I used to think there was nothing more bone-chilling than a man who uses the word riddle. Riddles and puzzles are creepy when men present them. But recently, I realized my favorite pastime is decoding Taylor Swift’s labyrinthine puzzles on social media and in her music. Swift is like a pop-star Sphinx, demanding you solve a riddle or thou shalt not pass.
Swift’s new, rainbow-laden era launched in April with a giant clue trail leading up to the release of the first single, “ME!,” off her just-announced seventh album, Lover. Now she’s back with a second upbeat, Pride-parade-on-roids-sounding single, “You Need to Calm Down.” Written by Swift and Joel Little, the song has mazelike lyrics that sent fans into a tizzy, proving once and for all that my favorite pop star has the one thing I’ve always feared most: Big Riddle Energy. Let’s decode this beast together, line by line.
“You are somebody that I don’t know”
Ew. You’re a stranger. Don’t talk to me. Don’t even look at me.
“But you’re takin’ shots at me like it’s Patrón”
I don’t know you, yet you’re being mean to me.
“And I’m just like, damn, it’s 7 a.m.”
I haven’t even had my java yet. You’re roasting me before my java’s been roasted. Some fans think this song is a direct @ to Donald Trump — and with his infamous sunrise Twitter-diarrhea rants, the theory totally tracks. (She, uh, also released the song on the dude’s birthday, so there’s that.)
“Say it in the street, that’s a knockout”
If you have something to say, say it to my face. Say it. Do it, coward. Also some fans think knockout refers to the “Bad Blood” music video, in which Taylor’s former BFF, Karlie Kloss, plays a character called Knockout.
“But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out”
Oh really? You’re gonna subtweet me? No, do it, pussy. (My inner Taylor Swift voice is extremely pugnacious and ready for combat.) This lyric could also be referencing Swift’s feud with Kim Kardashian, who famously subtweeted the singer in 2016 with a bunch of snake emoji.
“And I’m just like, ‘Hey, are you okay?’”
You good, bro? You’re subtweeting me, but what’s this really about? Is this really about the mean comment, or is this about yourself and your own insecurities? In my opinion, the overall message of the first verse is simply: Stop bullying. As Swift explained in a video to her fans on social media, “I’ve observed a lot of different people in our society who put so much energy and effort into negativity, and it made me feel like, ‘You need to just calm down.’”
“And I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression”
She’s like, “Do you, brother. Live your life even if that means being Very Online.”
“But I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun”
This is undoubtedly a reference to her now-quashed beef with Katy Perry. The two pop superstars Instagrammed together two days ago. Swift announced “You Need to Calm Down” the following day (yesterday), before dropping it at midnight, and please remember that everything Taylor does is meticulously calculated with surgical precision. She and Katy used to stress and obsess over each other’s business, but it’s over now. She rose above.
“And snakes and stones never broke my bones”
This play on words is an obvious reference to her Snake era, a.k.a. the reputation album, which was painted with snake iconography (see: the “Look What You Made Me Do” video). The snakes represented her very public feud with Kim Kardashian (who had called her a snake) and the insidious public narrative that was crafted around her as such.
“So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh”
The adorable chorus of singing trolls from the film Trolls could never. And also, internet trolls are bald.
“You need to calm down, you’re being too loud”
Chillax. Your tweet is literally screeching at me.
“And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (Oh)”
All the trolls/Trolls passed quietly in their sleep last night.
“You need to just stop, like can you just not step on my gown?”
Some fans took this line literally, tweeting, “I’m pretty certain Taylor Swift made that lyric about not stepping on her gown because she has great gowns, just beautiful gowns.” It’s true. I think this lyric is just about her recent fashion lewks. She’s been going absolute freakin’ sicko mode on the gowns. But also this is definitely a reference to the time Aretha Franklin apocalyptically shaded Taylor. When pressed for her opinions on her successors, Franklin had nice things to say about Alicia Keys and Adele, but when asked about Taylor, all she had to say was “Great gowns. Beautiful gowns.”
“You need to calm down”
Everyone take a collective breath. This is a meditation bop.
“You are somebody that we don’t know”
Notice the pronoun shift from I to we. The first verse was about Taylor herself, grappling with her own media narrative and the bullying she faced and rising from her ashes like a snake-phoenix. Now it’s about us and the bullying we’re all pressed with.
“But you’re comin’ at my friends like a missile”
We are her FRIENDS. Stop YELLING at us. Don’t talk to Taylor Swift or her sons ever again.
“Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD? (You could be GLAAD)”
Here’s where it gets interesting — or at least it did for Gay Twitter. For background: There is a faction of lesbian Tumblr, the Kaylor shippers, who believe Taylor Swift and former BFF Karlie Kloss were romantically involved. When “ME!” dropped in April, fans theorized about a string of clues that led Kaylors to believe Swift was finally coming out with it — either an admission that she did indeed bone Jared Kushner’s sister-in-law or was coming out. So there’s a sector of the internet waiting to pop the absolute fuck off at any slight mention of gayness.
Here, Swift purposely spelled glad with two A’s, referring to pro-LGBTQ media organization GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Since the beginning of Pride Month, Swift has been super pro-gay-rights. She recently made a generous donation to GLAAD and wrote a letter to her senator asking him to support the Equality Act, urging her fans to do the same. I remember being so truculently pro-gay-rights moments before I came out that all my friends were like, “We’re pro-LGBT too, but like … you, good?” Just sayin’. (Never stop, Kaylors).
“Sunshine on the street at the parade”
Holy hell, she’s talking about Pride parades! Gay rights!
“But you would rather be in the dark ages”
Grow up, Republicans. It’s 2019, and you’re 2000 and mean.
“Makin’ that sign must’ve taken all night”
Nice anti-gay protest sign, you bigoted butt brain. Can’t believe Taylor Swift just ended homophobia. Thank you, Mom.
“You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace and control your urges to scream about all the people you hate”
Notice her use of the word seats. She’s saying, “Mike Pence: electric chair.” Some fans think the second verse and pre-chorus are directed at Trump and the administration, who need to sit down, stop “screaming,” and restore the peace of the Obama era — which, like, was there ever really peace? No. But were white people less emboldened to refuse same-sex cake toppers? Yes. Other fans think it’s just directed at all the conservative, regressive people in America. Some fans believe it refers to the Equality Act.
“’Cause shade never made anybody less gay”
Here’s where lesbian Twitter (specifically Kaylor Twitter) went mad with power. I found my timeline speckled with little Taylor Swift avatars tweeting that this moment was (for the second time this album cycle) for sure when Swift came out. Some said this was her first step in the coming-out process. Other fans, who think with reason rather than their own lesbianism (unlike the Kaylors and myself), insisted that Swift was just calling out homophobes, saying, “Gay people will still be gay, no matter how much you yell that you hate them.” Regardless, it was jarring to hear Swift say the word gay out loud after months of our praying to the Lesbian Goddess that she’d come out in the Lover era. I’m still holding a candle for Bi-lor.
Some fans sleuthed that there are also hidden Pride flags in the art for “You Need to Calm Down.” And regarding the album-art sleuthing, you’ll note that Swift’s back is tattooed with a snake morphing into butterflies, which is metaphorical but also references the opening scene in the “ME!” video. Swift took to social media to poke fun at her PI-like fans who obsessively pointed out that one of her pre-“ME!” Instagrams depicted a fence with five holes — which had to have meant something. And now it does: There were five posts in the fence.
“So oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh”
BREAKING: Trolls found dead in a ditch.
“You need to calm down, you’re being too loud. And I’m just like oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh (Oh)”
You get it.
“You need to just stop, like can you just not step on his gown? You need to calm down.”
Note her nuanced pronoun usage! She switched my gown to his gown. Men wear gowns too, Mike Pence.
“And we see you over there on the internet, comparing all the girls who are killing it”
Stop pitting women against each other, say the fans!
“But we figured you out. We all know now we all got crowns. You need to calm down”
Another pronoun switch-up — Taylor Swift wears gowns. So do men. And Swift and all her gay fans have crowns. Eat shit, hets. (I’m pretty sure she’s saying, “Eat shit, hets.”)
And that’s it! Well, there’s one more chorus, but the only change is another pronoun swap, when she says our gowns. We all have gowns now, bitch. Taylor Swift just dropped the Pride Month bop of the century and told Donald Trump, Republicans, haters, and both kinds of trolls to calm down. We have no choice but to stan Karlie Kloss’s ex.