One thing no one tells you about getting older is that there will still be people who have the audacity to be younger than you. Scary but true! I was reminded of this horrific fact when Taylor Swift released Midnights last week. In the album’s lead single, “Anti-Hero,” Swift sings the lyrics, “Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby / And I’m a monster on the hill.” Absolutely, Dr. Swift. However, the line, particularly the words sexy baby, has confused some of the youths.
If you’ve never heard the phrase, sexy baby is a jarring set of words. I’m sure I would have reacted similarly had she said “horny seal pup” or “Actually, Jeff Bezos is hot to me.” Aside from its implications about Swift’s 16-year career and massive persona, this opening line of the song’s second verse points to an immediately identifiable trope, one that has been imposed upon women in particular.
Swift is one year older than me (I’m bragging), thus we have similar pop-culture touchstones, taste in nostalgia, bone structure, etc. To me, the words sexy baby conjure images of Cristin Milioti’s character on 30 Rock and Emma Stone stupidly cooing about a hot dog on SNL. It’s a blunt nod to the way youth is fetishized, a succinct summation of the contradictory aspiration to be as young and hot as possible. It’s the long-standing cultural pressure on women to be both sexy and naïve, innocent and alluring. The “sexy baby” is the love child of the Madonna and the whore.
Women have long been told that the only thing better than being beautiful is not knowing you’re beautiful. Look mature and act innocent; be helpless and fuckable. We treat Leonardo DiCaprio’s dating history like an anomaly despite it following a trend among men who date women: While straight women self-report being most attracted to men their age, straight men of all ages say they’re most attracted to women in their 20s. Likewise, a 2018 study among (predominantly white) straight men and women found that men’s desirability peaked at age 50. Women’s peaked at 18. Of course, none of this is new. After all, a sexy baby never ages.
Still, it is cathartic to point out, to put the idea into grotesque terms. The words sexy baby make you feel yucky? Good. Exactly. Imagine what it must feel like to be conditioned to believe that the ideal woman is simply a pair of tits that still needs her hand held when she crosses the street. I think I’d rather be a monster.