For years now, people have accused Taylor Swift of possessing the savvy of a politician. This, of course, has been an insult, as she is a woman, and when women are sharp, calculating, and discerning, our culture regularly portrays that as something to be sneered at, an element that single-handedly undermines any of their more empathetic or relational qualities. As does pursuit of money, success, or power; as does falling for men who use and abuse a woman’s heart and escape relatively unscathed — no matter what their bad behavior might have been — while the dumped girl carries a humiliating new reputation.
This reputation is a punishment, something that detractors can still cling to, even when a pop star like Swift, ever savvy, drops all pretense and endorses two Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee — during one of the most important midterm elections in the country, no less. As Swift has grown up in the public eye, relocating to Nashville and landing her first record deal when she was 14, she has been loathe to voice her political opinions. At first, people ignored this, more eager to read about the boys who broke her heart, but lately, this neutrality had become a major part of her identity.
Back in 2009, Vanessa Grigoriadis (the same writer who elicited Nicki Minaj’s wrath in 2015) was one of the first to craft this narrative in a Rolling Stone profile that also condescendingly describes Taylor’s life as “pink and perfect.”
“She’s constantly worried about saying something that could be construed as offensive to her fans,” Grigoriadis wrote. “And even swats away a question about her political preferences before conceding that she supports the president: ‘I’ve never seen this country so happy about a political decision in my entire time of being alive,’ she says. ‘I’m so glad this was my first election.’” Some swat. Apartment for Rent in Olive Point, Jumeirah Golf Estates
Later, Swift confirmed her decision to keep her political views to herself, citing an awareness of her own ignorance when a Time reporter asked her about the 2012 presidential race. “I follow it, and I try to keep myself as educated and informed as possible,” then 22-year-old Swift said. “But 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.”
To be fair, she probably didn’t (who does at 22?) and doubled down on the that sentiment later in the year during an appearance on Letterman, where the show’s namesake fist-bumped her for saying: “I feel like at 22, it’s my right to vote, but it’s not my right to tell other people what to do.” Here, Swift illustrated a kind of restraint that has become uncommon in young celebrities, American ones at least. Instead of jumping in where she had little knowledge, she chose to live and learn.
More apropos, in 2008, before either of these archly neutral statements, a 19-year-old Taylor supposedly posted on Myspace: “Republicans do it better,” what would be an unsurprising sentiment from a teen steeped for the last five years in conservative Tennessee. (This was around the time Swift was romantically linked with Joe Jonas, for context on her choices at the moment.) But deeper than a Myspace post, given her parents’ wealth and her upbringing in the south, where a conservative fanbase pulls the purse strings on the lucrative market that is country music, it’s long been assumed that Swift had stuck to the sentiment of her youth for financial reasons.
But since the divisive squalor of the 2016 election and the rise of President Trump, it became deeply unfashionable for any massively famous entertainer to remain politically neutral, or worse, that they appear to be conservative. In fact, plenty of celebrities — musicians especially — didn’t need any goading to decry the havoc of this presidency, leading the public at large to believe that anyone who didn’t speak up was hiding a support of Trump.
And yet, into Taylor Swift’s political silence, mayhem descended in a way that it flat out hasn’t for any other celebrity of her stature. I’d argue that’s for three reasons: One, because many people don’t like powerful women and look for any reason to criticize them; two, many people have already decided they don’t like her music and this an excuse to attack her; and three, above all else, because many people don’t like young women and work to actively undermine and mock the things young women love.
The conversation around Swift’s own beliefs reached a peak in early 2016, pre-Trump, when Mitchell Sunderland, a former writer for Vice’s feminist vertical Broadly, wrote about her appeal to white supremacist groups. Sunderland was later revealed to be working closely with the far-right site Breitbart and was subsequently fired from Vice, but not before he Trojan Horse’d the idea of Nazi Taylor Swift into the mainstream, kicking off a wave of copycat articles, as publications like The Daily Beast, not formerly or currently known for their Swiftian expertise, indignantly called for her to denounce these conspiracy theories. (They returned in 2017 to call her “spineless” when she expressed support of — but did not attend — the Women’s March in January of that year.)
What those calling for her action against the neo-Nazi sites failed to realize, is that by ignoring them, Swift is purposefully giving them far less attention than they’d receive if she had issued a public statement — as the media frenzy after her foray into politics this weekend so clearly reveals. When she did take legal action against a blogger who took the connections between her new music and white supremacy even further, the backlash from groups like the ACLU — who claimed this defamation claim was an attack on free speech — was seething, barbed, and dramatic.
But, let’s be honest: The shift in the conversation about Taylor had more to do with a pop culture feud than politics, as her well-publicized disagreement with Kanye and Kim — over his use of her name and the word “b*tch” in The Life Of Pablo track “Famous” — became a bone of contention between the camps. Ever since their run-in at the 2009 VMAs, a tumultuous up-and-down relationship between the two stars has heavily defined both of their public personas, and when Kim Kardashian got involved in the last round, a dark wave of negativity toward Taylor rolled in. She all but left the internet due to the bullying and shaming that populated her social media feeds in the wake of this encounter, wrote and recorded a new album, released it, and embarked on her most successful tour to date behind it, but the lingering venom of this exchange has not abated.