While tech billionaires mine our divisions for profit, Taylor Swift is playing house in a trailer park. That’s the irony of “You Need To Calm Down,” which belongs to the dark era of shrieking keyboard warfare it rebukes, despite a blindingly bright aesthetic.
To illustrate her LGBT pride anthem, Swift assembled the glitterati, casting them as the heroes of a utopian trailer park where her feud with Katy Perry ends, and ugly gay marriage protesters meet their match in a fabulous show of celebrity force. The set, of course, almost certainly cost more than what many people who make such places their home earn in a year. “Love letters only,” reads the side of one lily white mailbox in Swift World. (Where do the bills go?)
Her creativity mysteriously lapsed when it came time to cast the protesters, who look like they should be playing banjos in “Deliverance”: toothless, badly dressed, holding misspelled signs. “Control your urges to scream about all the people you hate,” Swift demands. “Cause shade never made anybody less gay.”
It’s all grotesquely elitist when you consider that she’s mocking people with less money while appropriating a trailer park lifestyle for three minutes of breezy, colorful fun. (Support for same-sex marriage declines along with income and education level.) Are there a lot of crazy people who yell at Swift on the Internet? Some, sure. But she went with a very specific type. The message is basically, “We’re beautiful and right; You’re poor and dumb.” If that sounds reductive or based on caricatures that would never be tolerated if used against the left’s pet identity groups, watch the video again.
“I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun,” sings Swift, recalling memories of the “Mean” era. It’s been a long nine years since that song debuted, yet its childlike naiveté somehow feels more sophisticated than “You Need To Calm Down.”
Indifference can be disarming, and Swift captures that in the lyrics and video. It’s not a bad premise either. With a dash of self-awareness, “You Need To Calm Down” could have been the giant exhalation we need right now, collective catharsis as the grip of social media platforms designed to keep us in conflict tightens, an easy antidote to the stresses of virtual battle. We do need to calm down. All of us.
But this won’t help. Swift’s lazy caricatures and pedestrian insults belong very firmly to the moment at hand. So, too, does the video’s deafening elitism, rubbing celebrities in the faces of rubes as if their glamour was an argument in and of itself. It’s not.
It’s also aggressively tone-deaf for a song that styles itself as a defusion effort. The whole thing is just cheap, chasing applause for punching down. The stereotypes are so crude they border on parody. You would think someone who was thrust into super stardom by country music fans might have more respect for people from different backgrounds.
“You Need To Calm Down” culminates in an instructive insult. “Like, can you just not step on our gowns?” Swift asks of the swarming yokels. It’s a question as ridiculous as the song itself. How could they ever get close enough to a red carpet to try?