I want to be upfront: I'm not really a Taylor Swift fan. I respect her as an artist and for what she does, but her music and songwriting just don't mesh with my personal tastes.
Still, being a human on social media today, whenever she does something– like release a new song– I can't help but see what's going on. Her recent music video for "You Need to Calm Down" was no exception. Within what seemed like minutes of its release, I saw commentary popping up everywhere I looked. Some were cheerful reviews that proclaimed it a summer bop or even the gay anthem of the year. Others were more critical, remarking on Taylor Swift's past relationship with the gay community or calling her attempts at being an ally performative.
At first, I definitely fell into the latter camp. To me, I saw no difference in Swift's music video and the rainbow-covered promotions of so many businesses this time of year– the kind that are silent on LGBTQ+ issues for 11 months each year but use queerness as a marketing tool for June because the gays suddenly matter when they can become a profitable demographic.
As it came out that listeners were encouraged to sign a Change.org petition in support of the Equality Act and that the drag queens and other queer performers who appeared in the video were treated and compensated well, I found myself being less apprehensive about Swift's motives. After all, even if her intentions were as focused on her bank account as they were on actively affecting change, the outcomes speak for themselves; it's never a bad thing for people with massive influence to speak-up on behalf of minority communities.
Still, I had to do some soul searching. As much as I wanted my perspective to shift and I wanted to get behind the song wholeheartedly, I couldn't. Something just felt off about it. Finally, it hit me. I realized what it was about the situation that didn't sit well with me, and I connected the pieces of the puzzle thanks to a Drag Race metaphor: Taylor Swift is a cis, white Valentina who was just awarded the Miss Congeniality title at the Season 9 reunion.
If you're not a Drag Race fan or don't see where I'm going with this metaphor, let me paint a picture. During Season 9, Valentina spent a majority of the season being considered a frontrunner to win it all until she was eliminated in a lip sync in which she tried to keep her mouth covered. After Season 9, as the girls began their post-season touring cycle, Valentina came under some public criticism for her alleged lack of professionalism during meet-and-greets and a rumored situation involving champagne and red M&Ms. Then, when it came time for the reunion to be recorded and aired, fans had voted for Valentina as Miss Congeniality, but her sisters that season aired their complaints, stating that Valentina wasn't congenial and the award reflected her status as a fan favorite rather than as a congenial competitor. At said reunion, she was also called out for remaining silent on social media when her fans attacked her fellow competitor Nina Bonina Brown, who sent Valentina home in the now-infamous lip sync.
Since the reunion was recorded, it appears that Valentina has made amends with her cast mates, publicly remarked that she recognized areas in which she could be more professional and worked on correcting her previous behaviors, and has issued statements to her fans saying that she does condone the behavior of those who send harassing messages to her fellow queens.
In a nutshell, Valentina was in an elevated position because of her popularity, and therefore her actions came under close scrutiny. Because of this, it was brought to her attention that she has room to grow, and so she grew.
I think the exact same thing can be said of Taylor Swift. She's been an it-girl of pop culture since she was a teenager and has been an influential figure in music for several years now. Because of her position, the LGBTQ+ community can't help but notice the times in the past when she's used calling an ex gay as a way of invalidating him in her song lyrics, or all the times that she was silent amidst the discriminatory actions of her predominately straight, white audience. Given her former silence and complete lack of visibility as an ally in the past (if she even considered herself an ally at that time), when she's celebrated for being an ally today, to many queer folks, it feels like those doing the celebrating have only seen part of the story. She's being crowned as Miss Congeniality, but it feels more like Fan Favorite since she doesn't fully fit the spirit of the award.
As I thought about it through the ever-enlightening lens of Drag Race drama, I realized that I hadn't fully picked a side in either celebrating or criticizing Swift because I think there's a very real middle ground where the two responses overlap.
First, it's important to allow people to grow and to be happy when they show signs of growth. For Taylor Swift to take a step toward being a clearly visible ally to the LGBTQ+ community is a big step forward, and the impact of it shouldn't be understated. It's a great thing for the community to have someone with her status advocating on their behalf, and the spike in signatures on the petition for the Equality Act is evidence of what it means to have allies in positions of power and influence.
At the same time, it's also incredibly valid to be apprehensive and to see how her position as an ally evolves over time, and whether or not this is a one-off occurrence or something that becomes integral to her presence as an artist and public figure. People absolutely can and should grow as their scope of experience expands, and only time can reveal whether this is a reflection of sincere growth or something that's less altruistic in motivation. As Swift has remained silent on many of the issues the LGBTQ+ community has come up against throughout the tenure of her career, it's easy to understand why so many within the community would be skeptical. After all, for people facing persecution, the silence of bystanders can be as deadly as the actions of their persecutors.
So, I'll sum up my feelings on the song by saying this– congrats to Taylor Swift for being voted Miss Congeniality, and I hope that moving forward, her actions continue to reflect a congenial heart rather than a selfish one. She should have spoken up and been more vocal in the past, but since you can't change the past, hopefully, we'll see more vocalization moving forward.