Taylor Swift & Pride Anthems

Until recently, Swift’s decision not to make political statements and attempts to appear politically neutral have caused some controversy among her fans in an increasingly politically divided America. In the past year, however, Swift has started to make moves towards revealing her own political views, supporting her local Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen in the 2018 elections, and releasing her change.org petition in June 2019 to campaign for the US Senate to pass the Equality Act, a bill aiming to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination.

Swift’s most recent single, ‘You Need To Calm Down’, references the Equality Act (the letters EA for ‘Equality Act’ are highlighted in the words ‘peace’ ‘seats’ and ‘scream’ in the official lyric video) and the upcoming vote (“take several seats”). These lyrical references to the LGBTQ+ community aren’t the only instances of support in ‘You Need to Calm Down’. The music video itself features several high-profile LGBTQ+ celebrities, including the Fab Five from Queer Eye, Ellen DeGeneres, Hayley Kiyoko and Hannah Hart. This has led to some backlash from people concerned that Swift is using the LGBTQ+ community as props to bolster her own image, with some suggesting that Swift is queerbaiting, a term used for straight people teasing at an LGBTQ+ identity in order to gain the following of the LGBTQ+ community.

However, others have come out in support of Swift, citing her consistency with putting her money where her mouth is: she recently donated $113,000 (13 is Swift’s lucky number) to fight anti-LGBT laws in the state of Tennessee, and has a long history of making charitable donations to a variety of causes, including survivors of sexual assault (RAINN) and the March for our Lives. As a former country star, with many fans who have followed her through her crossover from country to pop, Swift risks alienating herself from the traditionally more conservative fans from the country background when she speaks out about these progressive policies. Yet, she has not allowed this risk to deter her from expressing her support for the LGBTQ+ community. Swift’s critics are also, perhaps, taking the music video a little too seriously: the music video is meant to be a fun celebration of diversity, with the serious message saved for the end of the video with a message encouraging viewers to get involved and sign Swift’s change.org petition.

However, none of these points address whether or not ‘You Need to Calm Down’ is a pride anthem. The classic pride anthems of the 1970s and 80s were often rock hits (David Bowie and Queen come to mind), while the modern pride anthems skew more towards electronic pop (see Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe). Here we also see a shift away from the gay man as the centre of the LGBTQ+ music narrative, with far more female artists growing in prominence in the LGBTQ+ music scene. This makes the stereotypical pride anthem playlist far more inclusive and diverse, especially with the rise of transgender artists like SOPHIE releasing music with a new view of non-traditional gender identity that expands on the femininity associated with the music of artists like Bowie. But does ‘You Need to Calm Down’ deserve a place on the pride anthems playlists?

Personally, no, I don’t think it does. ‘You Need to Calm Down’ is certainly adjacent to the pride anthem canon, but doesn’t quite fit within it. It lacks the sense of intimacy and personal experience that is evident in pride anthems created by members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the LGBTQ+ verse is only a part of the whole song, while the rest of the song focuses on Swift’s experience with anonymous internet hate (verse 1) and female empowerment (verse 3).

Despite not fitting into the pride anthem canon, the song is an example of Swift taking a stand for something she is clearly passionate about: her 2014 song ‘Welcome To New York’ features the line “and you can want who you want, boys and boys and girls and girls” – a brief nod to her support for the LGBTQ+ community, with her recent actions also demonstrating her allyship. Alongside the change.org petition and donation, Swift showed her consideration for the LGBTQ+ community on the set of her music video by asking Todrick Hall, an openly gay man and long-time friend of Swift’s, to be her co-executive producer for the music video, demonstrating her willingness to listen to and build on experiences other than her own when creating the music video.

Overall, while ‘You Need to Calm Down’ is not a pride anthem, it is a great summer bop. The verses about anonymous hate and female empowerment combined with the middle verse about the LGBTQ+ community offer a variety of different ways for people to relate to the song, regardless of personal experience. Ultimately, all the verses come together to create a fun, upbeat, and empowering song.

Ellie Foulds

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