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“You Need to Calm Down” by Taylor Swift (Music Review)

Megastar Taylor Swift recently released the second single from her upcoming album, Lovers (August 2019). The song reveals a different side of the 29-year-old musician. During the last election cycle, Swift garnered headlines for her increased political activism, and “You Need to Calm Down” is a reflection of that progression. The song primarily focuses on denouncing people who oppose the LGBT movement with the song’s release intentionally timed to correspond to national pride month. You can watch the lyric video of the song above and read the full lyrics at the bottom of this article.   

The Song

Is the song good from an artistic perspective? As a person who generally strives to avoid coming into too much contact with modern pop music, I am perhaps no authority on this matter. There is no denying that Swift has demonstrated time and time again in the past that she has the uncanny ability to pen a catchy and infectious melody. That said, I have a hard time being too inspired by a chorus that starts with the penetrating refrain, “So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh.”

Much of Swift’s widespread appeal has always been in her personal, “from-the-heart” lyrics. This is not the case with “You Need to Calm Down.” In listening, I get the sense that she started with the desire to write a LGBT anthem and then had to piece a song together afterwards to achieve this aim. Lyrics such as “Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD” leave little room for nuance as to Swift’s stance on the social issue (GLAAD is an activist media organization aimed at promoting LGBT people and causes). To be clear, I fully believe that Taylor Swift, as an artist, has every right to sing about whatever she wants to. In a world that allows for countless subpar faith-based anthems, there must also be freedom for subpar LGBT anthems. This does not, however, mean that we cannot judge and examine the song or that we should remain unaware of the message it proclaims to millions of listeners.     

A Christian Perspective

There is no question that Taylor Swift is one of the most powerful voices in the music industry today (in regard to social influence, if not in actual singing chops). Part of this influence derives from her humble start. When she burst onto the music scene in 2006, she was an endearing 16-year-old country girl. Since then, she has become one of the most successful musical artists in the world. In the process, she has also drastically shifted her persona. The modest, guitar-strumming country gal has become a flashy pop-star diva. Despite the steady transformation into a mirror image of essentially every other female pop star that has gone before her, to Swift’s legion of fans she still retains her identity as the “every girl.” Despite living a life that only a handful will ever relate to, she’s still “one of us.” This is a prime concern with Swift’s influence. Despite epitomizing the Hollywood elite in virtually every regard, she remains a symbol for the people and masses, and normalizes beliefs that are statistically held by the minority.

The irony of “You Need to Calm Down” is that its central message is one of acceptance, tolerance, and being kind to people you disagree with, but Swift spends the entire song putting down those she disagrees with. In this, Variety rightly describes the song as “Homophobia-Bashing.” In the first pre-chorus she sings, “And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression,” which is the equivalent of saying, “No offense, but…” right before delivering a highly offensive remark. While Swift is allegedly down with self-expression, she quickly paints all those ideologically opposed to her as unstable (“Hey, are you okay?”), old-fashion and irrelevant (“but you would rather live in the dark ages”), and abhorrent (“control your urges to scream about all the people you hate”).

The breezy summer melody and tone do much to disguise what is actually a rather piercing and wholesale takedown and belittling of a large segment of our country’s population. She scoffs at those who protest at marches and parades (“makin’ that sign must’ve taken all night”), despite the fact that she essentially stepped into the political spotlight by advocating for a march filled with many signs and shouting voices.

Some of what Swift condemns in the song—such as internet trolls—should be condemned. There are certainly people who have protested the current sexual revolution in ways that are hateful and unacceptable. The issue with the song is that it is so buoyant and generalized. Rather than contributing anything constructive to the important issue, Swift uses a glittery gel-pen to draw a thick line between “Us” and “Them.” She fights intolerance with intolerance, and mean words with mean words. In the end, Swift attempts to douse a cultural fire with gasoline instead of water, using her immense platform to reinforce existing walls rather than tear them down.   

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
You are somebody that I don’t know
But you’re takin’ shots at me like it’s Patrón
And I’m just like, damn, it’s 7 AM
Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out
But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out
And I’m just like, “Hey, are you okay?”

[Pre-Chorus]
And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression
But I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun
And snakes and stones never broke my bones

[Chorus]
So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
You need to calm down, you’re being too loud
And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (Oh)
You need to just stop, like can you just not step on my gown?
You need to calm down

[Verse 2]
You are somebody that we don’t know
But you’re comin’ at my friends like a missile
Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD? (You could be GLAAD)
Sunshine on the street at the parade
But you would rather be in the dark ages
Makin’ that sign must’ve taken all night

[Pre-Chorus]
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

[Chorus]
So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
You need to calm down, you’re being too loud
And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (Oh)
You need to just stop, like can you just not step on his gown?
You need to calm down

[Bridge]
And we see you over there on the internet
Comparing all the girls who are killing it
But we figured you out
We all know now we all got crowns
You need to calm down

[Chorus]
Oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
You need to calm down (You need to calm down)
You’re being too loud (You’re being too loud)
And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (Oh)
You need to just stop (Can you stop?)
Like can you just not step on our gowns?
You need to calm down

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