On Friday, December 11th, the Taylor Swift gay subtext industrial complex sprang into action when she dropped another surprise album during quarantine.
When Swift unexpectedly released her eighth studio album, folklore, earlier this year, the collective delight at the dreamy imagery and woodsy nostalgia was matched only by the collective drive to unravel the riddle of each song and discover the gayness within. Certain tracks like “betty” and “august” seemed rife with the kind sapphic subtext that many queer Taylor Swift fans have come to yearn for and even expect. Speculation immediately sprang up that “betty” was about this or that “close friend,” and that the figure of “James” was clearly Swift herself, because she is named after James Taylor. Fans were predictably undeterred by Swift’s official explanation involving a decidedly heterosexual love triangle.
The release of evermore has proven no different. As someone whom Spotify says was in the top 1% of Taylor Swift’s listeners in 2020, and who also thinks she might be a robot (but like, a cute one), I have already taken with fervor to my group chats and Zoom calls for discussion. Conventional wisdom says, “fool me once, shame on you,” but though Swift has fooled me twice now, I have no shame at all, and that’s why I’m ranking the fifteen songs of evermore (not including the bonus tracks yet to be released) in order from least-to-most gay.
I love sifting through Swift’s work for gay Easter eggs, but it’s always good to point out that while it’s a hobby, it is not a necessity. We’re lucky enough to live in a time when there are folks like Be Steadwell, Janelle Monae, Shea Diamond, Hayley Kiyoko, and too many more to name. If you’re ever feeling fatigued from all this riddling, remember that there are plenty of explicitly queer musicians making explicitly queer music, and sometimes it can be refreshing to put down your magnifying glass and decoder ring, and give something truly gay a listen.
“I sit and listen / I polish plates until they gleam and glisten / You’re so much older and wiser and I / Wait by the door like I’m just a kid”
The power imbalance and strict gender roles embedded in this track (he’s older and wiser and she stays home fussing over housework and preparing him lavish and unappreciated dinners) feel reminiscent of the worst kind of heterosexual relationship. Also, I’m the one making this list, and that means I get to put the toxic dynamics on the straight end of the spectrum. That’s just how it goes.
“Your mom’s ring in your pocket / My picture in your wallet / Your heart was glass I dropped it / Champagne problems”
This chronicle of a seemingly natural match that unbeknownst to the naive, privileged man at its center has been fraying all along because one half of the equation is not as picture-perfect as the other is a soft bop — but it’s not gay. Swift may be unable to keep up the shiny facade of their love, but that mostly seems due to the pressure that WASP-y wealth puts on everything around it. This mama’s boy will have to find another lovely bride.
“I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me”
Low on the gay scale simply because (unlike many of these tracks) the focus of this song isn’t on a romance but on a familial relationship. This song is a tribute to Swift’s grandmother, Marjorie, and though it may not be gay, it is an achingly accurate portrait of what it feels like to love someone immensely and miss them terribly, in a year that’s been uniquely full of missing and loving people. I lost my mom just over a year ago, and the marjorie lyric video, a collage of old pictures and videos, made me reach for my own photo album.
coney island (feat. The National)
“Cause we were like the mall before the internet / It was the one place to be”
In my deeply unprofessional opinion, this song is neutral. Missing the vibrance of a love that was once as novel and technicolor as a carnival and has since deteriorated to the point of no return is neither particularly gay, nor particularly not gay. Plus, we all know malls are the great equalizer.
“Everybody wants you / But I don’t like a gold rush”
Now we’re getting into Taylor Swift gay subtext territory! There’s a certain something sapphic about coveting someone beautiful, knowing that they’re widely desired but there’s a kind of danger to your love for them that you just can’t bear, even though all you want is to lean into it. That being said, this song reminds me of nothing so much as every boy I considered going near in high school. I can sort of see the appeal, but the most satisfying part is usually reveling in it and then, like Taylor, declaring, “it could never be.”
no body, no crime (feat. Haim)
“Good thing my daddy made me get a boating / license when I was fifteen”
This contemporary take on the classic country spurned woman song, reminiscent of “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood and “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks, does technically center on a number of different heterosexual relationships. However, there is something just inherently queer about murdeirng the man who murdered the woman you loved (even if it was just in a “gal pal” type way). I dunno, maybe I’m just a sucker for a woman with a boating license.
long story short
“Long story short it was a bad time / Long story short I survived”
The upbeat, deliberate way Swift shrugs off her struggles is pretty familiar to anyone who’s trained in the self-deprecating art of acting like the worst things that have ever happened to them weren’t that big a deal. Resilience is a common trait among gay folks, and this song captures it pretty damn well.
“I’m fine with my spite and my tears and my beers and my candles.”
If the number of closure-seeking multi-paragraph texts I have both written and received (and seen via petty screenshot and proofread for friends and so on) are any indication, gays are not good at loose ends. For that reason, this song felt familiar to me from the letter-writer’s perspective. On the flip side, we also know a lot — too much — about having to let go of relationships with people who just cannot see us and love us in the way we deserve. Sometimes you know someone’s closure-seeking letter arrives with strings attached that might pull you apart, and nobody else’s guilt is worth unraveling yourself over. That painful understanding? Gay. (At least Taylor Swift gay subtext!)
cowboy like me
“I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve / Takes one to know one / You’re a cowboy like me”
It could be my enduring love for Brokeback Mountain, but there’s just something gay about cowboys. Plus, two professional swindlers leaving a trail of broken hearts and empty wallets behind them just sounds even better when they’re queer.
‘tis the damn season
“And the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you in my hometown”
Small towns have got a reputation for being impossible to find queer love in. That reputation isn’t entirely unearned, but as any small-town gay can tell you, it’s not the whole story. I didn’t have this experience in my particular small town, but my partner did and when they talk about it, it sounds so damn cinematic I’m almost like, “Hm, maybe I should go back in time and give this flavor of heartbreak a try.” Plus, maybe it’s just the deluge (yes, a handful is a deluge around here) of lesbian holiday movies we’ve seen recently, but this song just… sounded gay to me.
“There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you / Both of these things can be true”
I hear this frank refrain, and I wonder if Taylor and I have been seeing the same therapist. Considering how severely the straights often seem to be lagging behind in terms of healthy takes on ending a romance, I’d call this track gay. These are the sorts of things that people say upon the aching but amicable dissolution of a relationship, the kind where eventually you’re going to be friends. And if there’s anything that lesbians know how to do, it’s stay friends with their exes.
“The more you say, the less I know / Wherever you stray, I follow / I’m begging for you to take my hand / Wreck my plans / That’s my man”
To me, this song sounded like the very first time you fall in love with someone you maybe didn’t know you could, and you realize that this other person has some entire world at their fingertips, and that just completely knocks your ideas about everything that is and could be asunder, and all you can do is follow them into this new thing. As for the word, “man,” I’ll change my mind when baristas stop calling me “sir” every time I wear a baseball cap.
evermore (feat. Bon Iver)
“And I couldn’t be sure / I had a feeling so peculiar / This pain wouldn’t be for / Evermore”
This song found me in the middle school bathroom where my gay panic was congealing into a crisis. It stroked my hair while I cried, and then kissed me on the cheek and sent me a link to a slightly cheesy but situationally-appropriate “it gets better” PSA. Gay.
“So tell me to run / Or dare to sit and watch what we’ll become / And drink my husband’s wine”
Building an ethereal world together in an ivy-covered cabin? Holding intense, yearning eye contact right under your husband’s nose because he’s got his guard down when it’s “just your gal pal” over? The air of indiscretion isn’t necessarily ideal representation, but the scenario could easily be an Oscar-bait film. This song wasn’t initially high on the list, but the more I listened, the gayer it sounded. It also has the distinction of being one of the only two songs on this album that doesn’t just capture a gay feeling, or have a queer ambience, but could potentially depict an actual gay relationship.
“But it’s never too late to come back to my side / The stars in your eyes shined brighter in Tupelo”
Dorothea is selling make-up and magazines, and Swift is more than bought in. Dorothea is skipping the prom, and Swift is right there with her. This song conjures images of a relationship that’s weathered years, with too much love at its heart to ever turn bitter. Is Swift singing from a man’s perspective again? Probably (most likely, the man at the other end of “‘tis the damn season”). Will I allow this to stop me from awarding this catchy appeal for the woman you love to come home to you, crooned in a woman’s voice, the title evermore’s most Official Most Taylor Swift Gay Subtext song? Nope!