It has been exactly four years to the day since Taylor Swift released “You Need to Calm Down,” the second single from her then-highly anticipated album Lover. With its infectious uptempo beats, the song had the potential to change the world and become another massive hit for Swift. Somewhat sadly, the track didn’t exactly live up to expectations and isn’t remembered as fondly as some of her other chart-topping hits, though it deserves more recognition.
The perception of “You Need to Calm Down” as a gay anthem has been a topic of debate. Some view it as a mainstream artist pandering to the LGBTQ community, seeing dollar signs and promotional motives behind the single. While there may be some truth to that perspective, it doesn’t diminish the significance of the song’s message or its impact.
What sets “You Need to Calm Down” apart and makes it a favorite among some LGBTQ individuals? Firstly, it’s the lyrics. Swift, known as one of the greatest and most successful songwriters of all time, often incorporates hidden meanings and metaphors into her work. However, with this single, she was unequivocal and not hiding behind anything.
Lines like “Control your urges to scream about all the people you hate / ‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay” and “Why are you mad? / When you could be GLAAD? (You could be GLAAD)” (and yes, that’s how she spelled it) clearly conveyed that the song was not just for the LGBTQ community, but also very much against those who oppose it. It’s not enough to be for something, sometimes a star needs to be fighting another, worse force.
Swift also took a stand by emphasizing the importance of pronouns. In the first chorus, she sings, “Like, can you just not step on my gown? / You need to calm down.” But when she revisits those lines, they subtly change to say, “Like, can you just not step on his gown?” This deliberate alteration highlights Swift’s support for people who identify as male and choose to wear dresses. It may seem like a minor detail, but it was a significant move from one of the world’s biggest stars.
The music video for “You Need to Calm Down” further cemented its impact. Swift enlisted the participation of drag queens, many of whom gained fame on RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as other prominent gay celebrities. The production predominantly featured LGBTQ individuals, and everyone involved looked stunning and was compensated fairly. This decision should have resonated deeply within the LGBTQ community, as it showcased that Swift wasn’t merely singing about support but actively promoting inclusivity and doing the work.
Notably, the music video concluded with a message encouraging fans to take action. Swift urged viewers to educate themselves about anti-LGBTQ legislation, exercise their right to vote, and contribute financially to causes that matter. In the end, “You Need to Calm Down” served as a fundraiser that benefited GLAAD and other organizations, and Swift’s involvement likely helped these groups raise significant funds.
Unfortunately, “You Need to Calm Down” became the second single from Lover to fall short of reaching the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 chart. Along with its predecessor, “Me!” featuring Panic! at the Disco’s Brendon Urie, the song peaked at No. 2. Both tracks were held back from the top position by Lil Nas X’s record-breaking hit “Old Town Road,” which enjoyed an unprecedented run at the top.
Despite its catchy melody, “You Need to Calm Down” has still not received the recognition it deserves among the LGBTQ community. As the song celebrates its fourth anniversary, it might be time for skeptics and non-fans to revisit it and not just give it another listen but truly reconsider its significance. Few pop stars go to such lengths to support and advocate for the LGBTQ community, and both she and the track deserve to be remembered for how momentous and important they were (and still are).
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