Be honest: Did you realize, at the time, that the 2009 MTV VMAs would be required viewing for fully appreciating the intersection of pop culture and politics in 2018 — the year of our never-ending national nightmare? Did you anticipate, then, that Kanye “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” West would one day be welcomed into the White House of a (technically) Republican president while Taylor “she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts” Swift would be announcing her support for Democratic candidates and decrying the Republican woman whose “voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me?”
Perhaps the only thing on which Americans can actually agree right now is this: 2018 is really not turning out the way anybody could have predicted a decade ago. Well, except for the disastrous effects of climate change. Definitely should have seen that coming.
With one day left before voter registration closed in Tennessee, Taylor Swift posted an Instagram of a serious, black and white photo of herself accompanied with a lengthy caption about her political values. Despite her desire to support women running for office, she said, she would not support Marsha Blackburn’s candidacy for Senate in Tennessee and would instead cast her vote for Phil Bredesen. (She also said she would be voting for Jim Cooper for the House of Representatives.)
I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. 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 color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. 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 appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. 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. Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. 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. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting! 🗳😃🌈
Let’s cast our minds back a few years. As Donald Trump, a failed frozen steak salesman and reportedly prolific tax fraudster who continues to call for the execution of the exonerated children known as the Central Park Five, escalatored into his candidacy for the presidency of the United States — and as what initially felt like the sort of thing that might end in a reasonable place (the bottom of the escalator) instead continued onward to a very different location (the Oval Office) — just about every boldface name in the book came out to denounce his rise.
Most of these celebrity endorsements were basically formalities: Lena Dunham, Katy Perry, the broads of Broad City. Believe it or not, Bruce Springsteen supported the Democratic candidate for the presidency! Shocking twists all.
It is certainly not some sort of civic requirement for celebrities to engage in politics. Or at least, it wasn’t. Something shifted in 2016, and the demands of fame evolved to encompass that one announce and perform a coherent political worldview. So one superstar’s silence took on a second-order significance that even she, typically a PR master, likely did not anticipate. Swift’s sole contribution to the political discourse was a November 8th Instagram with the caption, “Today is the day. Go out and VOTE.” It was the most-liked Instagram of Election Day.
In an alternate timeline where Trump did not take the White House, this pointed abstinence from political commentary would not have been quite so conspicuous. But looming over the whole proceedings was a number — 52, the percent of white female voters who cast their ballots for Trump — and the sense that Swift, who, with her country roots, her predominately white and female fanbase, and her hundreds of millions of social media followers, could have single-handedly swung the whole thing in Hillary Clinton’s favor. That is, if she wanted to. Was Swift a secret Republican? A quiet Jill Stein stan?
Not exactly helping matters was the adoption of Swift by white supremacists as their Aryan goddess. Swift responded not by condemning the neo-Nazis who held her up as their fantasy mascot but by threatening to sue the blogger who criticized her for not denouncing the alt-right.
Were Swift’s critics right?
Buzzfeed reports that Vote.org “experienced an unprecedented flood of new voter registrations nationwide” after Swift posted her Instagram:
“We are up to 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period since T. Swift’s post,” said Kamari Guthrie, director of communications for Vote.org.
For context, 190,178 new voters were registered nationwide in the entire month of September, while 56,669 were registered in August.
Voter registrations in Tennessee “spike[d] specifically since Taylor’s post,” Guthrie told Buzzfeed.
Guthrie said the site had also seen a big jump in the number of visitors since Swift’s post, with 155,940 unique visitors in the last 24 hours — second only to the number of people who visited on National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25 when there were 304,942 unique visitors. (The average daily user count for the site is 14,078 in 2018.)
“Thank God for Taylor Swift,” said Guthrie.
Assuming the Swift effect is real, those who are grateful for it are likely feeling something more complicated that just “Thank God for Taylor Swift.” It forces the question: Why now? Or, more to the point, where was she two years ago?
The generous read on Swift is to take her words at face value: That she feels a greater, more intimate sense of political urgency than she felt in 2016. In other words, Swift is, as they say, just like us: She’s the friend who, two years ago, “wasn’t that into politics” and had never been to a protest before, but is now updating Facebook hourly with #resistance rallying cries and won’t stop raving about the latest episode of Pod Save America.
And surely Blackburn’s voting record — as Swift notes, Blackburn has voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — has more resonance now for Swift than in did two years ago. In the summer of 2017, Swift endured a sexual assault trial at which she was forced to detail how a radio DJ “grabbed my ass underneath my skirt,” an experience she said left her feeling “shocked and scared and stunned,” as if he “had switched the lights off on my personality.”
In an interview with Time magazine in which she was featured alongside other “silence-breakers” of the #MeToo movement, Swift described how, after her mother was cross-examined, she “was physically too ill to come to court the day I was on the stand.”
The cynical read is that, in the fall of 2016, Swift was a year away from releasing a new album — one that went on to become the only album released in the prior two years to sell 2 million copies. She had a stadium tour to promote and snake merch to sell and probably didn’t hand-heart-love the idea of enraged protestors swarming the Superdome. The American leg of the Reputation tour ended on October 6, two days before Swift’s get-out-the-vote-gram; were she to lose her entire United States fanbase over this, well, the next show on the schedule is in Australia.
So far, one American has announced that he likes Swift’s music “about 25 percent less” in the wake of her Blackburn endorsement. Plus all those neo-Nazis who were crushing on her are devastated. How ever will she manage without them?