"Taylor Swift inspires teen to come out as straight woman needing to be at centre of gay rights narrative." Such was the mocking, viral Onion headline that greeted the release of the pop star's latest music video, You Need to Calm Down.
The video, which instantly trended at No.1 on YouTube following its release this week, is filled with cameos from Hollywood's biggest LGBTQ stars, including Laverne Cox, RuPaul, the cast of Netflix's Queer Eye, Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ellen DeGeneres. Also, for some reason, Ryan Reynolds.
Taylor Swift’s new album rollout isn’t going to plan.Credit:AP
Amid the rainbow celebration, out steps Swift's infamous pop foe Katy Perry dressed as a burger to Swift's fries, the two warmly embracing and quashing a near-decade of tabloid beef that started with a quaint squabble over shared backing dancers.
Released in the midst of the US' Pride month, and featuring a disclaimer urging fans to sign her petition for Senate support of the US' Equality Act, the video was pitched as a pointed anti-hate missive, with Swift and Perry's unlikely conciliation "a symbol of redemption and forgiveness", as Swift told BBC1. Which makes it increasingly awkward that it has sparked such a divisive response.
As the Onion headline suggests, many within LGBTQ communities were sceptical why Swift was suddenly positioning herself as their queer rights saviour. That the song's lyrics conflate Swift's petty Twitter feuds with real-world homophobia has proved another uncomfortable sticking point.
"There's something either tired, tardy or tidily opportunistic about this video," the New York Times noted in a lengthy debate about the clip's virtues or lack thereof. It is a claim that has met much of Swift's output before her upcoming August album, Lover. For an artist who has drawn ridiculous anticipation around each coming release, the iffy backlash has been particularly jarring.
Her new album's rollout has not been going to plan. First single Me! – with its twee sloganeering –was roundly derided by music critics and casual pop listeners irked by its cloying technicolour positivity ("Taylor Swift's Me! is everything wrong with pop," The Atlantic gleefully claimed.)
I'm not sure what people were expecting; it's as though everyone forgot Swift has always been a giant cheese-ball. I remember when she performed at Marrickville's Factory Theatre in 2009, just as her career-changing Love Story was entering the charts.
Dressed like a sparkly '70s lampshade, her dramatic hair flicks and motivational crowd banter were cringingly out of place. "Someone stick her in a stadium before we all die of embarrassment!" I yelled at my fellow gig-goers, a sea of ageing cowgirls (and by "yelled", I mean I later wrote it in my pastel journal).
By 2017's Reputation people had tired of Swift's victim shenanigans, the social media posts and song lyrics accusing the likes of Katy, Kim and Kanye of bullying, while using the same fusses to push publicity and sales around her own work. There's something to be said for pop stars playing with their personas, but the album came across as a tediously prolonged reaction to online slights, so much nonsense about snake emojis.
Of course, others should take some blame, too. Swift's sudden political pivot on You Need to Calm Down was fuelled by nutty suggestions she was silently supporting white nationalists and the alt-right by not speaking out against Donald Trump and his followers, who co-opted her image as their sort of pop cultural mascot. Now here we are, forced to endure a song with lyrics such as: "Shade never made anybody less gay."
It's amusing Swift's whole thing has gone pear-shaped – that a positive, if clumsy, campaign championing the rights of the marginalised has met with such glaring cynicism.
Is it fair? Probably not. But such is the burden of being the world's biggest pop star. Maybe she can write a new song about it, something about how "haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate"?
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