Is Taylor Swift The One Who Needs to Calm Down?
Thinking of pop music over the last decade, it’s nearly impossible for Taylor Swift not to come to mind. When she came on the music scene in 2006, she was a gawky teenager with curly hair and a country twang to her voice (a later-criticized quality considering she was, in fact, from Pennsylvania). Her rise to fame was astronomical—the world fell in love with a beautiful blonde whose fairytale good looks matched the love stories she sang about. Her transition to pop began with her release of Red (2012), an album that shifted not only sonically but lyrically, announcing Swift’s leap from adolescence to womanhood. With her 2014 album 1989, she crossed the threshold into the pop realm for good and supplanted her role as the world’s newfound Pop Princess. Swift has had an astoundingly successful career, having sold over 50 million albums worldwide. However, with this success comes extreme scrutiny. She has faced public humiliation over her love life and disintegration of friendships. She has been dehumanized and pegged as “crazy” because of her choice to channel heartbreak into songs. With the release of Reputation (2017)—an album largely influenced by HBO’s Game of Thrones—Swift proved that she could play both the villain and the victim as she took revenge on the media and public scrutiny in a rallying cry against.
Swift’s latest musical release has proved the controversy isn’t far from over.
On Monday, Swift released a video for her new song “You Need to Calm Down,” the second single from her forthcoming album, Lover. The pop star is attempting to change the narrative yet again, this time going in the opposite direction of Reputation and embodying a lighter, freer musical persona. “You Need to Calm Down,” a sunny-sounding anthem against haters, is Swift’s unabashed attempt at a gay anthem. Although seemingly harmless, many members of the gay community find that Swift is hijacking queerness for personal gain, to accrue popularity and success during Pride month. Others have reinforced her pure intentions of using her platform for representation and a message of equality. The song’s music video is a revolving door of iconic queer celebrity cameos, from the cast of Queer Eye to Laverne Cox to Billy Porter. The truth is, Swift’s intentions can be dissected to the nth degree. The notoriously tight-lipped singer is only giving us as much information as she wants. As Jon Caramanica wrote for the New York Times, her celebrity-filled video “is a worthy celebration, but it is also plausible cover” for her years of silence. Swift has spent the past few years slowly revealing her political views after receiving widespread criticism for staying silent during the 2016 election. In an era where openness and representation is crucial, there is a fine line between being an ally and putting yourself at the forefront of a life you cannot personally understand. I’d like to believe Swift is trying to reach an audience and create change, although one can never be sure.