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In today’s pop culture, liberalism is in and conservatism is out. Celebrities are more outspoken than before, but not always because of purely altruistic intentions — and Taylor Swift is a prime example of using her political activism for popularity.
In her most recent single, “You Need to Calm Down,” Swift places herself at the center of a narrative in which she does not belong — that of a civil rights movement which ought to center on gay rights. This egomania is common in the political activism of corporations and celebrities: PR departments across the United States paint their companies rainbow for Pride Month without making tangible contributions to actual advocacy. It is a type of political activism centered on profitization and branding. According to a feature in The Guardian, celebrities often put on the show of activism in order to “hel[p] polish their personal brands” by increasing their own range of power and influence — without actually pushing for tangible change for these communities.
The music video for “You Need to Calm Down” is guilty of this shortcoming. To begin: a garish filter washes over famous BGLTQ icons like Laverne Cox, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Todrick Hall (just to name a few). One feels as though, visually, they are pawns in Swift’s activist agenda.
Moreover, Swift unfairly paints rural communities as the quintessential antagonists of the BGLTQ community. They are depicted in a cartoonish, stereotypical manner with picket signs and crooked teeth while Taylor Swift and her entourage ignore them by tanning on chaise longues — a very apparent disparity in style. There are two major issues with this visual representation: First, Taylor Swift acts as though there are no BGLTQ people in rural communities, and second, the nonchalant attitude towards these protesters does not communicate the serious effect that these movements of bigotry and hatred have. It is not as simple as tanning it off.
Taylor Swift appears as the center of attention through it all, leaving the viewer to question this placement: Why craft a narrative about the BGLTQ community facing bigotry and hatred — and then put herself, a straight white woman, at the center?
An appropriate alternative would have been Taylor Swift removing herself from this narrative and illustrating the role of an ally — one not in the spotlight, but rather in support of those marginalized. She could have written this song, but not placed herself as the star of the music video. But as a result, this music video and song give the feeling of just another corporation trying to profit off Pride Month.
Taylor Swift’s activism continues to shine bright only when it is convenient for her interests. Most recently, her performance at Prime Day intentionally overlooks the Amazon workers strike against the exploitive conditions of their workplace. This performance, and many other superficial political statements, questions the scope of her political activism, which leans more on the side of financial gain, leaving her allyship in question.
—Staff writer Moly M. Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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