Friday, June 21st, 2019

Taylor Swift – You Need To Calm Down

The one that’s on our mind, 365, all the time…


Will Rivitz: The Singles Jukebox — Corrections, June 21 2019: The author of this blurb has previously stated that the selection of Meghan Trainor as LA Pride headliner would forever be the nadir of Pride-related programming. The author regrets the error.

Hannah Jocelyn: The discourse for “ME!”: “What does this mean for Taylor’s next era?” The discourse for this lyrical clusterfuck: “What does this mean at all?” It’s a much more interesting production, without stock horns and with some nice “Royals”-y vocal layering, but it’s the most incoherent thing she’s ever released. Is it about stans? Is it about homophobes? Is it a coming out song? Did Taylor throw the first shade at Stonewall? What is HAPPENING?? I’m sorry, I need to calm down. 

Will Adams: Taylor said “Gay Rights!” Kind of! Sort of. Well… it’s complicated. Not necessarily because of her status as a cis straight woman, but because the message itself is so damn muddled. Stans and trolls and bigots and music journalists are lumped in the same mass of “haters,” and while it’s worth noting that this by no means the first anti-haters pop song to exist, the overt political text here results in lots of crossed wires. The song suffers as a result too, throwing half-formed catchphrases at the wall to see what sticks: the chorus is a melodic void (odd considering Taylor’s songwriting strength); the “gowns” reference is too subtle to register; the patter results in odd scansion throughout (“like it’s PUH-trón”); and “snakes and stones never broke my bones” is no more clever than “don’t need opinions from a shellfish or a sheep.” Speaking of Katy, also wrapped up in all this is a resolution of a beef that never seemed that important except as something for either party to mine for big single launches. It’s all too much, especially for a not-bad track that fizzes just fine on its own. It’d be churlish to ask Taylor to take her own advice; for now all I ask for is coherence.

Jonathan Bradley: Taylor Swift has always had a talent for deploying sharp and piquant phrases, the sorts of lyrics that tell blunt little stories like animated gifs. It’s an opportunity for her to go broad and get funny: “Some indie record that’s much cooler than mine,” for instance, or “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend,” or “I don’t love the drama, it loves me.” “You Need to Calm Down” is like an entire song built from these lines, and it whirls by like a Twitter thread or an Instagram story. Taylor sass is a lot of fun, and many of these ripostes are satisfyingly catty in their insouciance (“I’m just like, ‘hey… are you OK?'” might be the best of these). Swift has shrugged off detractors on “Shake It Off” and “Mean,” but she is more single-minded this time, and that focus paradoxically dilutes the intent. Swift’s greatest strength as a songwriter is her interiority; she’s adept at examining and interpreting her own feelings. But a consequence of that is that she is far less certain when she needs to step outside the bounds of her own head. The worst song she has ever released was a charity single called “Ronan,” in which Swift sung in the voice of a mother who had lost her child to cancer; so talented at realizing her personal traumas, she proved incapable of reconstructing her sympathy for that bereavement in her own voice. “Calm Down” has some things to say about homophobia, and in this terrain outside her own experience, Swift’s words are not so much unpleasant as awkward and a bit superficial, particularly in their uncertain invocation of “shade” as bigotry. (If stan theorists needed evidence that Swift is indeed as straight as she publicly presents, it’s here: a queer Taylor would not have written a second verse as disengaged as that one.) But even diluted, Swift singles are still constructed tight. This one continues finding the pastel inversion of Reputation‘s skeletal synth sound, and echoes “ME!” with a hook of vowel sounds as palilalia — “oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh…” this time, rather than “me-hee-hee.” It’s a tic that works — in moderation.

Alex Clifton: (Puts on music critic hat) It’s stronger than “ME!” (which isn’t hard but worth noting), I’m glad she takes swipes at homophobia but equating that with personal shots is a little bit weird, it’s super catchy but the lyrics are still a little lacking, and I still can’t remember all the words even though I have the melody memorized. (Takes off music critic hat, puts on bisexual Swiftie stan hat) EVERYTHING IS RAINBOWS AND MY BRAIN WON’T STOP SINGING THIS AND I WOULD MARRY TAYLOR SWIFT, HAPPY PRIDE!!!!!

Alfred Soto: I’m sure it will sound fine on the radio, especially played beside “Bad Guy” and “Old Town Road.” The maximalist intentions behind the Everest-sized synth bass and her rat-tat-tat delivery bespeak a mind that recognizes it’s the one needing calm. Except for the “parade” line, I wouldn’t have known this alludes to Pride if I hadn’t watched the video. I don’t feel pandered to as a queer man because, after all, a Pride parade is superficial performativity anyway.

Katherine St Asaph: Give her this: the stacked-up arpeggio in the chorus is an absolutely brilliant hook, particularly the second time when it goes over the top. The rapid-fire prechorus is pretty good too. But the beat is the same freezer-burned “Paper Planes”/”With Ur Love”/”Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” chill, the accents are so far from the right syllables they’ve filed a misSING perSONS REport, the conflating of trolls with professional critics with the literal Westboro Baptist Church is bad (as is the weird class shit in the video, as if you can’t be anti-gay and present like a Pleasantville star), and all this was done much better on “Mean.”

Katie Gill: In a way, this song is hellishly brilliant. Taylor Swift has provided her standom with a weapon, something that they can wield against any form of criticism. Want to write an article criticizing the fact that Swift seems to put “homophobia” and “me having internet bullies” on the same level, the fact that the video tactlessly paints rural Americana as the enemy of LGBTQ+ people instead of the Mike Pences of the world, or the fact that the second verse leans way too close to the sort of tactlessness that only aggressively woke allies can pull off? Expect a flock of Twitter replies telling you condescendingly that “you need to calm down” and “you’re being too loud,” as people ignore the half-assed condemnation of standom during the song’s third verse in favor of using Swift’s lyrics as a cudgel against any perceived haters. For all that Swift is trying to shed the sneaky snake image, traces of it still linger between the lines.

Edward Okulicz: The people who said “Heartbeats” by The Knife was the future of music were right in 2003, and based on this, have now been right for 16 years and counting. That enormous synth-bass takes a song that should have been awful on paper (ugh, a thematic sequel to “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” which itself is why we can’t have nice things, like good Taylor Swift songs), with the second verse featuring the worst lyrics Swift has ever written, and makes it frisky and playful. The “uh-oh uh-oh UH-OH!” hook is legitimately her best in years. Obsessing about someone is tedious, obsessing about those people is even more tedious, but for once, Swift sounds like she’s legitimately above it, even if I don’t think she knows what “shade” is. I wanted to hate this for its posturing, but I can’t, because of the “uh-oh” bit. But just between you and me, I liked Katy Perry’s last single more.

William John: I’m always happy to hear songs that approximate the “Heartbeats” melody, and the layered vocals here sound lovely, but Dorian Corey didn’t keep a mummy in her house for fifteen years for “shade” to be misinterpreted so flagrantly.

Danilo Bortoli: Is it fair to demand political accountability from artists? The question remains thorny these days, but when Taylor Swift blatantly goes after pink money, the answer is yes, loud and clear. The case made for “You Need To Calm Down” has pulled the identity politics card (as usual, The Onion put it better). That is, Swift’s song oversimplifies an ancient struggle for recognition, making up a narrative that isn’t Taylor’s to call her own. But what is more infuriating is the sugarcoating: the fact that pride should come only from within, and the naive and painful suggestion that a homophobe would go silent after a line as awful as “shade never made anybody less gay”. That is to say, when it comes to protest, I prefer it the French way. Which is why all of this begs the question: Would you tell Richard Spencer to “calm down”? No, of course you wouldn’t.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There are probably 2300 words elsewhere in this post about the politics and rhetoric of Taylor’s words here (and I’ll get to that), but first I feel obligated to talk about how “You Need To Calm Down” works on a purely musical level. It sounds like ass. It takes the bag of tricks that Swift used on “Ready For It?,” the most musically captivating of Reputation‘s singles, and sands off all of their weird edges. Yes, there’s a bass thump to welcome you in, but without the distortion it just sounds like Taylor’s doing “Royals”-lite (I mean, Joel Little did produce.) And with the fangs off the verse, the lift to the chorus fails to land. It’s all just sound, an undifferentiated, imperial wave of midtempo banger signifier without a real hook. Even Swift’s vocals, which have always been her most compelling tool, can’t sell the song’s vibe — she’s confused not giving a fuck for calm. Of course, it’s not entirely clear what “You Need To Calm Down”‘s vibe, or point, even is. It’s trying to be clever, with its winking references to stale LGBTQ and feminist symbology, but by conflating (or at least juxtaposing) those struggles with the problems that Taylor Swift has as a widely hated famous person, it ends up saying nothing at all. In the end, “You Need To Calm Down” is less a coherent song in itself than a Potemkin village to situate endless thinkpieces in. Make it stop.

Ashley Bardhan: I know the title is “You Need To Calm Down” but there are no human words that can aptly describe how much I hate this song. Think of a young pigeon cooing as it flies through a fish market, weaving over and through the glistening crates of silver-scaled fish and ice. Oh no! There’s a problem with a shipment! The owner angrily tosses a fat fish into the air, and its scales glint as it smacks the pigeon mid-air and onto the ground with the full brunt of its weight. The pigeon sees the fish market, its final flight, behind its closed eyes in a hurried blur. It weakly wheezes its final birdsong, and then… nothing. Yaaas, hunty. 

Iris Xie: 🤷 This is so tired, I can’t even be that mad about it. The only question I have, because this song and MV isn’t even worth a QTPOC-centered thinkpiece from me is this: when is the Post Malone + Swae Lee + Taylor Swift collaboration happening? This sounds so much like “Sunflower” and is just as deadening. Even the excitement of one of my besties sending me an ~*urgent*~ text message about Katy Perry and Taylor Swift making up over their imaginary feud, once they realized it hurt both of their fanbases, can’t even ignite an ounce of care from me. (Bless your heart, my dear friend.) If she really wanted to pander to the gays, she could’ve just written a sequel to “Look What You Made Me Do” and become a slicker conduit for the less graceful parts about being in queer scenes, which can be about petty, messy drama, rather than being the subject of rage and apathy about being another harbinger of happy happy HAPPY gaypropriation. Like, whatever, she can have her extremely meaningless self-declared ally medal. I’ve been calm, just give me actual music. 

Isabel Cole: It’s like this: A while ago I was catching up with an ex who mentioned he’d recently come back into contact with someone we’d known in high school — acquaintance of his, frenemy of mine, a few sparkling months of giggling BFF-ship deteriorating across a year I spent defending her while she shit-talked my fashion sense in the girls’ room to the local blabbermouth — and he told me, with an ironic arch of the brow, that when my name had inevitably come up she’d said, “Isabel and I used to be so close; I wonder what happened.” Reader, I spent like a week losing my mind, repeating the story and relitigating the history to anyone who would listen while bitterly making fun of her internet presence. Was this because I am petty and emotionally volatile? Yes. But it was also because there is a certain level of willful detachment from reality which I do not have the cognitive capacity to process adequately. Taylor Swift having the gall to tell any human on earth to calm down makes me feel insane the way it makes me feel insane to see someone citing as evidence of their incurable adolescent unpopularity the dorky AIM screenname they picked based on an affectionate joke I made. Taylor Swift saying “take several seats” makes me feel the same combination of spiteful and enraged as reading a line recycled from Livejournal in 2005: please learn like everyone else to disguise the extent to which the human brain is a machine wired to seek validation, the transparency of your desperation is making all of us uncomfortable! God, I wanna snub her in a lunchroom so bad. The song is unappealing in ways that barely merit mentioning — verses that sound like they were reverse-engineered from a MIDI file of the superior but hardly sublime “Gorgeous,” chorus that throws in the plodding piano of roaring bravery — but even beyond the equivalency it implies between Twitter making fun of her and, like, hate crimes, I find the bridge particularly embarrassing, because of how artlessly it reveals its origin: Taylor Swift literally read a Tumblr post (or, the algorithm we call Taylor Swift processed several hundred Tumblr posts) from 2011 saying “stop pitting female artists against each other [handclap emoji etc.]!!!!!!!!!!!” and thought, Wow! Feminism! As for the possibility that this is another masterful turn from Taylor the troll (or troll!Taylor as there is a distressingly high chance she’d say) and by falling for it I’ve let her win: (1) Taylor Swift is always already winning, this is exactly what Marx was talking about (2) Let me kick it back to my ex one more time: when I asked what she was like these days, he considered and said: “I thought she’d developed self-awareness, but then I realized it was just self-identification.” Yeah.

Scott Mildenhall: You know sometimes, when you read the annotations on, how their deductions and inferences appear to have been made by algorithm? For instance, the notion that this being released on that loud American guy’s birthday “seems to support the theory” that one line is about him? This is what would happen if that algorithm was tasked with writing a satirical song.

Stephen Eisermann: My take? This is more lazy allyship than commercialization of pride. Plus, it’s kind of a bop. Sucks, then, that Taylor completely misunderstands what shade is — but did we really expect any better? 

Reader average: [5.02] (34 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

11 Responses to “Taylor Swift – You Need To Calm Down”

  1. Loved it!

  2. It’s always funny to see these straight people getting offended on behalf of us LGBT+. Just say you hate her and go like Ms Ashley Bardhan did. Atleast she was sincere about her intentions.

  3. Great song!

  4. ISABEL!!!
    couldn’t get my thoughts together on time but if anything this song/era seems like Taylor-the-corporation trying to course-correct. remember when she wrote explicit homophobia in ‘picture to burn’? at least that Taylor was honest.

  5. In terms of normal pop music this is a (7) but in terms of Taylor Swift, this is a (4).

  6. couldn’t fit this into the blurb but I think what she was *trying* to do with the shade line was say “shade is a concept that originated in the gay community, therefore it’s really silly to claim that it would make someone *less* gay,” but botched the execution and also overestimated the amount people would give her the benefit of the doubt

  7. Ok my estimate was off by a few hundred words (depending on what you count as rhetoric analysis) but still an impressive amount of insightful stuff here, especially for a song that seems a little incoherent.

  8. I’m gonna celebrate PRIDE by listening to “Look What You Made Me Do” on repeat and throw rainbow bricks because woops look what gay capitalism made me do

  9. Iris I love you

  10. okay but ashley absolutely killed it w/ their review , such evocative words

  11. All this song’s problems aside, I’m glad the brilliance of the hook on this didn’t go unappreciated