(Disclaimer: Obviously, I mean to take nothing away from genuine Songs About Lesbians, which are beautiful and frankly, not nearly as ubiquitous as they should be. Nor do I want to disparage the good work of anyone covering a pop song and not changing the pronouns, creating a de facto gay version. Heroes, every one of them. I guess what I’m saying is that the worship circle for Angel Haze’s version of Same Love is Tuesday at 8, I’ll bring the guacamole.)
I spent the first four summers of my employable life as a lifeguard in a Chicago suburb, a job I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in maintaining a low level of anxiety for hours at a time. Being that I was too shy to flirt with patrons and too absolutely terrified to daydream, I spent most of my time listening intently to the family-safe top 40 radio we played. Hours of it, day after day, for four long summers. I’ve heard more Coldplay than you’ve heard Coldplay jokes. What I’m getting at here is a discovery you may not have had the opportunity to make: Taylor Swift is secretly writing lesbian vignettes for us all.
But wait, Taylor Swift’s not a lesbian. (Related viewing: Taylor performing Closer with Tegan and Sara.) Sure, but that’s not the point! There are no legitimacy requirements for Songs That Should Be About Lesbians. Finding queerness where there is none is an important gay teen ritual. There are some artists for whom this game does not work: Jason DeRulo, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5. Trust me, I have tried them all. If you’re looking for lesbians in your soft pop selection, Taylor Swift is the way to go.
You Belong With Me: This one is almost too easy, so we’ll start here. Our moody band geek narrator wears a lot of t-shirts and sneakers, and that’s how we know we’re supposed to identify with her. Take the first verse:
You’re on the phone with your girlfriend, she’s upset
She’s going off about something that you said
Cause you don’t get her humor like I do.
What’s that? Those aren’t quite the lyrics? Of course they are. Because this is a song about unrequited love across the hierarchy matrix of high school, featuring the beautiful-but-oblivious male best friend who’s dating that cheerleader you want to kiss.
She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers
Dreaming ’bout the day when she wakes up and finds
That what she’s looking for has been here the whole time
If that last line doesn’t resonate with you, then you’ve clearly never had a crush on a straight girl. And may you never.
Mine: “Mine” is so cute that it’s hard to talk about. It also conveniently does not contain a single male pronoun. Instead, our narrator meets a college student-slash-waitress who teaches her that Nora Ephron and all of those Tumblr quotes were right about love all along, and the whole thing plays out like every fanfiction you’ve ever read.
Do you remember we were sitting there by the water?
You put your arm around me for the first time.
You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.
You are the best thing that’s ever been mine
Aren’t we all a careless man’s careful daughter? And aren’t we all interpreting “made a rebel” the same way? (Ed. note—it’s–it’s being a lesbian, right? That’s how we’re interpreting it?) In my version of this song, the waitress has a Sara Quin haircut and wears a lot of tank tops that show off her tattoo of an image from a beloved children’s book.
Flash forward and we’re taking on the world together
And there’s a drawer of my things at your place
I can only hope that “taking on the world together” means “making it gayer” and “wearing power blazers.” I’m pretty sure that it does.
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Has there ever been a better song about giving up on an ex-girlfriend? No, there has not. This one’s particularly rallying, too.
Ooh we called it off again last night
But ooh this time I’m telling you, I’m telling you.
This song is drinking a whole bottle of white wine, listening to Ani DiFranco, and finally ordering those motorcycle boots you can’t afford.
You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me
But we are never ever ever getting back together
There’s even a special mention of the lesbian/bi grapevine, which I promise you is present even in my small Iowa town. You can talk all you want, our narrator is saying, but it doesn’t matter because she’s definitely going to get that short haircut.
Fifteen: “Fifteen” is about high school, but more importantly it’s about growing up and falling into your first relationship and slowly realizing which people are going to matter most. And at its core, “Fifteen” is–with a little help from your selective hearing–about the power of female friendship.
You sit in class next to a redhead named Abigail
And soon enough you’re best friends
Laughing at the other girls who think they’re so cool
We’ll be outta here as soon as we can
Abigail! Abigail has red hair and probably lets the narrator call her Abby and they’re going to know each other for the rest of their lives. When Abigail loses her virginity to a boy “who changed his mind” they curl up and cry together, and it’s all going to be okay.
I’ve found time can heal most anything
And you just might find who you’re supposed to be
I didn’t know who I was supposed to be at fifteen. Being a teenager means not knowing who you are, but who you want (or don’t want) to be. It means realizing somewhere in the back of your confused reptilian brain when you meet someone who fits next to you, and not quite understanding why you can feel every inch of your skin blush when she leans over in calculus to make a joke about tangents, or why you’ll take her phone calls even when Gilmore Girls is on.
So “Fifteen” is not about lesbians, at least not yet. But it’s a love story nonetheless.
Stay Stay Stay: “Stay Stay Stay” was not technically a single, but it features beautiful gender-neutral lyrics and an annoyingly catchy chorus. It’s also absent of almost any setting details, so you can fill them in with whatever you want. Are they two dancers at a queer burlesque in Paris? The art teacher and the English teacher at a junior high? A youth pastor at an LGBT church in California and a surfer who handmakes recycled jewelry? This song is your lesbian oyster.
I’m pretty sure we almost broke up last night
I threw my phone across the room at you
I was expecting some dramatic turn-away,
But you stayed
In this case, the narrator and her girlfriend share a third-floor walk-up in Andersonville, where one of them works as a barista and the other is having only a modicum of success as a freelance writer. On Wednesdays they go to Ann Sather and order a single dinner with a cinnamon roll as both sides, so they can each have one.
This morning I said we should talk about it
‘Cause I read you should never leave a fight unresolved
That’s when you came in wearing a football helmet
And said “okay, let’s talk.”
Why a football helmet? Maybe it’s a roleplay thing. Maybe she played for her high school’s football team. It’s up to you! That’s the beauty of Songs That Should Be About Lesbians.
Liz Zaretsky listens to a lot of Taylor Swift.