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Taylor Swift has been a pop culture icon for well over a decade. She is known and loved for her narrative songs about relationships, so her new album Lover was monumental for being her first to address social politics. Most notably, the song “You Need to Calm Down” actively addresses Swift’s progressive position toward LGBTQ rights. A scathing critique of homophobic individuals, “You Need to Calm Down” was released on President Trump’s birthday as the second single from Lover, with its music video following shortly thereafter. Featuring a whirl of colors and playful celebrity cameos, the video promotes a lifestyle of LGBTQ acceptance and celebration. However, in many ways, “You Need to Calm Down” is problematic in its representation of queer pride. This paper shows how the video’s Camp aesthetic and mainstream sensibilities fashion the queer individual as unrelatable, infantilized, and separated from the larger social world – ultimately failing to validate the transgressive and instead promoting normalization. This paper argues that the video for “You Need to Calm Down,” in making notable use of pop culture conventions and mainstream ideologies, limits queer acceptance to the boundaries of the heteronormative and, thus, can be seen itself as an example of subtle homophobia.

Dean James E. McLeod Freshman Writing Prize, 2020