Sometimes, even though I’m enjoying a song or a movie, I’ll get this unsettled feeling in my gut that tells me that something’s off. That perhaps I should be looking a little deeper or thinking a bit more critically about what I’m consuming. That gut feeling is also unhelpfully unspecific, leaving it up to me to figure out why I’m bothered by a piece of media.
Yesterday Lainey wrote about Taylor Swift’s new song and video “You Need to Calm Down", and when I watched it, I got a little ding from my gut-ometer. It’s not a bad song. I think the lyrics could use some work, but otherwise it’s catchy. The video is lighthearted and fun, featuring a star studded cast of LGBTQ+ celebrities, and even a bunch of drag queens! Did you see Trinity K Bone’t dressed as Cardi B for her Invasion of Privacy album cover? Can that be outfit of the week?
Despite all of this, “You Need to Calm Down” doesn’t feel like the pride anthem that it’s being celebrated as. For one, there’s a distinct lack of awareness around gay culture which either points to the fact that no one from the queer community was involved in the creative decisions, or that Taylor’s effort and research were lazy. An example is the lyric “And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate/'Cause shade never made anybody less gay.” Shade, a slang term invented by the queer community and ball culture is not used in this context. In fact, associating the term with homophobic insults and hate completely misses the point.
There’s more. I’m going to sound crazy for pointing this out, but when Lainey wrote about Lover on Friday, she shared Taylor’s Instagram post. Did the comment make any sense to you? If I’m correct, it’s an attempt at the gay key smash, and the first thing I texted Emily, our site manager, was that Taylor’s key smash looked wrong.
are u trying to gay key smash because that’s not it https://t.co/gH6dkzMgOn— [mads] (@mattiemartinn) June 14, 2019
See! I’m not crazy!
I was going to define gay key smash for you, but Urban Dictionary does a better job than I ever could. If you’re interested, Tumblr has also perfected it down to a science and explains exactly why it looks weird.
The key smash doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s symptomatic of the fact that Taylor hasn’t done her homework, but still wants to be celebrated as a gay ally. As Lainey pointed out yesterday, her depiction of the homophobic protestors fits a very stereotyped perspective, one that anyone in the gay community will tell you is a very small subsection of the people who are actually homophobic. And for someone who has had insults and even blows hurled at them, the lyric “And I ain't tryna mess with your self-expression/But I've learned a lesson that stressin' and obsessin' 'bout somebody else is no fun” seems to normalise those insults and reduce them to a simple problem of someone needing to calm down.
Everything doesn’t need to be a super serious criticism or deep introspective into the discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, we have a lot of that already. But there’s a difference between Taylor simplifying our problems down to a need for chill, and Dan Levy refusing to show homophobia in Schitt’s Creek. One doesn’t understand the issue, while the other makes a conscious decision not to include it.
Taylor is making the right steps, and I don’t doubt that she’s an ally for the community. She’s donated to GLAAD for Pride Month, and there has been a marked increase in donations as a result of her sponsorship. She also started a petition, and published a letter written to her Republican Tennessee Senator in defense of LGBTQ+ rights. People have called Taylor out for profiting on queer content, and I genuinely don’t think that’s her intention. At the same time, if she wants to be an ally, she may want to consider continuing to learn more about it. Encounters like this don’t give me confidence.
That last line? Not a good look.
Right now, Taylor is like a bachelorette party at a drag bar. Straight people who visit drag bars usually aren’t homophobic (though there are exceptions). However, unless they respect the space and recognize that it’s not meant for them, they aren’t welcome inside by everyone in the place. I have hope for Taylor, and I think that even though her allyship is delayed, it’s here to stay. She just needs to do more work. (Lainey: as we all do. Me included.)
Here's Taylor performing at AEG and Stonewall Inn’s pride celebration in New York on Friday.