Taylor Swift released the second single from her just-announced forthcoming album Lover on Thursday, and the gist of it is classic Swift: “You Need to Calm Down” tells Swift’s haters that their mission to diminish her brilliance is doomed, that she’ll always prevail over petty insults, and that she and her friends are having much more fun than their detractors. This “haters don’t get to me” message is so central to Swift’s modern oeuvre, I’m starting to suspect she doth protest too much.
But “You Need to Calm Down” stands out from the other Swift tracks in this vein for its muddled references to LGBTQ culture and politics. In the second verse, Swift calls out the jerks who are “coming at [her] friends,” asking them, “why are you mad when you could be GLAAD?” (The lyric video for the single confirms that the line doesn’t say “glad”—it’s a nod to the major LGBTQ nonprofit.) She scolds counterprotesters at Pride celebrations—“Sunshine on the street at the parade/ But you would rather be in the dark ages/ Making that sign/ Must’ve taken all night”—and tells them their efforts are pointless because “shade never made anybody less gay.” Then, in the chorus, she asks homophobes, “Can you just not step on his gown?”
With all the wishful theories that Swift is secretly queer floating about, a cursory listen might suggest that she’s slowly making her way toward the closet door. But on their face, the lyrics above are pretty explicitly about her “friends,” not herself. This puts gay people who like Swift’s pop, like me, in bit of a pickle, because it seems like Swift has been queer-baiting fans. Her current aesthetic motif—in her YouTube icon, her Instagram posts, the lyrics to her first Lover single “ME!”, the “ME!” video, and the costumes she’s worn in live performances—is rainbow. She hinted that she’d be making an announcement in an interview with lesbian news anchor Robin Roberts, then released the first single from Lover on Lesbian Visibility Day. She’s dedicated a song some fans interpret as a love song to her best friend/secret lover Karlie Kloss to the pioneering lesbian dancer Loie Fuller. The uncharitable explanation for all this queer-signaling is that Swift is trying to profit off the intrigue around her sexuality by giving queer fans just enough material to keep them interested while never actually coming out—either because she doesn’t want to hurt her career or because, you know, she’s straight.
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[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Christina Cauterucci and originally published at Slate. Title changed by P&P.]
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