Taylor Swift caused a stir by backing the Democrats
It was the week Taylor Swift found her political voice, declaring her support for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. But how much of it was prompted by her nemesis Kanye’s pro-Trump posturing, asks Phoebe Luckhurst
On Wednesday evening, Taylor Swift added four American Music Awards (AMAs) — Best Artist, Best Pop/ Rock Female Artist, Best Pop/ Rock Album and Best Tour — to her tally and, in the process, became the AMAs’ most-decorated female artist of all time.
She arrived dressed in a silver mirrored mini-dress and matching thigh-high boots; later, sparks flew — literally — as she performed the revving electro-hit I Did Something Bad, with pyrotechnics synched to her every body pop.
But was President Trump watching on one of his three bedroom TVs? And was this display enough to get him back onside?
On Tuesday evening, Trump declared that he “likes Taylor’s music about 25% less” — zing! — after the 28-year-old pop star came out in favour of the Democrats.
In an Instagram post, shared virally, worldwide on Sunday, the singer urged followers to register and vote in the upcoming midterm elections and stated, unequivocally, that she’ll be voting blue in the mid-terms on November 6.
“In the past, I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions,” Swift wrote. “But due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently now.
“I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, or gender, is wrong. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of colour is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.
“Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appals and terrifies me.
“She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry.
“These are not my Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives.”
She ended by directing fans to register on Vote.org. The post has been viewed more than two million times.
The image she used was quintessentially ‘Brand Taylor’: a black-and-white Polaroid, Swift in a checked shirt, heavy fringe tickling her brows. It chimed with those taken to promote her 2014 album, 1989.
But the message was new; in fact, it was seismic. Swift — who has been famous since she was 16, who has 112 million followers on Instagram and 84 million on Twitter and who has sold more than 40 million albums to a fan- base largely of girls and women in their teens and 20s — has never publicly spoken about her politics.
Notably, during the merciless Trump-Clinton election campaign, she copped out with aplomb, sharing a picture of herself in a queue at a polling station, with the limp caption: “Today is the day. Go out and vote”.
For this refusal to play partisan, Swift has been accused of cynical marketeering, of hypocrisy and cowardice, of having no principles except capitalism, of being a sham feminist and, worst of all, of being Team Trump.
To be fair, this absolutism glosses over some of Swift’s biography. No, she has never nailed her colours — or mirrored sequins — to either Republican or Democrat masts before, although she did take a sexual harasser to court — and won — and in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, in March, she came out in favour of gun control.
In 2008, she implied her support for Barack Obama in an interview with Rolling Stone: “I’ve never seen this country so happy about a political decision in my entire time of being alive. I’m so glad this was my first election.”
Swift has never been political, but there is evidence she was politicised. Nonetheless, this is the first time she has weaponised her influence unambiguously.
The post was a straightforward call to arms, and it does matter — like it or not, there’s an entire generation who’d rather hear it from Taylor Swift than anywhere, or anyone, else.
While it is strictly impossible to quantify what difference her Instagram declaration has made, in the first 48 hours after she shared the post, Vote.org tallied 102,000 new registrations by people under 30 — which, if it’s a coincidence, is a happy one.
Also, the maelstrom around her Instagram post is likely to have added more names to the electoral roll in states across the US.
Plus, in the era of public displays of political intent, of wearing black to awards ceremonies, or removing your high heels as some of Hollywood’s bravest women did this week at a gala event to mark a year since #MeToo began, Swift’s act elevates her to the status of straight-talker with a clear, palpable objective.
Voting, after all, changes governments, which in turn shapes the policies that determine what women do with their bodies, if high-school pupils can take guns to school and whether civil liberties are protected, or savaged.
On the other hand, it’s just an Instagram post. If this is Taylor versus Trump — silver sequins versus the gold-plated sham opulence of Mara-Lago — then the US President is in a strong position as the mid-terms roll up.
He’s just got his fratboy Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court; the US economy is (for now) buoyant. Despite promises of a Democratic “blue wave” on polling day, many Republicans feel as confident of a ‘Brett bump’, hoping the party’s chance to hold the Senate and the House of Representatives will be fortified by a new cohort, inspired by Kavanaugh’s overwrought performance of misogyny and privilege, to register and duly vote Republican on November.
Still, in an era of celebrity presidents, campaigns can start out as Instagram posts — or, as Trump’s legend runs, revenge against Obama’s jokes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner — and end up in the Oval Office.
Inevitably, social media has resounded with calls of “Swift for President”; others observed we had wronged her.
As New York Times journalist and writer on Pod Save America Kashana Cauley quipped: “Someone should probably start a support group for those of us who originally picked the wrong side of the Kanye-Taylor Swift debate.”
The artist formerly known as Kanye — now Ye — and Swift’s long-time foe, is currently wearing a Make America Great Again cap in private jets and lunching in the West Wing with Trump.
Indeed, perhaps that posturing by her old enemy was the final straw.
Polls apart: Taylor Swift, and (inset) Kanye West and Donald Trump