Another week, another instance of
Taylor Swift ripping off Beyoncé and generally being the most annoying person on the face of the planet controversy surrounding Taylor Swift. This time, she’s being accused of copying Beyoncé in her new video for “You Need To Calm Down”, which is already being criticized for queer-baiting. At this point, I really have to ask myself is she playing with us, or is she really just that oblivious?
Full disclosure: I hate Taylor Swift. I could host my own Ted Talk on all the ways she’s problematic. From the minor things like constantly rebranding herself under the guise of authenticity (look at my cats! Look at my girl squad! Look at how quirky I am!) to the monumental, like her parading feminism as a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants can’t-we-all-get-along sisterhood, rather than looking at her privilege as a white woman and using her platform to promote intersectionality. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out her response when Nicki Minaj called out the VMAs for racism and sexism in the industry, and Taylor did what she does best: make it about her.) This sh*t goes back years, and she doesn’t show any signs of deeply reflecting or becoming a more aware artist, no matter how many PSAs and Pride videos she puts out. I look at her new music video being released to coincide with Pride, and I can’t help but think of all the LGBTQ allies who posted that they wouldn’t make this month about themselves. And yet here we are, arguing about Taylor’s video, not because it has a dope message, but again, because she has borrowed heavily from other artists—namely, Beyoncé. Again.
Now, not everybody believes Taylor Swift has ever copied Beyoncé. A lot of her fans are defending her recent videos and performances by saying that Beyoncé fans are just doing too much. “If Taylor breathes, Beyonce’s fans will accuse her of stealing breath,” they say. But that’s why I am coming through here with receipts. Let’s look at all the ways Taylor has been inspired by Beyoncé’s work for months, and even years.
“Lemonade” vs. “Look What You Made Me Do”
Taylor released her video for “Look What You Made Me Do” in the summer of 2017 (wow, was it that long ago?) and Beyoncé fans quickly pointed out all the similarities. Because this was her first offense, some fans said that she wasn’t copying but was actually paying homage to Beyoncé. This completely misses the point that “Formation” is about more than just having your squad clad in matching badass black outfits and nodding along in front of churches that I day drank in front of at Mardi Gras. “Formation” is an ode to blackness and Taylor’s song is… petty revenge? An empty threat? I’m not quite sure. I’ll let the tweets and memes make my point for me.
My daddy Trump supporter, Momma Starbucks drinker,
You mix the mayonnaise with the privilege make a country singer (singer) pic.twitter.com/FE0bPhGOHk
— Toxic Matthewlinity (@_MateoMontana_) August 25, 2017
okay ladies, now let’s get in appropriation. pic.twitter.com/P6xIVvIPGv
— ice me out lil bitch (@1MARGIELA) August 25, 2017
Homecoming vs. Billboard Music Awards
This is when the sh*t really hit the fan. A few weeks prior to Taylor’s Billboard Music Award performance, Beyoncé released Homecoming, the documentary of her legendary Coachella performance that provided backstage footage and commentary on why her artistic choices were so important. Coachella is one of the largest gatherings of white people on the planet—you could just be giving avocados away for free next to an unlimited rosé bar and Coachella would still attract more white people. And yet, Beyoncé used this platform to celebrate Black excellence.
She stated in Homecoming, “As a Black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box and Black women often feel underestimated. I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process, proud of the struggle, thankful for the beauty that comes with a painful history and rejoice in the pain, rejoice in the imperfections and the wrongs that are so damn right. I wanted everyone to feel grateful for their curves, their sass, their honesty, thankful for their freedom. It was no rules and we were able to create a free, safe space where none of us were marginalized.” Not only that, she wanted the audience to be exposed to this world. My mom in Colorado called me after watching the documentary—she didn’t know there was a Black National Anthem. Beyoncé changed that for her (unfortunately, my mom was most impressed by how Beyoncé managed to change her outfits almost instantly, and I had to tell her that the documentary was filmed over 2 different weekends with different costumes and spliced together). But that’s besides the point.
— クリス RULES (@ChrisRules_) May 2, 2019
Fast forward a few weeks, and Taylor returns to the stage at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards to perform her new song “Me!” and the internet instantly recognized some similarities. It’s not just the fact that there are drums and a marching band. The whole setup and staging are very suspect. It didn’t help that Homecoming only dropped a few weeks prior and we were back in the throes of Beyoncé appreciation. At this point, I was wondering if Taylor’s people were f*cking with us. Like, either nobody on her team watched Homecoming or knew about the Coachella performance, or they did and hoped no one would notice. It was, at best, a strange coincidence, which was made no better by the latest drama surrounding “You Need To Calm Down”.
twitter’s wild because there are ppl on here saying Beyoncé didn’t invent marching bands and we all saw when she did
— Desus Nice (@desusnice) May 2, 2019
“Party” Vs. “You Need to Calm Down”
Honestly, I wasn’t going to watch Taylor’s new music video because I saw all sorts of posts circulating with her and Katy Perry dressed as french fries and hamburgers and I was like, pass. I’ve seen Katy Perry dressed as fast food too many times—it’s old at this point.
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But luckily someone watched this video, because the similarities to Beyonce’s “Party” are irreconcilable. Both take place in a trailer park setting, with some shots in the video being identical: the pan out from above of the pool and both Beyoncé and Taylor in the trailer park kitchen wearing furs over bathing suits.
If Taylor Swift wants people to stop accusing her of ripping off Beyoncé, maybe she should quit ripping off Beyoncé. Her whole “above-ground pool party in a trailer park” vibe cribs a lot of shots from Bey’s “Party” video. This is just one example. pic.twitter.com/VsyUIOWbKe
— Erin Gaetz (@ErinGaetz) June 17, 2019
You guys are right. Nothing to see here. pic.twitter.com/3sWEUGbmBF
— Erin Gaetz (@ErinGaetz) June 17, 2019
Look, if the “You Need to Calm Down” video was the first time that Taylor was accused of copying Beyoncé, I might give her a pass. But context is everything, and based on Taylor’s history, I doubt she sees anything wrong with appropriating another artist’s work. What’s more problematic and upsetting is that she will continue to profit from her copycat ways. To date, the “You Need To Calm Down” video has racked up 1.9 million views. Her last tour raked in $266 million. “ME!” peaked at number two on the Billboard charts. You get the picture—what she is doing, whether consciously or not, is quite literally paying off.
The way I see it, Taylor is that girl who just wants to fit in, and right now, no one is more “in” than Beyoncé. I actually used to be a Taylor Swift fan, back when she was a country artist. Her first two albums were catchy, but there was also a rawness to them. Her stories about boys breaking her heart, her friends losing their virginities, listening to love songs, and wondering if that would ever be her: those experiences felt real to who she was. Now, it feels like she traded her authenticity for shock and awe and imitation. For an artist that is so obsessed with wanting to be liked, it’s surprising that no one on her team has come to the realization that the first way to do that is to just be real.
Images: _MateoMontana_/Twitter, royaltw/Instagram, ErinGaetz/Twitter