Recently, it’s seemed a bit like Taylor Swift has been stuck in two modes: one, a person telling you that you do want to go out with her but she’s hard work and kooky and you couldn’t handle it (see most of ‘1989’, recent single ‘ME!’); the other, the viper queen who’s sick to the back fangs of the haters and won’t stand for any more of it (see the entire ‘Reputation’ album, its singles, videos, artwork and its tour, with the subtle 100-foot inflatable snakes).
Both modes, it must be said, have produced some officially bloody great pop music, but it was hard to shake off (sorry) the feeling that ‘ME!’ was retreading old ground.
In the meantime, as she hurtles toward the age of reason that is 30, we’ve seen the emergence of a new Taylor in actions, if not song. She’s ditched her apolitical stance to publicly denounce Donald Trump, she recently donated over a hundred grand to an LGBTQ advocacy group and has just petitioned her senator and endorsed a Change.org petition in favour of the US Equality Act.
The gap between action and art is vastly narrowed by her brand new single, the hot-off-the-presses ‘You Need To Calm Down’, which, over the course of three succinct verses and less than three minutes – and to an irresistible synthy bassline that sounds pleasingly like MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’ – spells out a manifesto.
In the first verse, Taylor hits out at keyboard warriors and online haters. So far, so familiar. But the interesting thing is the language: where ‘Reputation’ was arched of back and full of ire, the new single is withering in its measured response. “Taking shots at me like it’s Patron/And I’m just like, damn, it’s 7am/You need to calm down.” Yeah, calm down, mate! Pop the kettle on.
Instead of fighting fire tweets with snake emojis, it challenges haters to say it to her face, the old fashioned way. “Say it in the street, that’s a knockout/You say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out/And I’m just like, Hey, are you OK?!”.
Then we get something of an Easter egg harking back to ‘Reputation’, and the great snake wars of 2017/8. “Snakes and stones never broke my bones,” she says, pointedly in the past tense. And with that, we move on.
Verse two is for this special Pride month, urging people to join in the celebration and mocking those who inexplicably find offence in the happiness and lifestyle choices of others. “Sunshine on the street at the parade/But you just wanna be in the dark age/Just making the sign/must’ve taken all night,” it goes, before delivering a death blow that’s equally withering and witty: “Shade never made anybody less gay”. Round of applause for that one.
The third verse moves on to the sport of pitting successful women against each other. “You’re comparing the girls who are killing it,” it say. “We all got crowns.” Another neat parry.
This, then is the sound of the gently political Taylor we were promised: first looking inward, then looking out to the world, picking her issues carefully, choosing her words economically and – thank goodness – packaging it in an infectious, bite-size pop package. Efficient. Pointed. Careful. Great. A swift turnaround, you might say.