She's been queer-baiting us this whole time.
It all started with "Kissgate" in 2014.
A blurry photo of Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss allegedly making out spread like wildfire across the internet, only to be quickly debunked by a rep for the singer. Regardless, the conspiracy theory remained prevalent, with fans dedicating an exorbitant amount of time to unearthing The Truth: that Swift and Kloss had been secretly dating for years.
Swift has always had a dedicated fanbase in the queer community, and rightfully so. For years the singer has been a powerful LGBTQ ally. But she also has a long history of queerbaiting. If you don't know, queerbaiting is defined as a "marketing technique for fiction and entertainment in which creators hint at, but then do not actually depict, same-sex romance or other LGBTQ representation." Swift's career has been rampant with it.
The most recent example is off Swift's new album folklore. Track 14 is called "Betty" and tells a story from the perspective of James, a teenager in love with a classmate named Betty. Fans and even publications are speculating that the character of James is actually Swift herself because Taylor Alison Swift is named after James Taylor. A weak connection, no? But undoubtedly one Swift always intended for us to make.
Another example that comes quickly to mind is "You Need To Calm Down," an on-the-nose LGBTQ+ anthem. It paints Swift as a gay crusader, dethroning homophobes on the internet and asking those stupid trolls right to their stupid faces: "Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD?" When Swift started promoting new music with a series of clues on Instagram, some fans read into the initial announcements as T-Swift coming out. Despite the undeniable internet frenzy, she never clarified and continued to mislead fans. She played further into the "Kaylor" conspiracy theory, commissioning a mural in Nashville that looks eerily similar to the Victoria's Secret Wings Kloss wore at the 2013 show. Shortly afterwards, Swift posed in a power suit, added rainbow filters to her photos, and rearranged her Instagram aesthetic to include an inordinate amount of blue, pink and purple, which are the bisexual pride colors. At a recent performance, fans noticed that she changed all the pronouns in one of her songs to "her." She even dropped minute hints, such as uploading a photo of chickens in sunglasses, which fans interpreted to imply "cool chicks." Then, she finally dropped "ME!" on April 26, Lesbian Visibility Day, alongside Brandon Urie, a pansexual icon. The "Gaylor" speculation had become a pandemic.
With the release of "You Need To Calm Down" we finally saw that it was all just Swift showing her superfluous support for LGBTQ+ people. Taylor Swift's gaybaited the queer community for publicity, demonstrating a surprising detachment from the very movement she's trying to promote. But this wasn't the first time Swift has made tone-deaf promotional decisions. For her Reputation album rollout, she faced heavy criticism for allegedly taunting Kanye West, whom the singer had feuded with the previous year. Reputation's launch date was set for the anniversary of Kanye's mother's death. Swift then tweeted the link to her video for "Look What You Made Me Do" during the MTV VMA's "when the mother of Heather Heyer, a woman killed by the vehicular attack while protesting white supremacists in Charlottesville, was speaking on stage," wrote VICE. "The unfortunate timing is emblematic of how utterly detached from the world Swift is." She was accused of "rehashing old grudges" during her Reputation rollout in 2017, bringing attention to her petty beef during the first year of Trump's presidency, a time when celebrity feuds were the last thing on the public's mind.
Fast forward to 2020, and Swift has allegedly found her political calling. But her inability to recognize her intentionally misleading promotional campaign as queerbaiting and her inability to separate herself from the movement she's trying to empower exemplifies an artist who, in theory, is an LGBTQ+ champion but in practice is as self-obsessed as ever. Her "clues"—many of which still remain devoid of proper context—exemplify a Swift that is still at the center of her own universe. But most of all, fans are just disappointed. "I really thought Taylor was out this time. I really did!" wrote Buzzfeed News. "Now there's a big part of me...that feels like the rollout for Taylor's new song and video was a calculated attempt to queerbait us all."
But perhaps artists who queerbait, like
Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, and Swift, are a necessary evil—at least for now. It matters more at this moment in time that queer audiences feel empowered and respected, and regardless of her methods, we have to applaud Swift for putting her money where her mouth is. Still, if you're going to tell a queer story, at least have the courage to make it blatantly queer. With all the dust beginning to settle, the release of "Betty" reminds us that it's silly to "think of [Swift's] orientation as anything other than capitalism" and that well-timed internet drama is still the pinnacle of the Swift ideology.
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