By Harsheen Sethi and Krishna Advani
All Pictures Via Google Images
If you have been around for the last decade, you’ve probably heard the name Taylor Swift. You might have even belted out the lyrics of ‘You Belong With Me’ on the days you saw your crush with his girlfriend who wasn’t you. You may have even put on some t-shirt from Hot Topic, gotten your air guitar all tuned up as you got ready to perform ‘Picture to Burn’ with your girlfriends after a pretty harsh breakup. It’s possible that your ending to Romeo & Juliet got completely changed after hearing ‘Love Story’. And you have most definitely grooved to the lyrics of ‘Shake It Off’, all the while believing that, “haters gonna hate, hate, hate”. And it was that line that has set the precedence to all things Taylor Swift henceforth.
The reason that Taylor Swift is known so widely around the globe is because she is, to her core, an entertainer. She lives for her fans, creates music for them, and puts on extravagant concerts for them. If you look up her job description, it’s to create music that people will enjoy and love and hear on a loop. The fact that she often makes music that speak to our hearts, is a big bonus. Not all singers let their fans see their scars so openly, and Taylor makes sure that her fans see every phase of those wounds that heal into scars.
Her last album, Reputation, was essentially a series of journal entries with incredible melody. In Reputation, she broke her silence, period. It was the birth of a new Taylor, a more confident and more open one. The Reputation Era — as it is known — was a stark contrast to the ones that came before with the ’80s centric Red, and the straight-up pop 1989. One thing that has remained constant throughout her work and career is that she makes relatable music. Be it with regard to heartbreak, self-love, or even friendship. Taylor Swift chooses to create music that is relevant — relevant to her fans and relevant with the times. Being a celebrity, especially one as big as she is, implies that there’s no space for a private life. Everything done, thought, and believed is open to the public eye. However, she’s often the queen of secrecy. And the parts she doesn’t open to public view, she compensates for them by putting pieces of herself in her music to her fans.
Being private also means being selective about what political opinions you voice, and this had not necessarily worked out for her. Criticized for staying silent about political opinions in the past, Taylor has decided to take a step in a new direction. Over the past couple of years she has made her views on the current political atmosphere pretty clear. She has spoken up against the current environment of ignorance, especially in the case of homophobia. She has voiced herself as an ally— shown her support where she can, been there for those she can, stood up for those she can. As an ally, especially a more privileged ally, one has the ability to do a lot. One has the platform to. But with that comes with its own set of limitations. There is no rule book that you have to follow as an ally. There are no set tasks you need to complete in order to be known as an ‘ally’. You do the most you as an individual can do to support another, or a community. But often, this is forgotten. Especially when certain people in certain positions take a stand. When they do that, they are advocating themselves as an ally, not the lamp that will lead the ones living in the caves away from the darkness. Which means: they are not messiahs.
And this is the perfect message to counter certain opinions that have surfaced with regard to Taylor Swift’s new single from her seventh upcoming album, Lover. The song in question is “You Need To Calm Down”, and for those voicing all this hate against a well-intentioned step — feel free to use this title as an instruction manual. The song has three points to it. The first verse sticks to Taylor’s personal life and talks about the critics she has had to deal with all her life. The third verse is a nod to feminism, telling ‘all the girls who are killing it’ to know that they all got crowns. However, it is the second verse that has taken the centre stage for this song’s identity and it deals with the hate that the LGBTQ community has been constantly exposed to. The song in no way is a political anthem. It is not one that is going to spark a revolution or ignite a spirit that will make the hate disappear, and it has never proclaimed itself to be so. All it is, is an ode to who you are and a dig at everything that tried to get in your way.
In response to this and the video that accompanies it, which stars pretty much very A-list LGTBQ member, has been at the firing end of those who think of this to be another ‘corporate tactic that is birthed by capitalism’, because it’s not support if it does not lead to anything. Instead, it is taking advantage of those suffering. For those who believe this, let me rephrase what might also be Taylor’s point: there is a difference between an exploitative tendency inclined towards making money off of a vulnerability of a community, and using however soft or loud a voice to vocalize not just your support but also your active encouragement towards a concept promoting the principle of ‘Live and Let Live’. It does not take a visionary to see that in today’s bipartisan world, any single comment, video or celebrity status becomes a powder keg waiting for its first match to strike, leaving a blaze of opinion and controversy in its wake.
My question to you is this— if one comes to realize themselves as an ally of the LGBTQ community, does it then mean that their mention, usage, or celebration of the said community (no matter their association to it, even if it is through consenting friends) is considered to somehow equate the people and friends belonging to this community to be props? Sure, as an entertainer, Taylor makes money off of all of her endeavors in the field (it’s almost like that is her job!). But does that mean that each endeavor that wears the mark of her opinion stands commercialized and nullified? No. This is because sure, the objective of the endeavor (in this case a song and an accompanying music video) was to reach millions, but it does not mean that just because of its nature of being playful and lighthearted it made its message watered down in any way.
For those who believe that she has only taken advantage of the political climate and/or Pride Month— Taylor Swift has been fighting in the House and the Senate of the United States to pass a petition that does away with a law that still allows discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Hers, unlike many others, is not an empty voice making empty promises. Neither is it one that starts and ends with preachy posts on the internet, which is what makes her different. It makes her someone who acknowledges and effectively puts to use the voice she recognizes she has, and does it for the myriad or so out there who might have difficulty being heard on their own.
When has a cause ever lost out because of one known figure supporting it? When has a community ever endured damage because someone chose to back them? Why is it that despite proof otherwise, all you see is pot-shots at someone who is trying neither to champion a cause, nor drown it, but just doing the best she can within her capacity to make the world a little more fair and livable for people?
In our opinion, Taylor has given us a jam that does a lot more than provide a good beat. It gives us a little boost to look into the eyes of most who deny us our rightful space to support, exist, and just be. And to all those still claiming it’s a capitalistic charade? Why don’t you go set fire to someone’s Monopoly board.
You can hear the song here.