I don't believe I've ever put Taylor Swift and politics in the same sentence. Like emails and a peaceful life, the two things simply do not seem to belong together. One reminds me of twirling around my lounge at age 19, singing about Romeo and a white dress, while the other – of the American variety, anyway – currently fills me with a potent mixture of fear and rage. The idea of a political Taylor Swift is a bit like the idea of an articulate Donald Trump. Discombobulating to say the least.
Nevertheless, Swift turned my world order upside down last week, when she endorsed two Democratic candidates on Instagram.
"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," she wrote.
"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. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin colour, gender or who they love."
She went on to name the two candidates she will be voting for in Tennessee, and to encourage her fans to educate themselves about the candidates standing in their areas so they could vote for the person who most closely aligned with their values. With a following of 112 million, Swift's post was the kind of advertising that would've stretched even ludicrous super PAC budgets. The hasty denouncements from Republicans (including the Tweeter-In-Chief) betrayed just how annoyed they were.
Their anger, however, was nothing to that of the white supremacists and 4chan users who have held Swift up as an example of a perfect white conservative woman. "Guys I think those f***ing cultists who tortment [sic] us killed Taylor Swift and replaced her with a brain dead [non-playable character]... I will defend the honour of my lady Taylor Swift and find a way to return her to normal," one wrote.
Musicians as a group are hardly strangers to politics. Artists have been writing protest songs and making political statements for generations. From Billie Holliday and Bob Dylan to Macklemore and Green Day, activism in music is a proud tradition.
But Taylor Swift made her name as a young, pretty country singer. She was the perfect teen idol for Republican daughters. While her inevitable growth to womanhood (and accompanying acknowledgment that she is – gasp – a sexual being) rendered her unsuitable to the ultra-conservatives, she had until recently thrown them a bone by remaining apolitical. A kind of insipid, yet catchy and likeable version of her rival, the outspoken, risque Katy Perry.
But no more. Swift has resoundingly shaken off her Switzerland-esque stance. And simultaneously cultivated some bad blood with her Republican fans.
Will her statement have an impact? Probably, although it would be unlikely to be momentous enough to change the outcome of the election race drastically. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was endorsed by Beyonce and Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, and Bruce Springsteen, among others, and we all know how that ended.
Regardless of whether or not Swift's endorsement shifts the scales for her chosen candidates, her open discussion of her political values should be applauded. Particularly given that many of her fans are young adults, the demographic least likely to vote. If Swift motivates even a small percentage of her fans to fulfil their civic responsibility, democracy will be the winner.
Swift's entry into the political conversation brought to mind a young artist of our own, however; then Kiwi-sweetheart Eleanor Catton. Catton, the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize, dared to criticise the then-National Government and was pilloried for it in the national media. Swift's post also conjured a vision of Lorde, putting her politics where her touring schedule was, and cancelling a concert in Israel.
Both homegrown political rabble-rousers received fierce backlash against their respective political statements. The response that stands out to me most was then-Prime Minister John Key's; he suggested that Catton had shown a lack of respect and had "no special political insight". He went on to say that it was "a bit sad that [she was] mixing politics with some of the things she's good at."
Which surely is the point of democracy – that we're all supposed to mix politics with some of the things we're good at. In fact, it makes no difference whether we're good at anything at all. We're all entitled to our views and our votes, and no view nor vote is any more weighty than another.
A significant portion of the backlash against Swift's Instagram post has been similar to that lobbed at Catton. Tay-Tay should stick to her singing, her critics moan. As if being a singer of catchy pop tunes (or a writer of an award-winning book) renders you incapable of forming an opinion. If I were a parent, I would far rather my children idolised stars who stood up for what they believed in, than manufactured music-bots bereft of conscience or conscious thought. There are things far worse than a singer who challenges you to think, whether you agree with them or not.
Celebrity political endorsements are becoming increasingly common, and I tentatively welcome such a phenomenon. The louder the conversation around participation in the democratic process, the more normalised voting behaviour becomes. Whether it's Swift, Catton, Lorde, Joseph Parker at the recent New Zealand First conference, Lucy Lawless and her advocacy for the Green Party, or anyone else, I take heart from the open discussion around views and beliefs.
We will never be able to agree on everything, but we can all do our bit for society by casting a vote. If not for democracy, then for a celebrity selfie outside the voting booth.