What does Taylor Swift's 'You Need to Calm Down' tell us about the state of LGBT culture?
Anyone who believed that LGBT culture was not yet fully appropriated by the mainstream suffered a heartbreak recently when Taylor Swift released the video for her new song, “You Need to Calm Down.” The tune purported to be an LGBT anthem, but it felt more like a requiem for queer counterculture.
Even before “You Need to Calm Down” dropped, Swift received a well-deserved dragging for appropriating LGBT culture. “You Need to Calm Down” is a pastel swirl of obvious references, sustained by the talent of LGBT artists Swift somehow convinced to help her.
The best thing I can say about the song is that Swift is using it to gather petition signatures in support of the Equality Act. At worst, Swift trots out tired, offensive “redneck” stereotypes, portraying anti-LGBT hate as the product of ignorance and poverty. Every LGBT person knows that isn’t true. What offends me most, however, is that the song is boring.
Whatever you think of Swift, her song is proof of a trend that is on parade this Pride month: LGBT culture is a hot commodity and lots of artists and corporations are ready to sell our legacy back to us.
Navigating this moment requires reflection. LGBT culture isn’t under attack; from Janet Mock to Eugene Lee Yang, we’re thriving inside an entertainment industry that didn’t welcome us five years ago. We’ve always created art and music, but now we’re doing so openly.
But while a small number of LGBT creators are making well-deserved bank, queer and trans counterculture is struggling. Online LGBT life is flourishing, but we have fewer spaces to gather together in person to inspire, strengthen and challenge each other. The underground scenes that sustain all LGBT culture are in danger.
Maybe I’m nostalgic, but there is magic and power in Do-It-Yourself, local culture. Watching our friends onstage will always change us in ways that television shows can’t. No industry will ever give us the angry, funny, thoughtful, passionate culture that can sustain our political struggle.
We will survive these changes, but we need to support each other’s work by viewing it, promoting it and buying it. Because we have so few LGBT cultural institutions, we often feel threatened by each other’s successes. That’s no way, however, to nurture a culture. Any institution that doesn’t have room for more than one of us doesn’t deserve the participation of any of us.
We’re living through a painful and confusing period of LGBT history. One of the best ways to respond to these times is to create culture. Please, join us. Make zines, write songs and tell jokes. Create fashion, protest chants and poems. Make the kind of art that will help you fall in love – with yourself.