Lead single “ME!” had keyed fans in to the new sound the superstar was exploring for the LP, her first to be released after departing Big Machine Records for a landmark deal with Universal Music Group that allowed for full ownership of her material for the first time in her career, and the buoyant, bright track stood in marked contrast to the darker sounds of its predecessor, 2017’s reputation.
The song, made with new collaborator Joel Little (best known for his work on Lorde‘s debut album Pure Heroine) and featuring Panic! at the Disco frontman Brandon Urie, had stalled at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, kept from the pole position thanks to a little track called “Old Town Road” that dominated the chart for 19 consecutive weeks last year. And Swifties were hungry for more.
Did she just reference GLAAD? Did she say “his” gown?
By the song’s second verse, the song had quickly turned from calling out her own haters (of which there had been a few over the years) to taking on those who make it their mission to torment the LGBTQ community on the daily.
“You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace/And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate,” she sang. “‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay.”
It was one thing for Swift to lay bare her politics on social media, as she had months earlier as the 2018 midterms approached, but for the first time, she was taking a decidedly political stance in her music. That the track was released smack-dab in the middle of Pride Month on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising was no coincidence. The accompanying video, released three days later, drove that point home, what with its parade of LGBTQ celebrity cameos and urging of viewers to sign her Change.org petition for the U.S. Senate to pass the Equality Act.
As Little, who met Swift at a Broods concert before reconnecting while she was on tour in his native New Zealand, told E! News exclusively, the foray into music with a message was all the superstar’s doing.
As Little explained, striking the right tone for the track was of chief importance. “And she’s always great with direction in terms of the tone of things,” he said. “The fact that it is a bop and you can dance to it is really important because you don’t want a song like that to be, you know, too preachy or annoying. I think there’s a fine line there…I think it does a great job.”
“And so I think putting the time in to get that right was important and definitely kind of helps the song overall,” he continued. “You know, that’s the part where she’s bringing everybody together and saying ‘We’re all in this and we all deal with this and, you know, we’re gonna stick together,’ which I think is a great, great thing to say and an important thing to say.”
As such, Little’s hesitant to take much credit for any of the Lover tracks he worked on, which also include “The Man” and “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince.” The fact that three of the four happen to be the album’s most overtly political, he says, had nothing to do with him.
“And then, you know, I think for me, I was able to help tell the story and the way that she wanted it to be told, sonically and whatever else,” he continued. “But it’s all her. I’m not in there going, ‘Hey, you should write a song about the state of America today.’ [Laughs] She’s the one that the idea. And, you know, I just helped her develop it.”
“But I think, especially with Taylor, you know that she’s going to come to the party with the craziest video every time. And that’s all her ideas. She’s co-directing the videos and coming up with the concepts. It’s just so fun. She’ll always tell me beforehand, ‘I’ve got this idea.’ Talk me through her pitch for the videos,” he continued. “So I was really excited to see those videos and they didn’t disappoint. Just having them come out and have the reaction that they did. When you’ve put in all that work, that’s kind of the ideal situation to have people love it as much as you do.”