Taylor Swift is a self-professed “mastermind” — TIME named her their 2023 Person of the Year, after all — but the idea for her Midnights track came from a surprising movie. In the outlet’s cover story published on Dec. 6, her first interview in four years, the singer revealed that “Mastermind” was inspired by the Oscar-winning film Phantom Thread.
As writer Sam Lansky noted, Swift delicately acknowledges the motive behind her scheming and planning ways in the song’s haunting bridge.
Breaking Down “Mastermind”
“No one wanted to play with me as a little kid,” she sings. “So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since/ To make them love me and make it seem effortless / This is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess / And I swear I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian because I care.”
Swift revealed that those lyrics were inspired by the ending of the 2017 film in particular, stating that her reaction to being viewed as calculated has changed over time. “Remember that last scene?” she said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to have a lyric about being calculated? It’s something that’s been thrown at me like a dagger, but now I take it as a compliment.”
Phantom Thread’s Ending
Phantom Thread stars Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis as fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, who finds a new muse in young waitress Alma (Vicky Kreips). Their relationship quickly turns romantic, and later, obsessive.
After Reynolds lashes out at Alma for disrupting his meticulous routine with a romantic dinner, she poisons his tea, forcing Alma to nurse him back to health and Reynolds to discover a deeper love for his caretaker.
In the shocking finale, Alma tells Reynolds that she’s poisoning his food because she wants him weak and vulnerable enough to depend on her — and he willingly accepts this fate.
Phantom Thread garnered six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Day-Lewis, and ultimately won Best Costume Design.