Penn Badgley Snuck A Subtle Taylor Swift Easter Egg Into Netflix's You

To say that the serial stalker at the center of Netflix's "You" has a bad relationship with women would be an egregious understatement. Between his mommy issues, body count, and the huge, people-sized cage in his basement, Joe (Penn Badgley) is the definition of a walking red flag. Kidnapping, stalking, and murder are high on the list of Joe's crimes against humanity, but just below them is his penchant for being ridiculously pretentious.

Thanks to his inner monologue, we've heard Joe complain about every person, place, or thing he's ever encountered. The man spends half his thoughts on references to classic literature and the rest judging everyone who doesn't share his exact interests. And that's when he's not obsessively stalking his way into people's lives. So even though it hasn't really come up, I can confidently say that Joe Goldberg probably has terrible taste in music — which means he would never appreciate the brilliance of Taylor Swift. Penn Badgley himself has confirmed (via Variety) that he thinks Joe would "despise" the popstar because "she's successful and blond."

But wait — why is up-and-coming writer-director Taylor Swift even relevant to Joe's journey? Because Badgley himself is such a massive fan that he decided to slip a Swift-related easter egg into the latest season of his series.

Easter eggs (Taylor's Version)

The fourth season of "You" marked an exciting turning point for the series: it offered a refreshing change of pace by moving the protagonist abroad, flipped the genre into whodunit territory, and blew our minds with a clever twist in its second half. It also marked the first season to offer its star a seat in the director's chair. Penn Badgley did double duty during the production of the ninth episode, "She's Not There," by serving as director. And it was during this episode that he managed to slip in a Taylor Swift reference.

The episode involves a mostly dark but occasionally funny plotline in which Joe forgets the code to his infamous glass cage — y'know, the one where he stashes women he's kidnapped. One scene sees him desperately trying to unlock the cage to no avail, mumbling to himself as he fails. "One, two, one, three, eight, nine," he mutters in the scene, growing increasingly panicked when it doesn't work.

Though you may have been too caught up in his frenzy to realize it at the time, those numbers are the easter egg. "The code to the cage is Taylor Swift's birthday," Badgley revealed during an interview with Yahoo.

It's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me

The Swift references don't stop there. In fact, the next one is much more explicit; even those who aren't major fans of the popstar can't miss the song that plays over the finale epilogue: Swift's latest hit single, "Anti-Hero." After Joe resolves things in London and heads to New York with his newest beau, Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), we learn that he has merged his split identities. In other words, the so-called reformed killer is embracing his dark side. Gone are his days of feeling guilty for committing crimes — Joe has truly entered his villain era! Or, to be more exact, his anti-hero era.

The title is just the beginning. It's overall an extremely appropriate song for Joe, with lyrics such as "Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism." But most important is the chorus line that might as well be Joe's personal mantra: "It's me. Hi. I'm the problem, it's me."

"Anti-Hero" — a song about insecurities, self-loathing, and taking responsibility — is pretty damn universal. But listening to it while Joe stares into a window at the manifestation of his split personality feels eerily perfect. It is exhausting rooting for the anti-hero. Joe and this song were meant to be. Hardcore fans will also recognize an additional layer to this song choice: Badgley kicked off his endlessly entertaining TikTok career with this very song. The video went viral immediately and even got Swift's stamp of approval (via an excited comment) back in October 2022, when its parent album "Midnights" was first released.

So was the decision to use the song fueled by Badgley's TikTok, or merely the fact that "Anti-Hero" is a perfect tune for Joe Goldberg? The answer is a little bit of both.

The (anti-)hero's journey

"It occurred to me while I was watching the music video that we should try 'Anti-Hero' for the big montage," showrunner Sera Gamble told Yahoo. "Of course, I also immediately remembered Penn's first TikTok — hard to resist the little meta wink, and frankly the fact that Taylor had commented on the TikTok made me hopeful that we had a shot at licensing the song even though it was brand new."

This isn't even the first time that "You" has utilized Swift's musical stylings. When Joe murdered his wife and burned down their happily-ever-after, Swift's "exile" marked the occasion. That means two seasons in a row have climaxed with a Taylor Swift needle-drop, so I expect the trend to continue in the fifth and final season! Assuming Swift releases another album by then, it might not be hard for "You" to get her permission. Having a history with her music is what helped them land "Anti-Hero." Gamble revealed to Tudum that once they started the process to get the song, she penned a personal letter to the singer.

"I sent a little note saying how much the fans of our show talk about 'exile' and how meaningful that is," Gamble explained. "I acknowledged that ['exile'] was a really important addition to the show and that we wanted to pay homage to that [with 'Anti-Hero']. And look, we have people in our writers' room who just show up to work in Taylor Swift T-shirts — true Swifties abound in the 'You'-verse — so we just made a fan appeal, basically."

Just like that, Taylor Swift has cemented herself in the hearts of "You" fans everywhere. The only person she hasn't won over is Joe himself! It's too bad that Joe would never be a Swftie — crying along to her music might be the first step in the very long trauma recovery process that he desperately needs.