Over the years, my feelings about Taylor Swift have varied wildly. From going to one of her concerts when I was in high school, to writing scathing reviews of some of her more recent work, Taylor and I have been on a journey together for over a decade. My thoughts about her are always evolving, and with her new song “You Need To Calm Down,” we might finally be entering a positive chapter.
Back in April, Taylor Swift kicked off her new era with her single “Me!”. I was really ready to embrace this new chapter with open arms, but things quickly went south. I’m all about having a good time, but Taylor’s new song felt like it was better suited for an episode of Sesame Street than a pregame playlist. The candy-coated video didn’t help things, and the entire effort came across like a high-budget music video for kids. Taylor, who turns 30 later this year, seemed lost, and a little desperate. Is this really what she thought we wanted from her?
The single underperformed by Taylor Swift’s standards, so at least I wasn’t the only one who was confused by this direction. I’m all for rainbows and catchy pop music, but I don’t want to be shouted at about spelling. The biggest question left in the wake of “Me!” was what Taylor Swift would put out next. Yesterday, she finally announced her album, called Lover, that will be released in August. Along with the album announcement, we also got a new single, and…
I love it.
After the perplexing elementary school vibes that she brought with her last single, Taylor Swift has finally returned to form. “You Need To Calm Down” is classic Taylor Swift from top to bottom, with a trademark long title, a hook that’s instantly catchy, and lyrics that are already burned into my head after approximately three listens. Okay, like 10 listens, but only for research purposes.
This song sounds like the best of the 1989 era, with layered vocals and synth beats that sound both moody and triumphant at the same time. There are some Reputation influences in there too, but luckily not the vague talk-rapping about her enemies. Hopefully that’s gone for good.
As for the lyrics, Taylor Swift really takes a step out of her bubble here by centering “You Need To Calm Down” as a pro-LGBTQ empowerment anthem. The lyrics contain references to Pride parades, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and men wearing gowns. In the prechorus, Taylor sings:
You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace
And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate
‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay
Basically, Taylor is telling people to stay in their lane, and that putting other people down doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Whatever your feelings about Taylor Swift, it’s nice to see her including messages like this into her music. She still has a wider impact than anyone else in music, so she actually has the power to influence people who might not be exposed to Pride parades on a regular basis.
Over the past year, Taylor Swift has become more active in the political sphere, something that she was hesitant to do for years. It’s refreshing to see her owning her status as an ally, especially during Pride month. We could argue about whether she’s benefitting from it, or how genuine it is, but sometimes it’s just nice to have visible support from people in places of power.
Of course, this is still a Taylor Swift song, so there are some classic Taylor references to snakes and crowns, but overall, “You Need To Calm Down” feels like a major step in the right direction for 2019 Taylor Swift. Whereas “ME!” almost felt like a publicity stunt, Taylor’s second single feels like an organic step in the right direction. There’s no argument that Taylor Swift can write catchy hooks and lyrics, so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Hopefully you like this song as much as I do, because Taylor Swift is going to be everywhere over the next couple of months. She still has an 18-track album coming later this summer, so that’s a lot of opportunities for things to go very wrong or very right, but I’m at least cautiously optimistic now.
Images: Shutterstock; betches, taylorswift / Instagram; taylorswift / YouTube