This Pride Month has been contentious as hell, and mostly for good reason. The amount of bloodsucking capitalists that think that their patronizing rainbow logos make up for horrible business and anti-LGBT practices is astounding. There’s continuing debate over intersectionality, experience, expression, activism and even as a member of the queer community myself, it can be exhausting and alienating to have these conversations daily, as important as they can be.
Every morning is a new Twitter battle, controversy, or aggressions both micro and macro and I’m just like, damn… it’s 7am.
Sporadically over the past year or so, businesswoman and occasional singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has taken to the Internet to voice her support for Democrats and progressive political policies to her hundreds of millions of fans via social media.
Decidedly, this was not a platform she used during the 2016 US Presidential Election, and it wasn’t until she was proclaimed an Alt-Right Arian Queen for doing so that she decided that some fans might actually be worth alienating. Between that, and getting caught in some Kardashian-West-related lies, it’s no wonder she leaned into the villian narrative with 2017’s Reputation, but even then the results ranged from annoyingly toothless (“Look What You Made Me Do” was a diss track?) to uncharacteristically tone deaf (the gross gun shots in “I Did Something Bad”). She perhaps, needed to calm down, and if we’re getting upset at Taylor Swift for making a gay pride anthem, maybe we do too.
There are so many worthwhile conversations to be had on these things, but they’re not gonna get done on Twitter. Trust me, I know. As a member of the queer community myself and also Extremely Online, engaging in discourse and fighting for civility seems like the righteous move. Though, the fires that start between friends, colleagues, and internet co-habitors over art and its significance (or lack thereof) and how it could change the world is what politics is, no?
This has always been the conceit of what I admire most about Taylor Swift; the way she paints a personally-branded portrait of her life experiences and shares somehow both deeply and broadly at once. At her and any other songwriter’s best, they’re able to reflect a universally lived experience with the intimate details of a single human soul. That may sound preachy as hell, but in an increasingly Personal BrandTM social media influencer hellscape world, isn’t that the honesty and ‘authenticity’ we’re longing for?
It’s what sells best, at least. Because in a post-”thank u, next” world, the act it takes to be both intimately open star or social media personality is not apolitical. And if you have a social media account at all you know the potential repercussions. Swift knows the ramifications of stirring shit in public, so when she writes a song telling people to “step off his gown” or proclaim that “shade never made anybody less gay”, that may sound vanilla to someone who reads Twitter all damn day, but she’s also joined in shoving the gay agenda down mainstream media’s throat, y’know, everyone else other than the 300mil people on Twitter.
Swift is obviously no stranger to Persecution Pop: the practice of performing hit singles as a response to media, the public, or ‘haters’ (you can thank Britney & “Piece of Me”). And while many, many, many of her songs are often pointed at one person in particular or someone she may have recently-squashed “Bad Blood” with, she shifts the “woe is me” narrative by the end of the first chorus in her new song & video “You Need to Calm Down”. Instead of making it exclusively about her and stuffy celebrity struggle, she takes the opportunity and her platform to lift up the LGBTQ+ community and points her powerful aim squarely at Conservatives and Christian fundamentalists for the first time, even those who helped bring Swift into prominence in the first place.
Yes, there’s the “Want who you want / boys and boys / and girls and girls” line in 1989’s opener “Welcome to New York” from 2014, but vagueness and fence-sitting doesn’t seem to be something she’s comfortable with anymore, and in extravagant, lavish, and deeply queer fashion takes the opportunity to send an overtly political message, and honestly? I’m here for it.
Unlike most artists, Taylor Swift’s business whims can shift the entire music industry, be it Spotify or record companies themselves, often using her ability to sell millions upon millions of actual, physical CDs in 2019 (something most other artists can’t achieve) as leverage for better deals for other artists. So when she hires a whole mess of queer people, pays them well, and uses her platform to enact positive change in the world, isn’t that what a White Cis Female Ally is meant to do?
She’s not a stranger to dorky, gross cash-grabs however, as one can tell from her decision to press 4 different versions of her gosh-darn rehearsal audio from the Billboard Music Awards on vinyl in hopes of getting “Me!” to dethrone “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X off the top of the charts, which failed. Not even she could compete with the indie Country-Trap sensation, but perhaps she’s also realizing that it’s perhaps not, entirely, a competition.
Which leads me to believe that “You Need to Calm Down” is something a bit different. The focus is less on Taylor herself and more on the persecution of people simply trying to live their lives, specifically queer and gender non-conforming ones. Seeing albiet mainstream gay icons scattered amongst a rainbow trailer park directly combating the “homosexuality is a sin” narrative is refreshing, even if it’s annoyingly just hitting the mainstream. “You Need to Calm Down” asks not only bigots and haters to calm down, but to those who have forgotten that the public’s consciousness is shifting towards equality, not against it.
Yes, pre-orders for the album launched with the single, but that message comes second to the end title card in the video that reads “Let’s show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally.” and inviting her 24 million viewers (and counting) to sign a petition telling the US Senate to support the Equality Act to protect sexual and gender minorities’ rights.
For contrast, the recent finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11 pulled only about 700,000 viewers. So, despite our intimate knowledge of the many queens who made cameo appearances in the video, it’s still very new to Taylor’s core audience and millions upon millions of Americans. Maybe the message needs a Swift-sized platform to reach further than it would otherwise, and maybe for this one we need to calm down.
Tyler Scruggs is a writer, musician, and pop culture cosmonaut based in Atlanta.
@Scruggernaut on Instagram, @TylerScruggs on Twitter.