- Taylor Swift released her star-studded music video for “You Need to Calm Down” on Monday.
- Many fans are praising Swift for singing about LGBTQ rights and recruiting queer celebrities to appear in the video.
- Others, however, feel Swift is unfairly centering herself in the fight against homophobia.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Taylor Swift released the colorful, star-studded music video for “You Need to Calm Down” on Monday — but fans are torn over whether it’s a triumph for the LGBTQ community or whether it missed the mark.
The visuals double down on the song’s pro-LGBTQ lyrics, which contain a nod to the famed organization GLAAD and the declaration, “Shade never made anybody less gay.”
Swift spends the video strutting around a trailer park that’s filled with rainbows and queer icons, acting generally unbothered.
Swift has been criticized for unfairly centering herself in the fight for equal rights
Although some fans had hoped Swift would use the video to come out, potentially as bisexual, the 29-year-old has never hinted that she identifies as anything other than straight. Moreover, she explicitly labeled herself as an “ally” on her Tumblr.
“To be an ally is to understand the difference between advocating and baiting,” she wrote, replying to a fan who asked whether she and Katy Perry would kiss in the video.
“Anyone trying to twist this positivity into something it isn’t needs to calm down,” Swift continued. “It costs zero dollars to not step on our gowns.”
Swift is right that there’s a huge difference between “advocating and baiting” — and that kissing Perry in the video would’ve almost certainly been the latter — but her role as an advocate has been met with a healthy amount of skepticism.
As Spencer Kornhaber noted in an essay for The Atlantic, Swift inserts herself into the gay rights movement, but doesn’t appear to truly understand what’s at stake.
The first verse of the song focuses entirely on Swift’s experiences as a rich, white, straight woman — or, more specifically, as a celebrity who deals with mean tweets. She is the only person who appears in the first minute of the three-minute video.
In the second verse, Swift addresses the struggles of her “friends,” who encounter protestors at pride parades and are told they’re going to hell for who they love. By pairing these two, she equates online trolls with dangerous homophobes.
The video’s climax shows Swift and Perry, dressed as a “happy meal,” putting a final end to their longstanding feud, once again pivoting the video back towards Swift’s own experience.
“The entire song, indeed, subsumes queerness into Swift’s narratives. Its breathtaking argument: that famous people are persecuted in a way meaningfully comparable to queer people,” Kornhaber wrote. “Huge social conflicts are boiled into a bland, unworkable battle between smiley rainbow people and ‘haters.'”
Swift’s newfound activism could be seen as suspiciously convenient
Many critics have noted that Swift’s gay anthem isn’t exactly groundbreaking. It doesn’t put her career in any real danger, as it might have a few years ago.
It’s become a mainstream practice for companies — and, for that matter, public figures — to slap a rainbow on a Pride month marketing campaign and label it “allyship.”
Especially given that Swift never advocated for gay rights until very recently, some read her newfound activism as opportunistic. Swift is a pop star, but she’s also a businesswoman who’s trying to sell albums and rainbow merchandise (including multiple accessories that she uses in the video).
The sparkle and sheen of the video can be seen as performative, reminiscent of how Pride has become commodified.
“Many believe the event, which exists as a remembrance of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, has become less about protests than about parties,” Rebecca Jennings wrote for Vox.
“A similar critique could be aimed at Swift,” she continued, “who is speaking out in support of LGBTQ causes at a time that’s financially convenient, borrowing from subcultures that have already been proven to be lucrative (drag, for instance) and incorporating them into her brand.”
Fran Tirado, the deputy editor of Out magazine, accused Swift of “standing on our backs” instead of actually elevating the stories and experiences of queer people.
Many fans, however, are praising Swift for singing about LGBTQ rights and celebrating queerness
Regardless of Swift’s own sexual orientation, many fans see great value in her allyship — in using her platform, as the biggest pop star in the world, to push for gay rights and help queer listeners feel accepted.
Longtime fans are thrilled that Swift has begun to voice progressive views after years of remaining completely apolitical. Her “coming out” in support of the LGBTQ community makes a lot of sense for fans who have long embraced her themes of romance, self-love, and compassion.
“LGBTQ fans are gaining space, as [are] fans of color, which is so great to see,” Arthur, a trans man who identifies as bisexual, told MTV News. “Taylor being more politically engaged helped [make] this change happen.”
The video shows the importance of representation
Many fans have celebrated Swift’s decision to share the spotlight with members of the LGBTQ community. They argue that, by prioritizing representation, she showed awareness of her own limits and avoided centering herself.
Various queer celebrities who appeared in the video, including Olympian Adam Rippon and “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness, have praised Swift for getting them involved and making sure they were comfortable on set.
Riley Knoxx, a trans woman who impersonated Beyoncé in the video, thanked the singer for her kindness and “making me a part of your beautiful art.”
“I want to say thank you to this beautiful soul not only for casting me in her video and hand-picking me, but also for taking the time to research and learn about my story!” she wrote, tagging Swift in her post on Instagram.
“sitting talking with you for hours will be the most unforgettable experience of my life!” she continued. “the advice you gave me about dealing with being in the public eye and the fact that you took time to just sit in the dressing room pour us champagne and just lay back on the couch and have fun in the dressing room chatting about life!”
Swift has positioned herself as a valuable ally by supporting LGBTQ organizations and the Equal Rights Act
As Kornhaber noted, “Swift has shown some awareness of the risk of over-centering herself.”
In other words, Swift isn’t just talking the talk.
The “Calm Down” video concluded with a link to a petition in support of the Equality Act. She previously wrote an open letter to Tennessee’s Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and urged him to support the measure, which would outlaw LGBTQ discrimination nationwide.
Swift has also made “generous” donations to GLAAD and the Tennessee Equality Project. It’s been reported that “You Need to Calm Down” has already led to a spike in donations to pro-LGBTQ advocacy groups.
These concrete efforts to support the movement, as well as actual members of the LGBTQ community, have soothed many fans who feared her allyship to be empty or selfish.
Representatives for Swift didn’t immediately return INSIDER’s request for comment about the video’s backlash.