Why The Song And Dance About Who Taylor Swift Is Voting For?
As we muddle through what can only be described as an endurance of celebrity obsession, there are few details about our biggest stars that elude us -- or the tabloids.
We know who’s dating whom, hating on him, in cahoots with her. We know the health diagnosis of every celeb with an even vaguely erratic public moment; and the political convictions of every star who aligns themselves with a candidate in an upcoming election, or who marches publicly against perceived injustices.
One celeb who has so far eluded political alignment is Taylor Swift -- though certainly not due to any general resistance to the spotlight. She’s one of music’s most powerful figures, and her gargantuan fandom is fiercely loyal in large part due to how much of her life she chooses to share. In her songs, on her Instagram, and on film that accompanies each one of her blockbuster tours, Swift unloads dozens of intimate factoids for her fans to devour.
Yet, when it comes to politics, the pop princess has kept curiously closeted. Until yesterday.
“In the past I’ve be reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions,” the 28-year-old pop star wrote in a lengthy Instagram post, “but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.”
The post, which outlines Swift’s desire to continue to vote for women in office, explains why she cannot support Tennessee’s Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn in the upcoming midterm elections in the US, whose “voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me”.
Swift expresses her support for Democratic representatives Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper, and encourages all her followers to “please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote on who most closely represents your values,” as well reminds them to register to vote.
“So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count,” she told her followers. “Happy voting!”
READ MORE: Taylor Swift Breaks Her Political Silence
In the past, Swift has been criticised for her apparent lack of political conviction, so this about-face is both fascinating and noteworthy. But how noteworthy is it?
Just about every news outlet, big and small, young and old, serious and . . . less so has covered the news of Swift’s newfound political voice. Even the President of the United States (himself a pop celebrity of sorts) has had his say, declaring he now likes her music “25 percent less” -- go figure.
So why do we all care about Taylor Swift’s politics, anyway? Swift is by no means the first celebrity whose political convictions (or lack thereof) have sparked public interest, but she’s perhaps the first celebrity dogged by criticism for remaining scrupulously silent when it comes to political matters.
Until now, when asked about politics, Swift has maintained that as a young musician she is not in a position to speak publicly on the matter. She told Time magazine in 2012, “I don’t talk about politics because it might influence other people. And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for.”
It’s a remarkably prescient perspective for a pop star to have. In fact, Swift is enormously influential among her young followers and any public political professions would act as a kind of mega-advertisement to her millions of mini-fans.
That it’s a power Swift has decided to wield now, as the US approaches an important midterm election period, proves not only that Swift has always been paying attention to politics, but that she’s been hyper-aware of her potential to occupy a strong position in the political landscape.
Those celebrities who have advocated for politicians (or political action) in the past have often caused major uproar -- or contributed to epic change. Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barrack Obama in 2007 remains one of the most widely studied developments of the two-term president’s first-ever presidential campaign, and Winfrey is credited with bringing Obama mainstream recognition among voters, to the tune of about one million votes for the Democratic nomination. Not long after, Winfrey was joined by husband-and-wife music duo Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who also threw their support (and enormous cultural heft) behind Obama’s campaign.
More recently, Kanye West’s support of Trump and the Make America Great campaign has exposed him to widespread criticism from liberal fans who saw the statement as a departure of values West had expressed in his earlier works.
Apart from the liberal cultural clash, the fact that Kanye is a black performer, whereas Trump’s MAGA campaign -- and its cap-wearing legions -- tends to prioritise white interests, has rankled many. West, whose behaviour is increasingly erratic with each new appearance, is fond of a brash statement, but his support of Trump and MAGA have former fans calling for him to be “cancelled”.
Being “cancelled” is something Swift is used to by now. The star has faced undulating waves of criticism on everything from her dating life to her dress sense, and her political stance is no exception.
When Americans (and others around the world) joined together for a Women’s March against Donald Trump, Swift was one of few high-profile, purportedly “feminist” celebrities who was conspicuously absent from the protests. “I am proud to be a woman today,” she posted on Instagram. “So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched.” Her absence was noted, and those displeased by her truant solidarity linked back to her apoliticism.
“If you were really for feminism you would have spoken up against Donald Trump instead of just saying to vote on Election Day,” a Twitter user complained.
“You do not get to pick and choose when feminism benefits you,” said another. (Popular feminism, while it’s proven to be a profitable commercial avenue down which stars like Swift and Beyoncé can wander, can come back to bite.)
Now, Swift is not the only celebrity on earth who’s not openly political, but perhaps she is bearing the brunt of our collective frustration at those in power unmotivated to wield their considerable influence for good – especially when times seem so desperate.
And, speaking of desperate, perhaps it’s Trump’s status as a celebrity politician that complicates all this even more. Before Trump, it was much easier for naysayers to dismiss the political convictions of celebrities as useless knowledge, but that’s a more difficult judgement to parse when the president himself is a Page-Six regular. As politics and entertainment celebrity intermingle, it may have become more relevant than ever what our stars think of the economy, education and defence -- because in the future they might take charge of it.
Which brings us back to Swift’s first political statement, and just how important it is. Does it matter who Taylor Swift is voting for in the midterms? Yes, of course it does, because millions of her fans will look to her for guidance and support as they form their own political convictions and cast their ballots in the 2018 elections.
It may be cynical, but Swift’s previous apoliticism was in many ways her most radical act yet: refusing to use her caché to sway her fandom, or to wade into another public exposure that would no doubt encourage more criticism directed back at her (for in politics, you can never please everyone). As a blank slate, people had projected whatever they wanted onto Swift’s empty political convictions; now, for better or worse, she has intervened to set the record straight.
Now? Well, it’s Taylor Swift’s Political World, and we’re just living in it.