When Taylor Swift went on tour for her most recent album, Reputation, she brought a friend along for company: a massive animatronic snake named Karyn. The snake, Reputation’s semiofficial mascot, was also a reference to Swift’s ongoing feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West and everyone else on social media who started using snake emojis as a shorthand for Swift. (I don’t have the energy to rehash the history of their relationship here; this is a good place to start.)
But for Swift's forthcoming album, Lover, it looks like Karyn is emerging from her chrysalis and evolving into a beautiful butterfly. On Friday, Swift released the album’s second single, “You Need to Calm Down,” the album art for which depicts Swift in a pink bikini, pink fur, and heart-shaped crystal earrings—with a massive back tattoo of a snake bursting into a flock of butterflies. (She posted the art to her Instagram, captioned, nonsensically, “Gxgjxkhdkdkydkhdkhfjvjfj,” though it probably means something to her detective fans). The song is sort of an anthem to rising above the fray—“Snakes and stones never broke my bones,” she sings—in a variety of contexts.
For it’s not just the snake issue that Swift is trying to rise above; she also hits back at homophobes, the online stans who eagerly fan the flames of feuds between the likes of Swift and Katy Perry, or, looking even farther back, Swift and Nicki Minaj, and even those who would dare step on her gown. Here, a complete taxonomy of the trolls that Swift denounces in “You Need to Calm Down.”
Swift’s lyrics might focus on her personal struggles with trolls, but she quickly zooms out to larger political issues. “Why are you mad, when you could be GLAAD?” she sings, referring to the LGBTQ antidiscrimination media watchdog organization. The verse goes on to describe Pride parades, denouncing counterprotesters: “Shade never made anybody less gay,” she sings. (At the beginning of the month, she started a Change.org petition supporting the Equality Act.)
Anyone who would dare “come for my friends”
A reference to the LGBTQ community, probably, but also perhaps an allusion to various controversies over Swift’s “squad,” which was more fun for her than it was for anyone else.
Pop star vs. pop star stans
Speaking of which: Twitter and Instagram trolls have made much of Swift’s alleged feud with Katy Perry (see also: “Bad Blood”). Earlier in the month, Perry posted a photo of a tray of misshapen cookies Swift had supposedly baked for her, seeming to herald the conclusion of the alleged breach in their friendship. And now Swift wants no more: “We see you over there on the Internet, comparing all the girls who are killing it,” she sings.
“Snakes and stones never broke my bones,” Swift sings in the pre-chorus. After appropriating the snake emoji, and snake imagery, generally, for the Reputation album cycle, she is pivoting, instead…to butterflies.
People who would dare step on her, or anyone else’s, gown
This one’s been interpreted as a possible reference to Billy Porter’s look for the Academy Awards earlier this year, but also…the red carpet can be a vicious place.