Taylor Swift has been freshly vocal these past two years about where she stands on the political spectrum. The pop queen, who has traditionally been known to stick to revelations about her personal relationships, is now comfortable tweeting and posting her political perspectives on Instagram.
And Swift’s progressive social leanings are now making their way into her music, too. “You Need to Calm Down,” the debut single from her upcoming seventh album, Lovely, is a synth-pop extravaganza that boldly champions LGBTQ rights and satirically skewers anyone who doesn’t agree with her.
Taylor starts with a general critique of her internet critics: “You are somebody that I don’t know/But you’re takin’ shots at me like it’s Patrón/And I’m just like, d–n, it’s 7 a.m.” These are people who, she says, would never be brave enough to repeat their comments face to face: “Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out/But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out/And I’m just like, ‘Hey, are you OK?’”
But Swift insists she’s got pretty thick skin (“And snakes and stones never broke my bones”). And she claims that she’s fine with people utilizing their First Amendment rights (“And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression”), with the caveat that Swift thinks they should worry about themselves instead of others (“But I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout/Somebody else is no fun”).
But exactly who are the people Taylor’s talking about here? Who does she think is “stressin’ and obsessin'” in a way that she doesn’t like? Well, it seems to be anyone who’s critical of her gay friends or their lifestyles (“You are somebody that we don’t know/But you’re comin’ at my friends like a missile/Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD?”). She’s talking about the kinds of cultural conservatives who might protest a gay pride parade, people she sarcastically and stereotypically disses in the song’s lyrics (“Sunshine on the street at the parade/But you would rather be in the Dark Ages/Makin’ that sign must’ve taken all night”)—and even more so in the video (which I’ll get to in a moment).
She then seems to take shots at certain government officials, telling them, “You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace/And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate.” For anyone who’s quick to “throw shade”—i.e., to be critical of her gay friends—Taylor patronizes, “calm down” and stop being “so loud” because “shade never made anybody less gay.”
The song’s video largely features cameo appearances from celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, RuPaul, Adam Lambert, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hayley Kiyoko, all of whom identify as LGBTQ.
It opens with Taylor dressed in pink lingerie, covered slightly by a silk robe, making herself a cotton-candy mixed drink. As she leaves her pink trailer to lounge in her pink, high-waisted bathing suit, we see the camera pan out to all of her gay friends who also live in bright, rainbow-colored trailers.
We see two men getting married and kissing one another. Others feature men, women and drag queens dancing chatting, feeding one another and getting tattoos.
At the end, to continue the brightly-colored festivities, everyone in the video gets into a cake fight. Katy Perry, dressed as a cheeseburger, and Taylor Swift, dressed as fries, find one another, a symbolic end to their high-profile, years-long feud. Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds is also painting the whole thing in the background.
Taylor Swift clearly believes that she occupies the high moral ground here. And what she does from that space is mock, belittle and stereotype anyone who disagrees with her.
Just as the camera spends time on Taylor and her friends, it also focuses on a group of dirty, disheveled men and women who are obviously depicted as ignorant, backward and uneducated. They protest homosexuality with crudely painted signs that say things such as “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” and “Homosekuality is a Sin.” (The latter’s misspelling is apparently intended to helps us see how backward these people are, in case we somehow missed it.)
Swift’s point isn’t subtle. Nor is her scathingly smug, self-righteous condemnation of anyone who’s not in lockstep with her worldview.
Ironically, Taylor’s right in one sense: Being rude, condescending, prejudiced and mean-spirited almost never changes someone’s mind about a deeply held conviction. But it turns out Taylor hasn’t quite learned that lesson yet herself. Instead, she seems to believe she can shame and browbeat those who disagree with her into amending their “backward” ways.
Swift’s video concludes with a PSA that encourages viewers sign her change.org petition asking the Senate to support the Equality Act. To learn more about this proposed legislation, and its potential effects upon those who hold to a biblical view of sexuality, check out Focus on the Family president Jim Daly’s blog on this issue, as well as our article “‘Equality Act’—An Assault on Freedom, Privacy and Safety.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).