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The Ableist Language in Taylor Swift's New Song


Let me start by saying, I’m a huge Swiftie. I know the lyrics to all her songs, and so much information about her it’s kind of creepy. I often try to recreate her signature cat eye and red lipstick look. I was also one of the fans following her Instagram, trying to decode all the clues about her new release. When she finally announced she was releasing a new song called “Me” featuring Brendon Urie, I had high hopes. Of course, I sat excitedly waiting on YouTube for the midnight premiere of the song and music video.

The video starts with a kind of funny scene in French where Swift and Urie are arguing about the cats. Soon after the music starts, Swift steps out into a colorful hallway. The music is upbeat, and the lyrics are empowering with lines like, “I promise that you’ll never find another like me.” The song is reminiscent of “Shake It Off” and I was kind of excited that maybe this meant her Reputation days are behind her. So, what’s the problem? Well, she uses some ableist language and as a person with a disability, I have a problem with this.

In the first verse Swift says, “I know that I went psycho on the phone.” When you Google the definition psycho, it simply means a psychopath. I don’t think Swift is saying she is a psychopath, and was instead probably using a colloquial use of the word. The problem is, while it’s trendy to use words referring to mental health terms like “psycho” or “crazy,” these words are often used negatively. Using these words adds to the stigma that surrounds mental illness. This stigma is oppressive and makes people with mental illness feel like there is something wrong with them, which of course is not true.

The second use of not-so-great language comes from Urie. He says, “And there’s a lot of lame guys out there.” He goes on to repeat this line twice. The problem is the word. Lame as a noun means metal woven with silk. Lame as an adjective means cripple or weak limp. It was often used to describe someone’s hands or legs. Lame as a verb means to beat someone to make them disabled. When Urie sings this line, he isn’t talking about metal. I don’t think he is talking about men with a disability, but it’s possible. I really hope he isn’t talking about hitting someone. So, what is he referring to? Well, he is probably using lame as slang for “stupid” (which is an ableist term in itself) or unsophisticated. This is ironic because using slang like this is unsophisticated. Similar to psycho, this slang is oppressive to people with disabilities. It implies that people with physical disabilities are not smart or sophisticated, which again is not true.

For a song that has lyrics such as, “Hey kids/Spelling is fun,” it would make sense the artists are aware of the etymology of the words they’re singing, but I guess not.

This is also not the first time Swift has used non-inclusive language. Back in 2006, she had a lyric in her song “Picture to Burn” that was not LGBTQ+ friendly. She later went on to change the words to make it more inclusive.

I do not expect Swift to change the lyrics of “Me,” nor am I going to boycott the song. I’m just disappointed in her and I’m sad I’m not included in such a fun and empowering song.

Image via Taylor Swift’s Facebook page