| August 08, 2019 03:04 PM
We’ve come to expect our pop stars to be political.
Whether it’s thanks to celebrities advocating for gun control or Beyoncé’s infamous Black Lives Matter performance at the Super Bowl, there seems to be little reputational gain to remaining politically neutral.
Taylor Swift learned that just last year. A blissfully apolitical outlier in the entertainment industry until the 2018 midterm elections, Swift has now become an outspoken supporter of Democratic candidates, LGBT rights, and the Equality Act.
In Vogue’s September cover story, she says she only refrained from supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016 because she was afraid her endorsement would do more harm than good:
“I just knew I wasn’t going to help. Also, you know, the summer before that election, all people were saying was She’s calculated. She’s manipulative. She’s not what she seems. She’s a snake. She’s a liar. These are the same exact insults people were hurling at Hillary. Would I be an endorsement or would I be a liability? Look, snakes of a feather flock together. Look, the two lying women. The two nasty women. Literally millions of people were telling me to disappear. So I disappeared. In many senses.”
Swift may have had her own reasons to stay silent: A public feud with Kim Kardashian West over the summer of 2016 kindled the “snake” jab, and Swift was working on reclaiming her own reputation, the name she chose for her album the following year.
Hindering Clinton’s campaign certainly wasn’t the only concern on her mind. In an essay for Elle, published this spring, Swift said she also refrained from jumping into politics because she was waiting to be well-informed:
“I’m finding my voice in terms of politics. I took a lot of time educating myself on the political system and the branches of government that are signing off on bills that affect our day-to-day life. I saw so many issues that put our most vulnerable citizens at risk, and felt like I had to speak up to try and help make a change. Only as someone approaching 30 did I feel informed enough to speak about it to my 114 million followers.”
Pragmatism and nascent political knowledge are both fair reasons for refraining from political campaigning, but color me cynical for thinking Swift’s conservative fans, many holdovers from her country music days, had something to do with her political silence.
With no official endorsements, she could continue to be whatever her millions of fans wanted to be. Perhaps when she finally learned she couldn’t keep everybody happy anyway, she chose to speak out.
Whatever reason actually made Swift change her mind, she’s now an influential political force. When Swift encouraged her fans to register to vote before the 2018 midterm elections, Vogue reports, “Some 65,000 new voters registered in the first 24 hours after her post, according to Vote.org.”
If she endorses a candidate in 2020 — perhaps Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, or former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who each signed her petition in support of the Equality Act — her millions of fans will be paying attention.
Unfortunately, it appears that much of her activism so far has been based in fear rather than facts. The Equality Act, for example, is not just a bill for gay rights; it’s a route to undermine religious freedom. Swift also told Vogue that she’s become an advocate for gay rights for the hyperbolic reason that “rights are being stripped from basically everyone who isn’t a straight white cisgender male.”
If young voters listen to Swift, they’ll discover a picture of America much bleaker than reality. Despite a strong economy, that’s the same picture Democratic presidential candidates have found themselves painting in the past few months.
It makes sense that Swift would want to use her immense platform for political influence, but she appears to be falling into the same trap as politicians: exploiting fear and polarization when both sides, as Swift’s song goes, just “need to calm down.”