This weekend, Taylor Swift allegedly lost half of her fanbase, according to one Reddit user. The country-turned-pop superstar, who recently completed the U.S. leg of her reputation tour, shared on Instagram that she’d be voting for Phil Bredesen, a U.S. Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee. By endorsing a democratic candidate — coming out as a “raging SJW liberal” — this particular Redditor predicted that Swift would lose her conservative fans. This post inspired a new theory: that Swift was influenced by the “Democratic MK ultra forces from above.” This theory rests on the idea that Democrats have no platform other than celebrity endorsements.
One person on the thread, which you can read in full here, debunked the theory using Occam’s Razor (i.e. the real answer is probably the simplest one): She, the poster said, was always liberal. Now, she’s concerned for the future of the democratic party, so she decided to become political. Others in the thread are convinced that someone on the left threatened Taylor’s mom Andrea Swift. Refinery29 has reached out to representation for Swift for comment.
Whether or not she’s been overtly political, though, Swift has always been a political tool. In 2016, Daily Stormer editor Andrew Anglin, who is a white nationalist, called her an “Aryan goddess.” Speaking to Broadly, Anglin also claimed that Swift was secretly a Nazi. She was white, blonde, blue-eyed, highly visible, and mostly apolitical, which meant that she was — wait for it — a blank space ready for white nationalist projection.
As of 2015, though, Swift was almost, almost political, although she still didn’t share her thoughts on specific policies. She made efforts at feminism, first with the “Bad Blood” music video, which proffered a kind of glamorous “girl group” feminism, and later with her statements against Kanye West. After West rap-insinuated that he might still “have sex” with Swift (whom he called “that bitch” on his song “Famous”), Swift retaliated, saying in a statement provided to Buzzfeed that the song was “misogynistic.” This set off its own chain of events, including another Buzzfeed piece — this one longer — that claimed that Swift had routinely “played the victim” to succeed. Part of playing the victim, the piece posits, included never jumping into the political fray. In 2017, Swift didn’t attend the Women’s March, but she did tweet her support of it. This also inspired ire, as fans accused her of being a “fair weather” feminist.
Meanwhile, Swift’s friends defended her right to stay apolitical which, in and of itself, was also political. (I don’t know if you see the trend, but I’ll say it: Everything is political!) Joseph Kahn, who has directed many of Swift’s music videos, told Vulture, “Yeah, there’s this whole hullabaloo right now about Taylor supporting U.S. President Trump — which she never has— and being accused of being a white supremacist.” He added that he’d never seen a celebrity get such massive criticism for everything they do the way Swift does. Lena Dunham pointed out to Rolling Stone that, when you’re as famous as Swift is, getting political is actually dangerous.
“When I was lesser known, I was like, 'Who could not share their opinion?'” Dunham explained. “Then I found out that when you talk about politics, people straight up tweet you the floor plan of your house and say they're coming to your house. You have to fucking watch it because people are nuts.”
YouTube star, performer and choreographer Todrick Hall, who appears in Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” video, told Yahoo, “They’re making this huge assumption when Taylor has never to my knowledge come out and said anything about her being pro-Trump.”
As of late 2017, Swift seemed to be making quietly political moves. She testified against a DJ who’d allegedly groped her as a public act of rebellion, suing the DJ for one highly symbolic dollar. When she won the case, she provided a statement that acknowledged her privilege in being able to take on such a case.
Then, in November of 2017, Swift attempted to sue a blog for suggesting that her song “Look What You Made Me Do,” along with its video, was a symbol of support for white supremacy. The ACLU stepped in, however, and Swift didn’t appear to end up filing a lawsuit.
So, why now? Why, after all these years, did Swift decide to add her two cents? Perhaps earlier, she thought that artists were better off without an expressly political voice. Maybe she saw what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they so much as said a word about U.S. President Bush. Or maybe she’d read about Jane Fonda, who was branded “Hanoi Jane” after her opposition to the Vietnam War and an ill-advised photo opp with Vietnamese soldiers. Keeping quiet was one way to avoid a PR crisis. Of course, staying out of politics hasn’t really kept Swift from the headlines.
Part of Swift’s reticence also probably came from her foundational genre. With its rural, regional roots, country music is generally patriotic, and its musicians tend to keep their political statements to: “I love my country.” Which isn’t to say that country musicians are white nationalists, but they have historically been neutral, like twangy Switzerland. At the Country Music Awards last year, following the U.S. Las Vegas shootings, the Country Music Association asked that press refrain from asking questions about gun rights and political affiliations. (Following an outcry, the organization lifted the ban.) That’s a stark difference from, say, the Grammys, which this year featured an emotional performance from Kesha and a pack of music’s most powerful women.
Then, there’s blankness. Simply put, it’s marketable. For years, Swift, forthcoming as she was in her music about her emotional life, was blank, politically speaking, accepting the terms people applied to her. This is good marketing — Swift’s record- and ticket-buying fans have to feel like they can see themselves in her. They have to be able to see what they want in her. This is a task that is often exclusive to women; they must be a sort of Mary Poppins bag for what the rest of the world needs to see. In her over a decade-long career, Swift has been a receptacle for both sides, becoming an emblem for the right and a scapegoat — a representation of white women’s complicity — for the left. These are terms Swift could have continued to accept, profitable as it is, but she chose a more interesting path. For all her talk of reputation, Swift appears to be finally crafting her own.