The YellowJackets at the University of Rochester have put together a really rather charming same-sex version of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”. Here’s the a capella version as performed by the YellowJackets, performed on stage with the visuals included below in the background – with a Kanye West joke at the end I’m afraid. Below is the YellowJackets’ video, the visuals in the style of the Swift video and using her vocals. The video stars Michael Pittman in Swift’s role and Matt Francis as his love interest. There’s a video description at the end of the post. Lyrics here.
Now, “You Belong With Me” is the most mainstream of mainstream songs. It is, after all, about a white American high school student! who is into a boy! in fact, the literal boy next door! but cannot be with him because she is not like that pretty popular girl! (because apparently we’re meant to be pretending that Swift is not a pretty popular girl!) and of course we must go for the “ugly” “unpopular” girl who will be changed as though from an ugly duckling to a swan! with a white dress and everything! and the popular girl must be put right back in her place! and our girl must end up with the boy!
So it’s a relief as much as a pleasure that the YellowJackets have taken this so very conventional song and queered it up. Not only do we get a very sweet story, but we lose some of the elements of the original video that made me pretty uncomfortable. We still get the bad bad girlfriend, but at least she’s not in competition with the “good girl” in the white dress. The taking off of the glasses is less marked, and it’s not a part of the act of transformation into a “worthy” partner – er, I mean, into the person the main character was all along – as with the Swift video. I’m pleased that they chose to make a video very similar to Swift’s in storyline and setting, the better to recognise the differences.
I love reworkings of conventional popular culture (if there isn’t too much tautology in that phrasing!) that turn the originals to marginalised ends. I would have liked the original Swift video – or, rather, videos in that vein in general, Swift’s work is hardly the only thing out there along these lines – to have played with convention. To have had, perhaps, folk with more melanin in there somewhere, to have had a rival with more dimensions, to have stepped away from the magical transformation trope, things like that. There are not exactly great messages going on there for young Swift fans of colour, or in not setting up girls in binary terms of good girl and mean slut, or it being okay to remain yourself in your big glasses and jeans and sneakers, whether you end up with your secret crush or not. That said, things being as they are, these messages being perpetuated and this kind of music video appearing on our screens yet again, isn’t it great that a group of people decided to run with it and use it for their own ends, ends that are fabulous in shaping new messages? There are times for confronting the harmful or even not so shiny messages of original songs and videos or whathaveyou, and there are times for taking the framework and launching something new entirely. And I’m sure there are lots of young queer people out there who have had the cockles of their hearts warmed by what the YellowJackets have done here! Jumping off from a widely recognised video like Swift’s and inserting a same-sex love story has a particular kind of power. A happy queer message in an utterly conventional setting, displacing a straight story in a totally nonchalant way where in popular culture queer stories are generally very sad if they exist? That’s pretty cool. Also, this video is just kind of adorable.
What do you think? Have you seen any videos that work along similar lines?
Exterior shot of two houses, with lights on in two rooms facing each other. Matt’s character is on the phone in his room, having an heated conversation. Michael’s character looks up at him from his room, hugging his diary to his chest. Matt gets off the phone and Michael writes a note to him on a piece of paper. Matt looks around. Michael holds it up: ‘you OK?’ Matt grins and looks around for paper: ‘Tired of drama!’ Michael shrugs and offers ‘Sorry :(‘. Matt shrugs and rolls his eyes. Michael starts writing again but Matt is closing the curtains. Michael sighs and holds up his ‘I love you’ to the closed curtains. Michael begins dancing and singing in front of the mirror, dressed up in different outfits. Matt peeks through his curtains and laughs affectionately.
Michael is reading a book on a bench. Matt walks up and joins him. They start talking and Matt brushes his hand across Michael’s hair as the latter gives the former a, uh, look then starts to smile. Their conversation is interrupted when Matt’s girlfriend drives up and Matt goes off to join her. She takes off her sunglasses and turns to Michael, who looks frustrated, and more so when Matt and his girlfriend embrace hello. She drives off.
They’re at a baseball match now, and Matt is batting. Michael is looking at him longingly from behind the fence. Matt wins the game, but as he’s being lifted up on people’s shoulders, he sees his girlfriend hanging out with another man. The two of them have a confrontation and Matt walks away.
Back in their rooms, and Matt is getting ready to go to prom. ‘You going tonight?’ he writes. Michael offers ‘no, studying’ with a shrug. ‘Wish you were!’ Michael laughs. Matt leaves and Michael moves aside some homework to uncover his ‘I love you’ sign. He takes off his glasses with a thoughtful expression as the scene fades to black.
Michael walks in at prom, all dressed up and glasses back on. He looks around for Matt, who approaches with a smile. He is briefly waylaid by his girlfriend, who looks incensed as Matt continues to approach Michael. He removes Michael’s glasses. Michael holds out his sign and Matt holds out one that also says ‘I love you’. Michael, who inexplicably has his glasses on again, smiles as he reads it. He looks up at Matt and the scene fades to black.