The great curse of growing up queer in a heteronormative world is having a hard time relating to romantic pop songs unless you really read between the lines.
LGBTQ+ people are great at finding queercoding in media—whether it’s there or not—and since every single album by Taylor Swift makes me feel like I’m deciphering nineteenth-century poetry in my college lit classes, I thought I could find some gay messages in her discography while I try to figure out the general messages of her work.
For this list, I’ve found five songs and supporting evidence-based solely on personal preference and interpretation. These are just my opinions as a lesbian who enjoys Taylor Swift, and I can’t speak to Ms. Swift’s motivation behind any of the things I’m going to mention.
I limited this list to only five songs for length, but I’m sure there are dozens more that fit this topic, so it could definitely be revisited in a second part down the road. For now, enjoy Five Taylor Swift Songs That I Think Have Gay Messages.
Dorothea – Evermore
2020 was a big year for Taylor Swift, with two album releases that feature heavily emotional songs and blatantly gay vibes. Dorothea is the only song on that album that screams lesbian to me, because it sounds like the narrator is singing to her childhood friend, except it was more than that for her. This is a textbook case of closeted kids pining after their best friends. Face it, we’ve all been there. The narrator is reaching out to Dorothea well into adulthood and finding out that she’s doing really well for herself, but extends her goodwill and reminds her that they could always still be friends.
One verse that really sticks out to me right in the beginning is the line, “This place is the same as it ever was/but you don’t like it that way.” This bit gives me the impression that Dorothea and the narrator maybe grew up in a small town where they couldn’t logically be together, but now Dorothea has left the home she was unhappy with in order to start over.
The narrator also recalls a memory from high school, in which the two of them skipped prom together, despite Dorothea’s mom really wanting her to go. I imagine they spent that time together completely innocently, but that there was a thrill in the sneaking around for the narrator, even if nothing was going on.
I see a similar thing with the line, “Are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers?” The narrator is lamenting what could have been and what she’ll never know at the same time, and it’s bittersweet because she obviously wants her friend to succeed, but there’s always that “what if?” What if they had been together back then? How could that have changed their present, if at all? Is it still a possibility? This song has all the childhood pining and hopeless longing of a well-rounded, unrequited, queer love story.
The 1 – Folklore
Folklore was Taylor’s surprise gift to her fans in the first half of 2020. This beautiful, heart-wrenching album was released with almost no warning or hype and contains some of my favorite songs, all with super gay vibes.
But before we get into what makes The 1 a queer song, let’s address why Betty will not appear on the list. There are three songs on the album that are meant to tell the tale of one incident from three different points of view; Cardigan is from Betty’s point of view, August from the mistress’, and Betty from James’, the boy who cheats on Betty. Since the song is sung by James to lament his mistakes, it is canonically not a song from one woman to another.
I believe The 1 is about a queer couple. In this song, the narrator is addressing their ex, to talk about how they’re moving on with their life after the breakup. But they’re also thinking about how the end of their romance was tragic, and the “what if”s return again—“It would’ve been fun/if you would’ve been the one.”
There’s one line in particular that really hits this theory home for me, though: “Rosé flowing with your chosen family.” The LGBTQ+ community is very familiar with the concept of chosen family—the people who love and accept you when your blood relation fails to do that.
Another line worth mentioning is, “We never painted by the numbers, baby/but we were making it count.” I think this means that they were a different kind of couple—a gay couple.
Lover – Lover
I’m a little biased to this particular song because it’s one of my favorites, and I imagine that my first dance with my wife at my wedding would be to this song. So naturally, I want it to be queer—but I do have some examples to support this. Lover as a whole, to me, is not an album that gives off gay vibes like Folklore and Evermore—it is instead an album all about love, mostly in the happier sense.
There was a period of time where a gay couple would be referred to as “lovers” as opposed to boyfriends or girlfriends, which is the first indication to me that this song could be sung from one girl to another.
In this song, the narrator is singing to their long-term lover about how their lives are growing together, and how they want to be together forever. It’s very cute and romantic, and I just melt every time I hear it, especially with lines like, “And at every table I’ll save you a seat.”
This song also references the idea of chosen family again with the line, “We could let our friends crash in the living room.” It gives that similar emphasis on the importance of friendship, especially if you don’t have blood family. The song is very celebratory of love, which is something we value here in the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s Nice To Have A Friend – Lover
You might have been expecting the second song from this album to be You Need To Calm Down, but that song is too obviously about gay pride, and this list is supposed to be about the more subtle queer messages in her songs. “Shade never made anybody less gay” is iconic, but not quite what we’re after.
It’s Nice To Have A Friend tells the story of childhood friends-turned-lovers, and eventually them getting married. Again, we have the notion of friendship in queer communities, and also a queer staple of pining over our best friends.
The narrator mentions that she and the “friend” used to sleep in tents together and hold hands on the roof. They clearly get married at the end of the song, with the mention of church bells and rice on the floor, but she still refers to them as a friend. This reminds me of how history will talk about two women who have been close their entire lives, shared an apartment together and never married—“They were just really good friends.” It almost seems like a funny twist on that idea.
This song is super simple and pleasing to listen to, and maybe it’s meant to mirror the ease of the relationship. When you’re in love with your best friend, everything should be pretty easy. It’s a cute song with a happy ending.
Treacherous – Red
I think this song is the most fitting on this list, as the narrator is singing about a relationship that she deems dangerous, yet enticing all the same. It’s playful flirting that leads to something more, something unexpected, and neither party involved is really sure how to proceed, but they both know that it has potential to be great. The stakes feel so high, which leads me to believe the two people in this relationship are gay, trying to come to terms with this realization, and keep the secret between them.
The thing that sticks out to me the most is the second verse with lines like, “I can’t decide if it’s a choice/getting swept away,” and, “All we are is skin and bone/trained to get along.” These two sentences seem to me like the way a person who always thought they were straight would rationalize being attracted to someone of their same gender. Maybe the narrator is falling hard for another girl and feels wrong about it, but desperately wants to make it make sense to them.
There’s also the line, “This hope is treacherous/this daydream is dangerous,” which hammers in the idea that the narrator is trying to rationalize how great she thinks the relationship is. My favorite line is, “That nothing safe is worth the drive,” which I think is true for a lot of things.
I don’t think I can fully describe how great I think this song is, especially in this context, so I advise you to just go listen to it. Be sure to also check out the other songs on this list, and comment below if you agreed with my opinions, or if you had any additions that you would make.