Taylor Swift’s music video for her new hit single “You Need To Calm Down” came out during Pride Month, and there has been a whole range of responses to it, from the ecstatic to the…less than impressed.
Easily the most important responses have been those from the LGBTQ+ community, which have been eyeing Taylor for a long time.
Coming Out (With A New Album)
Taylor fans (also called Swifties) have speculated about Taylor’s own feelings (and her sexuality) for a long time, be it from her close friendship with known model and noted “gal pal” Gigi Hadid or from what some Twitter users have described as a year-long promoted coming out story through the colorful and sparkling Instagram mood board she’s created for her future album, Lover. The album is a soft pastel pop return to Taylor’s more fairytale princess-y vibe than the Taylor she sold us for her Reputation tour in 2017…not to mention having a surprise concert literally at Stonewall on Saturday.
If we didn’t understand this shift by her Instagram aesthetic alone, leaving us with a new portrait of her in front of a massive butterfly mural that, as it turns out, was created for her might. The first music video for her first single this year, “ME! (feat Brendan Urie of Panic at the Disco),” starts with a snake (the symbol for Taylor’s “Bad Reputation”) slithering until it explodes into butterflies, symbolizing new life, new music, new year/new “ME!”
When “You Need To Calm Down” dropped Thursday, it held a similar image: a photograph of Taylor’s back covered in an impressive array of butterfly tattoos, all emerging from a snake at her core-towards the base of her spine, leaving the husk of that old self behind.
But you can’t have a magical ‘coming out’ story in June without there being certain implications…keyboard-smashing aside.
Rainbows For All (Or All for None)
There’s a general air of frustration from the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to June because this means that suddenly we as a community and as a demographic are all recognized, sold to, promoted and included in a narrative that otherwise excludes us as part of their narrative (AKA: Rainbow Capitalism). People are turning their social media icons rainbow and selling colorful Pride gear, or even just scoring Diversity “Woke” Points for clicks and views (which at least makes for good memes, tho).
And this is without the ongoing problem of girls behaving homoerotically in what many feel in an inauthentic way: kissing other girls to titillate and be exciting and naughty, like the whole “I Kissed A Girl” phenomenon of 2008 that resurfaced ten years later when Rita Ora, Charlie XCX, Bebe Rexha, and Cardi B made the song “Girls” last June. This forced Rita Ora, Bebe Rexha and Cardi B at least to come out as bisexual in order to explain themselves to already out singers Kehlani and Hayley Kiyoko and a greater audience.
The question of exploring one’s sexuality versus needing to immediately label it or be called out (sometimes, literally) is a complicated one, and one that might not have an answer anytime soon.
So, naturally, as with many parts about Taylor Swift, there has been a line in the middle, some giddily waiting for her to come out, and others assuming that Taylor Swift is queerbaiting, her pastel rainbow palette a palatable sort of “Queer Lite.”
On Tumblr, user owehimnothin addressed this fear to Taylor before the drop of her music video, saying: “hey uhhh @taylorswift not to question you but you do know there’s a leaked concept that you and katy dress as fries and a burger and kiss. you do know that’s dumb, right? Please tell me you know it’s dumb”
And unlike many other questions sent out into the void of the internet to celebrities, this one, at least, was answered:
“That is ABSOLUTELY false,” Swift said. “To be an ally is to understand the difference between advocating and baiting. Anyone trying to twist this positivity into something it isn’t needs to calm down. It costs zero dollars to not step on our gowns,” the last line alluding to a lyric in the new song.
Even still, there was some eye-rolling over lyrics like “A little shade never made anyone less gay,” that, to them, seemed disingenuous.
But that was before the music video dropped.
You (Really) Need To Calm Down
“You Need To Calm Down” has a rainbow-covered cast, from the Fab 5 of Netflix’s Queer Eye to Youtube’s Hannah Hart, to ice skater Adam Rippon, actors Laverne Cox and Jesse Tyler Fergusson, to RuPaul along with many fabulous drag queens (including one made up as Taylor), and lesbian icon Ellen Degeneres.
It even held both Hayley Kiyoko and (as suspected) I-Kissed-A-Girl herself, former rival and now open bisexual Katy Perry.
The music video is, if anything, a celebration of the queer community, shown living together in an aesthetically attractive trailer park, singing lyrics like, “Why be mad/When you could be GLAAD?” off away from the harsher lines of picketers and bigots who “would rather be in the dark ages/Making that sign.”
Taylor firmly aligns herself with the queer community in this video, strutting arm-in-arm with gay musician (and executive producer) Todrick, having tea with the cast of Queer Eye, and sunbathing while icon Billy Porter has his moment, covering them from the shade.
Though for some, lyrics like “And we see you over there on the Internet/Comparing all the girls who are killing it,/But we figured you out” is taken more as comparing criticism of her fame to much harsher bigotry that the queer community has to face, saying (however satirically) that she is trying to make Pride month more about her work more than centering the others; which isn’t an argument entirely without merit as the multi-colored music video tries to tell many stories at once.
When the dreaded burger-and-fries scene does come towards the end of the song it’s in the midst of a literal food fight between the rest of the community, leaving the “food” (Taylor and Katy) to get a good look at themselves and at each other. Instead of choosing to fight (as many pop stars and women generally feel pitted against one another), they dance together, and “You Need To Calm Down” closes with a heart screen centered around their embrace.
Allyship Means More Than Fairweather Friends
While some might call this music video an example in performative allyship, the very end of the video for “You Need To Calm Down” is what, for me, shows that this is more than that, as the screen reads:
“Let’s show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally.
Whether or not Taylor Swift is straight, bi or a queer woman of any kind is not, frankly, our business. Regardless of her sexual identity, her allyship is what really comes into play here in an openly political way. And, in spite of what some might feel, it is not the first time she has addressed LGBTQ+ rights politically, as she has used her platform before to ask her home state of Tennessee to vote against a homophobic candidate for Senate in October, saying on Instagram:
“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.”
Does this mean that as an LGBTQ+ ally you have to love her music and buy all her merchandise now and come out as an official Swiftie? No, of course not.
But let’s all try and avoid stepping on the gowns of the 27-ish queer people in her music video in the process of our criticism.
Taylor has been open about her journey of allyship, and while it’s not been a perfect one, I feel that she’s on the right track.