Some thoughts on Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down”
Surely by now you’re aware that Taylor Swift, mega popstar and love-to-hate-her pop culture icon, has released a new single, the upbeat and catchy “You Need to Calm Down.” It’s an anthem that implores trash-talkers and haters to find something better to do, and it’s already making waves in a big way.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ve gathered some initial thoughts on the song/video below:
Let’s start with the title
There’s an inherent issue with the title of the song. The phrase, “You need to calm down,” is one that has been widely used to shut down and discredit people who are voicing their concerns and feelings — especially mistreated groups like women and racial minorities. There’s a long history of telling people to calm down when they try to upset the status quo, so it’s a puzzling choice of words. If she’s using her voice for good, is it the right choice to tell the haters to “calm down”?
Granted, context is always important, and it’s worth taking note of who she’s saying this to: bigots, trolls and other general garbage people. She’s flipped the table, so to speak, so maybe Swift isn’t fully aware of the power and history of that phrase — or maybe she is aware and is wielding it here in a reclaiming of the phrase, making it a powerful tool against hate. Life’s too short (besides, it’s only 7 a.m.) to give noisy trolls the time to spread their nonsense… so it’s better to shut it down right now and ask them to keep it down. Way down.
Taylor the Activist
For years, critics have given Swift flack for not using her platform as a megastar to speak about social issues — but the old Taylor is dead, and the new one has some things to say.
We’ve seen her bullying Apple Music and donating money to support Kesha’s lawsuit against Dr. Luke, but YNTCD has Taylor Swift loudly and publicly putting on her activist hat in a big way, speaking up in favor of equality and LGBTQIA rights… just in time for Pride month. And in true Taylor form, she enlists the help of a slew of famous faces to help out. Everyone from RuPaul and a smattering of “Drag Race” queens to the “Queer Eye” cast and Ellen Degeneres make appearances in the YNTCD video to spread Taylor’s message of calming the hell down and accepting gay people in your life.
It’s cute, it’s instantly meme-worthy, and, dripping in pastel colors and trailer park pastiche, it all feels very… safe. That is, until we see shots of the haters and trolls, made up to be as ugly as possible with missing teeth and misspelled picket signs. Is it petty? Maybe. It’s an unexpected mean streak for Swift, which, when paired with the demand to calm down, feels just a little cruel for someone who, up until now, has been comfortable straddling the fence and refusing to pick a side. It’s also a clear sign that the new, emboldened Swift is less willing to play it safe to sell records or remain palatable to the masses.
Queer people are already frustrated by straight people injecting themselves into our narratives, especially during Pride month, and YNTCD just adds more fuel to that fire. It’s nice to hear Taylor speaking up, and we can certainly appreciate that she brought some queer people to the table with her. The fact that she’s such a huge star means that just maybe her message will resonate with a homophobic bigot out there and convince them to change their mind… but we’re not banking on it. Pride has always been about rioting, parading, and demanding our rights in the faces of hatred and bigotry, and we can appreciate Swift’s message while also declaring, “Thanks, but we’ll take it from here.”
Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t already seen the video or seen the thousands of tweets about it, but… Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have mended their fractured friendship, and their long-running feud is over. Swift has been making direct references to the feud in both of her new videos, starting “Me” and “You Need to Calm Down” with imagery of a snake, her symbol for Katy Perry ever since their falling-out.
So was it surprising to see Perry pop up in a giant Hamburger suit toward the end of the “You Need to Calm Down” video? Not really. Katy’s in the middle of music promo herself, so why not boost her own star power by popping into Taylor’s video for a hot second? It’s also a show of great maturity on both women’s parts. The nastier and more public their feud became, the more it just felt ludicrous for two women in the spotlight to be so vocal about their issues with each other. So while the timing is suspect, lining up just right with the release of their new music, it still feels like the right thing to do.
In 2019, women are supporting other women, and sometimes that means putting aside your bullshit and proving that it’s best to be the bigger person. If YNTCD teaches us anything, it’s that stressin’ and obsessin’ ‘bout somebody else is no fun.