Welp, it’s been a chaotic morning in the Taylor Swift extended cinematic universe. Taylor Swift dropped her new music video for “You Need to Calm Down” at exactly 8:15 a.m. ET, and it was brimming with Easter eggs and metaphors that demand critical analysis — right now, we’ve got a team on the floor decoding everything in the video (it’s just me). Directed by Drew Kirsch and Taylor herself, the video features a deluge of (mostly queer) celebrity cameos: Ellen DeGeneres, Ryan Reynolds, Bobby Berk, Billy Porter, Ciara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Justin Mikita, Adam Lambert, Todrick Hall, Hayley Kiyoko, Adam Rippon, Chester Lockhart, Dexter Mayfield, Hannah Hart, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, and RuPaul.
I used to think that tumbling down Taylor Swift’s rabbit hole of clues and Easter eggs was the best way to spend my time, but it’s been a bumpy ride: Many queer critics aren’t happy with Swift’s aggressive LGBTQ allyship and the stringing along of queer fans that many (myself psychotically included) believed would lead up to the singer’s very own coming-out announcement. And look, I’m a lesbian, which means I live and die for context clues. But now I feel in too deep, exhausted by a never-ending string of riddles, like I’m living in the Saw franchise, but no one ever asked if I wanted to play a game. Release me, captor! Anyway, here’s every Easter egg in the “You Need to Calm Down” video. *Taylor Swift voice* This is exhausting.
“MOM, I AM A RICH MAN”
If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time as lead detective on the Taylor Swift case, it’s this: When there are words featured in a music video, those words mean something — usually, future lyrics or song titles. I learned that from the “… Ready for It” music video during Swift’s Reputation era, when she featured the words “They’re burning all the witches” in graffiti, which ended up being a lyric off the album. “You Need to Calm Down” pictures a lot of words, the first of which are stitched into needlepoint: “Mom, I Am A Rich Man.” I’d venture to say that yes, this is a song title off her upcoming seventh studio album, Lover.
But these words are also a quote from a 1996 interview with Cher. In the video, Cher tells the interviewer, “My mom said to me, ‘You know, sweetheart, one day you should settle down and marry a rich man.’ I said, ‘Mom, I am a rich man.’” This could mean a few things to Taylor: One, a Cher collaboration on the upcoming album — so far, she’s already released a collaboration with Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco, teased a collab with the Dixie Chicks, and hinted to Zane Lowe in an interview that the album would feature more big names (a rarity for the artist). So, maybe Cher will be featured on Lover. Or, this could just be an homage to the iconic Cher quote.
(And a disclaimer: My own theory about words meaning something in the TSECU isn’t bulletproof: If every phrase that’s pictured in this video is a song title or lyric, then look out for Swift’s upcoming homophobic anthems, “Homasexuality is a Sin,” “Adam & Eve, Not Adam & Steve,” and “Get a Brain, Morans” — all protest signs held by the hate cult protesting gay rights in this video.)
A bowl of 13 dice were mysteriously placed on a table. Fans wasted no time in playing the numbers game.
The Kitten Watch
Taylor Swift’s newest addition to her cat squad, Benjamin Button, is illustrated on a wristwatch. Benjamin was introduced to the Taylor Swift canon in the “ME!” music video. We stan a blue-eyed legend.
The words “Pink Champagne” are printed on a bottle of such. This sounds like a song title to me.
The Lover Phone
The word “Lover” is written on Swift’s phone case in the same font as the album title. This could mean that “Lover” is not just the album title, but is also a song on the upcoming album. Fun fact: Swift hasn’t had a title track on an album since her Red album in 2012.
The Cake Grab
One fan discovered an Easter egg that ties the “Blank Space” and “You Need to Calm Down” music videos together when Swift grabs a fistful of a heart-shaped cake.
The Back Tattoo
Swift’s prominent back tattoo was featured in the album art for the single — originally, I thought the tattoo depicted a snake turning into butterflies, which is an easy metaphor for the singer’s own metamorphosis from her snake era (the Reputation album was laced with snake motifs and imagery) into the kaleidoscope era. And FYI, a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope, and in the “ME!” video, Brendon Urie’s heartbeat under his jacket turns into a kaleidoscope, a reference to her song “Welcome to New York,” in which she sings, “Kaleidoscope of loud, heartbeats under coats.” The “ME!” video also depicted a snake bursting into a flock of butterflies. However, upon closer inspection, it seems as if Swift’s back tat actually depicts two snakes intertwined, which could symbolize her and another snake making amends — yes folx, Swift’s long-standing feud with Katy Perry has officially come to an end, as Perry is featured at the end of the video. (We’ll get into that later.)
As you may or may not know, there have been rumors swirling of Taylor Swift’s coming out as bisexual for some time now — and this song and video just about collapsed Kaylor Twitter (the faction of the internet that believes Taylor Swift is queer and dated Karlie Kloss). Daisies are pictured a few times in the video, like the one floating in her fruity drink. According to Kaylor lore, daisies are a “known Kaylor symbol,” as Karlie Kloss once posted a photo of a daisy after road-tripping with her “gal pal” and wrote “Best roadtrip ever.” So, Taylor walking away from a burning trailer (which some fans think represented her “closet”; others think it was the trailer from her photo shoot with Kloss) could be a metaphor for finger-banging Karlie Kloss. Plus, Swift just “liked” an image on Tumblr of a fan pointing out that Swift is “carrying the daisy out with her while the world burned behind her.” Noted.
Love Letters Only
A mailbox is tagged with the words “Love Letters Only,” which again, could be very literal — after all, this song and video are about demanding positive messaging and slamming haters — but I think it’s a song title. When in doubt: It’s always a song title!! Do not underestimate the powers that be —Taylor Swift fancies herself a regular Dan Brown, and this music video may just be her Da Vinci Code (in that it’s a little lame).
Bi Flag Hair
In the scene with Todrick Hall, Swift’s hair is quite literally painted the colors of the bi flag, as one fan pointed out. The album cover for Lover is also painted pink and blue. Just sayin’.
The 13 Necklace
This one’s simple. Taylor Swift’s lucky number is 13, the day of the month she was born. She used to write the number on her hand every time she performed. It’s good to see her (the number 13) staying relevant.
The number 5 is prominently hit on, in that Hayley Kiyoko shoots an arrow at a target and it literally sticks into the number 5. According to the Taylor Swift standom, the fifth song on every album is usually the most emotional one (“Delicate” on Reputation; “All Too Well” on Red; “Dear John” on Speak Now; “White Horse” on Fearless). So, song five is a big deal in Swiftland.
Back in February, Taylor also teased the number five with a cryptic image that featured five holes in a fence, which fans assumed was a countdown, but nothing ever happened. In the album art for “You Need to Calm Down,” an orange five-post fence is shown. Swift poked fun at the fandom by posting a photo of said fence and captioning it “There were five posts in the fence.” Some very smart fans think that song five will feature her old pal Hayley Williams, who has a song with called “Fences” with Paramore, from her orange-hair era. Plus, Hayley Kiyoko is shooting the arrow — and they have the same name. Or, maybe Hayley Kiyoko is just featured on track five — Swift invited Kiyoko to perform onstage with her during the Reputation tour, and Kiyoko returned the favor and asked Swift to join her onstage at an LGBTQ benefit concert.
The video depicts out gay Olympic skater Adam Rippon serving snow cones, with the words “Sno-Cones” (and “Snow Cones”) featured. Possible song name.
Musica Delenit Bestiam Feram
Adam Lambert cameos in a quick scene with Ellen DeGeneres, playing a tattoo artist working on Ellen. His arm features a tattoo in Latin that translates to “music soothes the savage beast.” At first, I thought this was a metaphor that aligns with the messaging of the song, that music (the song) could tame the savage beasts (the homophobes). However, this is Adam Lambert’s real tattoo, not a prop tattoo, so it might not mean anything, other than we should really think harder before getting tatted.
In the same scene, Ellen gets tatted up with the words “Cruel Summer” on her forearm — this has to be a song title. Or a Bananarama cover. Or a Bananarama collab. I would give up my gay card for a Taylor–Bananarama collab. Actually, no, I wouldn’t. I’m reserving that valiant offer for a single piece of cold, hard Kaylor evidence. One Kaylor purist theorized that the song will be about the summer Karlie Kloss got engaged. Truly the cruelest of summers.
On another note, this could be a nod to one of Taylor’s biggest haters, Kanye West. Kanye has a G.O.O.D. Music compilation album titled Cruel Summer. But in this Taylor era of “I wish I could build a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy,” I don’t think she’d jab at Kanye. Unless they too are burying the hatchet. Ahh, so many options!
Pop Queen Pageant
The words “Pop Queen Pageant” are pasted on a stage of drag queens performing as pop stars: Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Adele, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj. I can’t imagine this is a song title so much as a metaphor: RuPaul is pictured tossing the winning crown in the air as Taylor sings “we all got crowns,” which just means: There’s no queen of pop, ladies!! All pop stars are queens and we should stop pitting women against each other, according to Taylor Swift! Meanwhile, actual queens of pop Aly & AJ are nowhere to be found onstage: How come, Chief Willoughby?
Also, there has to be some deeper symbolism in the emerald-laden crown, which is heavily featured. I can’t help but notice that the crown’s aesthetic is redolent of the Reputation-era and color palette — the snakeskin greens and shimmering golds that we saw onstage during the Reputation Tour. Could this be a reference to Swift’s song off the 2017 album, “King of My Heart”? I’m not sure. But is the King of her heart Joe Alwyn, her boyfriend who is essentially British furniture? Who knows.
Ryan Reynolds is painting Stonewall in the video. Why? Who needed this? Nobody asked for this Straight to be in the video. I know he’s married to Blake Lively, one of Taylor’s pals, but like … read the room. This is a gays-only event (plus Ciara, who is canonically queer). Anyway, Taylor also popped up at the Stonewall Inn over the weekend for a surprise Pride performance with video co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Everything’s connected, people.
At the end of the video, we see Taylor Swift dressed in a French fry costume and Katy Perry in a hamburger suit (the same one she wore to the Met Gala), both looking lonely amid a crowd of pop drag queens having a cake fight. They find each other, make eyes, and then hold one another lovingly. This part spooked me like a specter flying through my core and chilling every bone in my body to subzero temperatures, because it had me wondering: Are Taylor and Katy exes?? Wouldn’t that explain the extreme bitterness between them?? And now, they’re finally publicly participating in WLW culture by befriending their exes!!
Unfortunately, no. That’s not what happened.
Taylor Swift herself shut down the rumor that she was anything more than an ally to the LGBTQ community. This weekend, a fan heard a leaked narrative about the “You Need to Calm Down” video and tagged Taylor in the post on Tumblr. They wrote, “@taylorswift not to question you but do you know there’s a leaked concept that you and katy dress as fries and a burger and kiss. you do know that’s dumb, right? please tell me you know it’s dumb,” to which Swift responded, “That is ABSOLUTELY false. To be an ally is to understand the difference between advocating and baiting. Anyone trying to twist this positivity into something it isn’t needs to calm down. It costs zero dollars to not step on our gowns.”
But is it not a little weird to lodge a metaphor about finding love in a hopeless place in a video that’s heavily centered around accepting LGBTQ people, and then to hold hands and sway together while looking lustfully into each other’s eyes, in front of a group of anti-gay protestors? The video ends with a heart over Katy and Taylor, throwing to a graphic about equality, asking fans to sign Swift’s petition for Senate support on the Equality Act. And it reads, “Let’s show our pride,” as in, she’s proud too. I know I’m both hopelessly lesbian and a Kaylor truther, but I can’t imagine anyone watching this video — clad with the Fab 5 and RuPaul and Jesse Tyler Ferguson getting married — then see Katy become the burger to Taylor’s fries, and think “Wow, those girls are such good FRIENDS!”
So, I guess that’s it then: Taylor and Katy are just friends, and Taylor Swift is just an ally. I’ll never not hold a candle for you, Gaylor.
Oh, ahem, and one fan pointedly posted a photo of Karlie Kloss kissing her husband, who was dressed in the same burger suit as Katy. Cinematic parallels.