Let’s all say it together: awwwwww.

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?

Video description:

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.

About Chally

Chally is a student by day, a freelance writer by night, a scary, scary feminist all the time, and a voracious reader whenever she has a spare moment. She also blogs at Zero at the Bone. Full bio here.
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28 Responses to Let’s all say it together: awwwwww.

  1. Ursula L says:

    A few points.

    First, being a Rochester native, and having done my Master’s degree at the U of R, it was fun to see all the familiar locations. The riverbank, the dome of the library, etc.

    Also, it was nice to see the location changed from polished southern suburbia to the more urban setting (the houses at the beginning were fairly typical for the city of Rochester, in a nice but not great neighborhood) as well as loosing the eternal-summer of too many conventional videos and movies.

    Also, as someone who wears glasses, and who doesn’t have the patience to mess with contact lenses, it was nice to see wearing glasses as not an obstacle to being attractive. The typical “take off the glasses” transformation generally means either giving up clear vision or adding a lot of complication to your eyesight-routine, an annoyance that gets overlooked.

  2. Aviva says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! U of R is my soon-to-be alma matter and I love seeing such a queer-positive thing come from the campus (also, it gives me a little proprietary thrill recognizing a couple of the places in the video, since I’ve been out-of-residence for a few years).

    I don’t know of any videos like this off the top of my head, but I think they executed their version of the music video really well…totally adorable.

  3. karak says:

    This song always made me rage. I fail to see the singer as someone to like or pity, rather I see her as a nasty, passive-aggressive person who unceasingly hits on an unsuspecting guy even though he’s in a monogamous relationship. Perhaps this is merely the bitterness of the girl who “wore short skirts”, but watching another girl try to steal my boyfriend wasn’t a happy time in my life, nor was the later blame that I should have someone been a better woman to keep him from cheating on me.

    In my head, after the boyfriend leaves her, the ex-girlfriend points out he’s a jerk, all his friends turn on him, and then SHE decides to date HER best friend–who is also a girl. At next year’s prom, she’s having a great time with her new girlfriend while he’s alone and isolated.

  4. Sheelzebub says:

    Hmm. . .I’ll have to check the video out. And ITA w/karak–and would add that this song is very reminiscent of the Nice Guy Whine (TM). Pining is really tiresome. It just is. But I guess there isn’t much of a market for pop songs that go “Well, we’re friends and I’m into you but you’re not into me so I’m moving on kthanxbai.”

  5. Geek says:

    I agree with Karak/Sheelzebub… it’s the “Nice Guy” thing but with a girl (or a gay guy in the re-do here). I despise the whole “Nice Guy” thing and wish they would go away – they’re invariably passive aggressive jerks. like this.

  6. Alia says:

    That is a most excellent and adorable video.

    The first time I heard the Swift song I missed the first few verses and came in at “she wears high heels I wear sneakers”. I was convinced it was a song about a same-sex crush until a second, complete listen. Then it just reminded me of an Avril song.

  7. Gerty says:

    Though I like the idea of queering a pop culture song, a relationship between two gay men is not the same as one guy acting like a woman. I understand for the purposes of the video, the guy playing Taylor’s role needed to do the same things she did, but I think it does a disservice to gay men to pretend that their relationships are just like heterosexual relationships, just with 50% more man.

    I don’t think this really counts as pop culture, but John Barrowman and Daniel Boys did a remake of “I Know Him So Well” from the musical Chess. It was originally sung by two woman who were in love with the same man. Someone put the song to clips from Doctor Who and Torchwood to make it seem that Jack and the Doctor were singing about each other. It is one of my favorite examples of queering something that was originally meant to be about a heterosexual couple, and no one comes off sounding as if they’ve just been shoe horned into a part originally played by a woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0k-8TKWhdG0

  8. StellaT says:

    @karak WURD! This song also pissed me off. It gave me the impression of women hating. She sucks with her skirts and girly ways! I wear jeans and like the same things you do! I’m an honorary dude, I’m clearly superior, LOVE ME ALREADY!

    I also get douche chills when I hear this song because that used to be my mindset before I came to terms with my internalized misogyny.

  9. Flowers says:

    I always likes Taylor Swift’s song because it was a lot like my life. I was always the girl who was too much like the “little sister” to get any attention. And yes, I wore glasses and T-shirts and jeans. And I saw all my male friends stay with girlfriends who were bossy and mean and annoying about whom they constantly complained soley because the girls were pretty and were popular and wore cheerleader uniforms, i.e. short shirts. (I blaimed the guys for being idiots.) Taylor described my life to a T. That’s what country music is supposed to do, so I really enjoyed the song. I found that everyone who didn’t like it was just mad cuz it didn’t describe their life. I always thought that they should just create a song that did. Now it looks like these people created a video that will represent more people’s lives, and that’s awesome! It’s just like those people who made the gay version of Miley Cyrus’s song. A hell of a lot more useful than bashing a singer on a feminist blog.

  10. Allison says:

    Awwww, that was so sweet. Maybe now I’ll be able to listen to that song without wanting to shove nails into my eyes.

  11. Anna says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wegqCzIxZTM

    It’s a lesbian version of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”.

  12. StellaT says:

    @ Gerty:

    I’ve never seen the original music video for this song so I didn’t know that the actor was doing everything Taylor did in her video. It didn’t seem like a particularly gendered role to me but knowing this now, I can see where the problem is.

  13. Anna says:

    Oh, and this is a photo from Pride in 2008. at Flickr – but it’s a boy wearing a t-shirt saying “I kissed a boy and I liked it”.

  14. Jocelyn says:

    This is super refreshing compared to other reworkings of the video that I have seen. Last summer I worked at teaching dance/physical arts camps, and saw (in other classes, not the ones I was teaching) a reworking of this video in which the boy was played by the female student in the all-female “music-video” class that most resembled a boy. The same teacher also did a re-working of the Ellen show with a male, hetero host (who spent the majority of the video oggling the girl who played Taylor Swift). FAIL.

  15. Kyra says:

    Having never seen the video until a couple weeks ago, in my head she (the narrator) was always pretty and popular (she IS Taylor Swift, after all), but was “the female best friend,” and that relationship meant that’s what he thought of her as—a friend, rather than a potential love interest. And the lyrics made it fairly clear to me that this other woman was not his type—although on further consideration, that may well have been the narrator’s bias, something along the lines of Nice Guys wondering why women always date those “jerks.”

    The video was solidly irritating.

  16. Jha says:

    Aaawwwwww!!!

    OK, I never saw the original music video and never heard the song before this, but this video is pretty to a T.

  17. Chally says:

    ‘Though I like the idea of queering a pop culture song, a relationship between two gay men is not the same as one guy acting like a woman. I understand for the purposes of the video, the guy playing Taylor’s role needed to do the same things she did, but I think it does a disservice to gay men to pretend that their relationships are just like heterosexual relationships, just with 50% more man.’

    Oh, I didn’t read it that way at all, Gerty, so thank you for sharing your reading!

  18. Gerty says:

    @Chally

    Thanks for being so receptive to a different viewpoint. :)

    Overall, anything that challenges the heteronormativity of pop culture is a step in the right direction.

  19. RD says:

    Oh and (I don’t think she’s gay but) Joan Osborne cover of “Spooky” (no youtube sorry).

  20. Bill says:

    50% more men would only make 1.5 men.

  21. Thomas says:

    I.. I can’t stop blushing.

    Thank you Yellowjackets for giving homosexual youths an outlet that exists outside of the heteronormative media paradigm. I haven’t been this excited since Willow came out on Buffy.

  22. Thomas says:

    “Though I like the idea of queering a pop culture song, a relationship between two gay men is not the same as one guy acting like a woman. I understand for the purposes of the video, the guy playing Taylor’s role needed to do the same things she did, but I think it does a disservice to gay men to pretend that their relationships are just like heterosexual relationships, just with 50% more man.”

    I’ve never understood the idea that homosexual relationships aren’t the same as heterosexual relationships, so I don’t at all feel “disserviced”, speaking as a gay youth. But I won’t speak for the majority.

    I guess you could be saying it’s because of the different circumstances, and the shift in gender roles from masculine/feminine to masculine/masculine, feminine/feminine? But no, that isn’t right either… on many levels.

    To me, the notion that a homosexual relationship shouldn’t be identified as the same as a heterosexual one doesn’t help at all corrode the general homophobic consensus that homosexual relationships aren’t as “valid” as heterosexual ones. It just feels like another barrier between the “normal” and the “fags”.

    It feels like people saying “be good to the gays, they have special ‘circumstances'”. But… I don’t like having my penis being seen as a circumstance.

  23. Li says:

    Thomas, I get where you’re coming from, but for me it’s probably useful to look at how the ‘just like heterosexual relationships’ thing works, especially in the context of a fairly stereotyped pop-cultural narrative. There is kind of this major trope that queer relationships have to follow a man/woman binary, in that one of the partners is the ‘man’, and one the ‘woman’, and that this is a really heteronormative way of viewing queerness. Hell, it’s a really heteronormative way of viewing heterosexuality.

    So while it’s important to challenge the valuing of heterosexual relationships exclusively, I think generally it’s better to go with ‘actually, this whole one valuable true love man/woman relationship narrative is rather problematic and there are a giant pile of relationship, both queer and straight that deserved to be valued for their heterogeneity’ than ‘but queer people are just like straight people’.

  24. Li says:

    Also, whoops, forgot to close italics.

  25. Thomas says:

    Good point, but I’m still compelled to defend the music video in that it really doesn’t perpetuate a male/feminine niche just because a male replaced the female. I feel like just seeing that way automatically genders them before identifying them. Which brings me back to “penis = not a circumstance”.

  26. Natalie says:

    50% more men would only make 1.5 men.

    I was totally about to point that out, pedants unite!

    I really love this video, and while it certainly only advances one particular type of queer relationship I’m okay with it because by mimicking the original so perfectly it points out how queer the show as all along.

    Why is the Taylor character SO nervous to tell this guy her feelings? They’re already friends, so he’s unlikely to damage her too much.

    But if you’re gay and telling a friend simultaneously, “I’m gay, and I have feelings for you and I know you have straight relationships” that actually IS risky.

  27. Jackie says:

    Awww, reminds me of the song Always by Erasure. The song and video are absolutely beautiful, seriously.

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