HomeLifestyleFashionTaylor Swift has asked an important question: do we all want to...

Taylor Swift has asked an important question: do we all want to be sexy babies?


Do you feel like everyone’s a sexy baby? And you’re just a monster on a hill? If you’ve never considered the answer to those questions, you’re clearly not in sync with Taylor Swift, who sings those words on her new, Spotify-shattering, album, Midnights.

Whenever the 32-year-old releases new music, her confessional lyrics are poked and prodded by fans to the point of parody. Sometimes a lamp is just a lamp. But sometimes a scarf is a relic from a toxic relationship with a famous actor that may or may not still be at his sister’s house. Over the years, Swift has started to capitalise on this, often dropping subtle hints and allusions to her songs ahead of their release in a bid to get the detective work going. As a result, her music has become a set of clues to be deciphered, her listeners aspiring Agatha Christies, primed for perusal.

“Anti-Hero”, the album’s first single, is a playful meditation on self-loathing and taking accountability for your behaviour. In just a few days, the aforementioned “sexy baby” lyric from the track has inevitably spawned several viral Twitter threads, with die-hard Swift fans (or “Swifties”, as they call themselves) trying to unpack its meaning.

Some have suggested that the lyric is a reference to a season five episode of the sitcom 30 Rock, in which Liz Lemon, a character played by Tina Fey, confronts her over-sexualised employee named Abby, who wears her hair in pigtails and speaks in a soft baby voice. “You can drop the sexy baby act,” says Liz. In response, Abby tells her: “The whole sexy baby thing isn’t an act. I am a very sexy baby.”

The more interesting theory, though, is that Swift is commenting on an aesthetic, one that perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of modern beauty standards. You may not be familiar with the “sexy baby” in those specific terms, but you’ll almost certainly recognise the look it describes. While it varies, the aesthetic’s core components are doe eyes, smooth skin, sharp cheekbones, and a natural pout that won’t quit.

Often the look itself is accompanied by an adorable, high-pitched voice that is as disarming as it is seductive. The consensus is that this is someone whose physical beauty transcends conventional ideals because its defining feature is that it captures a strange dichotomy of both youth and wisdom. The sexy baby can sing the songs of innocence and experience, granting her unrivalled sexual power in a society that is constantly asking women to be two opposing things at once.

It’s something Swift has spoken about herself in relation to having had an eating disorder. “If you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everybody wants,“ she says in her widely praised 2020 documentary for Netflix, Miss Americana. ”But if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, your stomach isn’t flat enough. It’s all just f***ing impossible.“

In 2018, Vice attached the “sexy baby” term to various public figures, including Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson. Since then, though, it has become a more fully realised concept, a heavily manipulated aesthetic that has emerged as a consequence of social media and the rise of plastic surgery among young women.

Consider “Instagram Face”, a term famously coined by writer Jia Tolentino in a 2019 New Yorker article. “It’s a young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones,” she writes. “It looks at you coyly but blankly, as if its owner has taken half a Klonopin and is considering asking you for a private jet ride to Coachella.” Reference points included Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. A high-end New York colourist told Tolentino that the look itself is “like a sexy… baby… tiger”.

The majority of celebrities are notoriously reluctant to speak openly about any cosmetic surgery they’ve had. It took Kylie Jenner years to admit that her noticeably plumper lips were the result of filler rather than lip liners, for example. The desired intention, it seems, is to suggest that this highly unnatural aesthetic is completely natural. Be beautiful without trying, and so on. Of course, we don’t know whether any of the aforementioned women have had any treatments beyond those they’ve admitted to, but few can deny the uncanny similarities between all their faces.

All this is to say that when Swift sings that she sometimes feels like everybody is a sexy baby, it’s unlikely to be a simple pop culture reference point, particularly when you consider the next line: “I’m a monster on the hill, too big to hang out”. Perhaps the singer is talking about her own insecurities, turning herself into a literal monster in order to capture the impossibility of contemporary beauty ideals.

Or maybe she’s offering her fans an insight into how it feels to be a woman in the public eye today, one who is constantly grappling between trying to fit in and simultaneously stand out. This idea is loosely suggested by the “Anti-Hero” music video, in which a giant Swift struggles to get into a dinner party with regular-sized people.

Whatever message Swift is trying to send, it’s one that invites listeners into the complexities of her mind, offering them the chance to see themselves in there too. Vulnerability is tantamount to the singer’s success, and it’s no wonder that “Anti-Hero” rapidly became a fan favourite on Midnights. In the song, Swift examines what it really means to be under constant scrutiny – not just from others, but from yourself – and how exasperating it can be to constantly police one’s actions and appearances. The takeaway from the track is that it’s okay to be contradictory and to make mistakes. That we don’t all have to be sexy babies. And maybe it’s a lot more interesting to be that monster on the hill.

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