The entire world has seemingly been parsing Taylor Swift‘s “You Need To Calm Down” video since its release this morning, and there is a whole lot to take in. Not only does the video serve as Swift’s full-throttled embrace of the LGBQT community, with more queer celeb cameos than an entire mall’s worth of pride capsule collection campaigns, but it also signals the end of Swift’s longstanding feud with fellow pop star Katy Perry. Yet, after figuring out which of my favorite Drag Race girls played which of Swift’s contemporaries (was no one available to play Rihanna?) and browsing my Twitter feed for immediate reactions, there was one seemingly random and somewhat unsettling image that stuck in my mind: a caked decorated in white frosting and, of all things, shrimp.
The cake appears at the 2:38 mark in the video, mere seconds after RuPaul himself appears to toss a crown up into the air in front of the lineup of drag queens–as–pop stars. It’s the first of a series of three cakes, all of which promptly get dug into to start a food fight that sets up the fast food–themed pop star peace segment of the video. This cake, though, is the only one that seems to be decorated oddly. In case you aren’t aware, shrimp does not traditionally go on cake.
If this were any other pop star, I’d chalk it up as a stylistic flourish, meant to visually provoke but ultimately mean nothing, but this is Swift. Her penchant for hiding easter eggs and secret messages in the visuals that support her music is well known. This is not the kind of artist who puts shrimp on a cake just to put shrimp on a cake.
Bless them, some members of the Swift army were trying to decode what, if anything, the shrimp cake meant, but none came up with any particularly satisfying answers. Most just tried to count the shrimp.
I tried to rack my brain for any connection between shrimp and queer history. The best I could come up with was the seminal drag performance artist Vaginal Davis, who is somewhat famous for her “shrimping” routine (i.e., sucking an audience member’s toes on stage). While I first learned of Davis in a song (Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic,” to be exact), this might be a little bit too deep of a reference for Swift.
Then I just searched Twitter for “Taylor Swift shrimp.”
Apparently back in 2015 she was caught on camera having a particularly hard time peeling a jumbo shrimp.
Well, that establishes that Swift has a documented history with the common menu item shrimp, and yet this didn’t really provide closure for me. With nothing left to do, I opened Google, and with few options remaining, I put in the search term “gay shrimp” for what I think is possibly the first time.
The first result: GodHatesShrimp.com.
Suddenly, it all came together.
The Bible doesn’t actually have all that much to say about homosexuality, and the most frequent passage used to justify certain churches’ historic oppression of LGBT people can be found in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. “[Men] shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination,” it says, at least according to some English translations. There’s been a whole lot of discourse about how, exactly, the original Hebrew of the passage should be properly translated, and how any translation should be taken into context.
Others, more simply, point to the fact that the passage is part of an Old Testament holiness code that most modern Christians don’t otherwise adhere to. Leviticus also classifies eating anything form the sea that doesn’t have scales and fins an “abomination,” which means that according to Leviticus, eating shrimp is a sin on par with homosexuality. For what it’s worth, the shellfish bit is also referenced again in Deuteronomy. The Bible makes it pretty clear: Don’t eat shrimp.
Activists over the years have pounced on the hypocrisy (including the people behind that God Hates Shrimp website), and argued that the religious excuses for persecution of the LGBT community don’t seem to be that clear. You don’t see Church groups picketing Red Lobsters.
Swift’s own Christian faith was referenced somewhat frequently in her earlier lyrics, and it only makes sense that at some point between singing about prayers and making a music video featuring a gay wedding officiated by Ciara, she’d investigate what the Bible has to say about homosexuality.
For the record, those also seems to be pork sausages near the shrimp cake, which Leviticus also forbids. The section supposedly forbids tattoos as well, and the video features two prominent examples of tattoos, on Swift’s back and Ellen DeGeneres’s forearm. Seems like there’s a bit of a theme here.
So maybe, just maybe, that’s the reason why Swift’s new video features a cake with shrimp on it. I truly cannot think of any other reason why shrimp would end up on a cake in a video that also features anti-gay protestors who proclaim “Homasekualty is a sin!” Or maybe I just need to calm down.