short stories in which Swift is plagued by regrets. It almost seems as though after writing in circles around her colleagues for a very long time, Swift got bored and set herself silly small challenges: Four times as many rhymes in the pre-chorus? (Perhaps) make another call to 30 Rock? Imagine the horrific fallout from your own murder. All of these instances draw attention to themselves, giving the song’s peculiarities a bigger impression than the welcome lightness it adds to Swift’s penchant for self-mythologizing. She is correct that supporting her can be draining at times, albeit perhaps not always for the reasons she believes.