This Pride month, Taylor Swift surprised the LGBTQ+ community with a pop song that tackles the issues they face. Without a doubt, “You Need to Calm Down” will be a staple in radios and playlists. However, this time, it will not just be for the catchy tune that Swift has been known for. “You Need to Calm Down” conveys a message that is beyond heartbreaks, but one that carries heavy social relevance. “You Need to Calm Down tackles issues of discrimination, celebrates and gives visibility to LGBTQ+ people, and promotes the Equality Act.
In the past, Taylor Swift has been criticized for not using her platform to promote important issues. So, aside from donating $113,000 to the Tennessee Equality Project, Swift also released “You Need to Calm Down” and started a petition urging the senate to pass the Equality Act. Despite all this, Taylor Swift is, once again, being criticized and accused of simply joining the “queer bandwagon.” While this is a possibility that only Taylor Swift can ultimately confirm, Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” is still invaluable for the LGBTQ+ community at present.
The LGBTQ+ community has made leaps of progress in the past two decades. Twenty-eight countries, with Taiwan being the latest to join in, have legalized same-sex marriage. However, there is still a long way to go as discrimination continues to persist everywhere, including countries where same-sex marriage has been legalized. The US alone is experiencing backlash. In response to the legalization of same-sex marriage, certain states have implemented or proposed laws that allow employers to fire LGBTQ+ employees or for establishments to refuse service to LGBTQ+. Obviously, the LGBTQ+ community needs more allies, especially allies with the same influence as Taylor Swift.
To think that Swift’s “sudden” support of the Equality Act is a corporate bandwagon is quite understandable. However, if we actually listen and see what she is saying in the song and through the music video, perhaps we will appreciate that Swift is being a good, well-informed ally.
The personal is political
“You Need to Calm Down” still fits Taylor Swift’s brand of songwriting in that it is anchored on her own personal experiences. The song starts with a statement about haters, which we all know Taylor Swift has a lot of. Yet this statement may also apply to LGBTQ+ celebrities and allies who are regularly bombarded by hateful statements. She references snakes—something she has been called in the past, during one of her beefs with other celebrities. But Swift focuses on the lessons she has learned: That stressing and obsessing/'Bout somebody else is no fun. Surely, Swifties will recognize and appreciate Taylor Swift’s distinct songwriting.
Immediately after the first verse, Swift takes the step further. She steps out of her personal experiences and sings about the experiences of others. Not only that, she also tries to put herself in the shoes of those being bashed. In the music video, we also see Taylor Swift is living and interacting with a community of LGTBQ+, while outside, a group of homophobes are protesting.
Time Magazine recently published an article explaining all the references made in the music video of “You Need to Calm Down.” There are a lot. Majority of these references are related to feminists and LGBTQ+ activists.
The beginning of the video features a famous quote from Cher's “Mom, I’m a rich man.” This references women’s never-ending struggle for equality. Swift’s feminism has previously been criticized as “white feminism” due to its lack of intersectionality. This time, Swift is evidently more aware of diversity and inclusivity. The video features numerous LGBTQ+ artists performing symbolic acts. Laverne Cox is shown in the video. She’s well-known for her activism for transgender rights. Cox is shown gardening, looking stunning. Her confidence is complemented by Chester Lockhart fainting upon seeing her. To show a transgender woman confident in her beauty is a strong statement in itself.
Hayley Kiyoko, who has been a positive representation for lesbians in the mainstream media, was also in the video. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is shown getting married with his real-life husband Justin Mikita. Their wedding is officiated by Ciara. After this scene, the video cuts to the homophobic protesters who are angry. The entire video is just scenes of the community happily living their life interspersed with scenes of protesters angrily shouting and raising their misspelled posters. It practically sums up the situation in the US at present.
Billy Porter is also shown walking between Taylor Swift and friends sunbathing and a line of protesters. Porter, dressed in a red caftan, walks down the line as Swift sings “Like, can you just not step on his gown.”
Drag queens, who are an important part of LGBTQ+ history, are also represented in the video. Drag Race alums are dressed up as different pop stars. They are participating in a pageant, and RuPaul Charles is holding the crown. However, instead of giving the crown to one queen, RuPaul Charles throws the crown—because “we all got crowns.”
“You Need to Calm Down” brings together the struggles of women and LGBTQ+ in a way that is relatable for everyone. Swift does not try to seem like she knows everything about the struggles of the LGBTQ+, but she does present a strong message of openness and mutual respect. Hopefully, this song can reach out to a wider audience.