Taylor Swift Is More Political Than You Think
She doesn’t grandstand like Kanye, but unlike Ye, she’s more than just talk.
She specializes in songs about love lost and exacting revenge on those who have done her wrong, and she'll probably never get arrested just to prove a point. Taylor Swift may have collected pretty much every music accolade under the sun, but she'll never be regarded as the Rosa Parks of pop.
When you look beyond the widely accepted vapid-celebrity narrative, however, a more complex image emerges of a 28-year-old who didn't start standing up and speaking up for women just because the zeitgeist declared that Time's Up. Although she gets little credit for it from the press and from her fellow musicians, Swift might actually be one of our more political pop stars.
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor certainly doesn't see it that way. He recently criticized the singer for not speaking out against Donald Trump.
“You don’t hear a lot from the Taylor Swifts of the world, and top-tier, needle-moving cultural youth because they are concerned about their brand, their demographic and their success and career and whatnot,” he told The New York Times.
But what if Swift is actually pro-Trump? Would he still want to hear from her? What if she's trying to avoid making the same mistake that Kanye West and Shania Twain recently have made by saying anything positive about the most divisive U.S. President since Abraham Lincoln?
People on both sides of the aisle seem to only want you to speak up if what you say is in line with what they think. It’s understandable why some would rather keep their thoughts on Trump to themselves. I have friends who stay out of the political fray and stick to sharing minutiae from their daily lives on social media. It’s OK for celebrities to do that, too. Being one doesn’t make voicing your opinion obligatory.
Or what if she just doesn't have anything new to add to the conversation? There certainly would be nothing wrong with that. People often criticize celebrities for not knowing when to shut up. "Who cares what they have to say?" and "They should stick to music/acting/whatever" are things we often hear when celebrities use their platforms for politics.
Robert De Niro's "Fuck Trump" commentary at this year's Tony Awards earned him a round of applause, but many thought his comments were inappropriate. Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Richard Gere, Vanessa Redgrave, and Marlon Brando are but some of the performers critics have damned for bringing politics to the Oscars.
And let's not forget Hanoi Jane. Two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda earned that pejorative nickname in the '70s for loudly speaking out against the Vietnam War. If you don't learn from history, you're doomed to repeat it. Perhaps Swift's silence on Trump, whether she's for or against him, is just her shrewdly picking her battles. It's not like she hasn't already faced enough firing squads.
Even if Swift never says a word about Trump, to single her out and dismiss her as apolitical isn't fair. As a journalist who has written my share of anti-Trump op-eds, I'll never side-eye my colleagues who choose to use their platforms to focus exclusively on entertainment or travel or health and fitness. Some of them are political in other ways.
Why does Swift's level of political and social consciousness or lack of it hinge on whether she publicly backs a politician or blasts him (or her)? Swift doesn't grandstand like Kanye West, but unlike Ye, she's more than just talk.
Exhibit A: her successful $1 countersuit against ex-Colorado radio DJ David Mueller. In 2013, his employer KYGO-FM fired him after Swift complained that he'd groped her butt while they were posing for a photo. Last August, a judge and jury dismissed Mueller's $3 million suit against Swift for getting him sacked while awarding her the $1 she sought in a sexual assault countersuit.
The rulings preceded the #MeToo movement by several months, and by standing up for herself and for others, Swift was just as brave as the women who eventually came out against Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men. Time magazine recognized her as one of the "Silence Breakers" in its 2017 Person of the Year issue, but detractors like Reznor apparently don't see the political and social value in what Swift has called a "symbolic" move.
“Going to court to confront this type of behavior is a lonely and draining experience, even when you win, even when you have the financial ability to defend yourself,” she told Time in December.
“Even though awareness is higher than ever about workplace sexual harassment, there are still so many people who feel victimized, afraid and silenced by their abusers and circumstances.
“When the jury found in my favor, the man who sexually assaulted me was court-ordered to give me a symbolic $1. To this day he has not paid me that dollar, and I think that act of defiance is symbolic in itself.”
Although she was the one in the position of power, her #MeToo story showed that powerful men aren’t the only ones who commit inappropriate sexual acts against women, and it can be just as traumatizing when “regular” guys do it.
The groping countersuit wasn’t the first symbolic gesture she’s made against sexual assault. In 2016, when a court ordered Kesha to honor her recording contract with Sony Music and producer Dr. Luke’s label despite her ongoing rape lawsuit against him, Swift donated $250,ooo to help her out financially. (After winning the $1 countersuit against Mueller, she also vowed to give money to various women’s causes and charities.)
Demi Lovato didn’t approve, and she blasted Swift for opening her wallet rather than her mouth.
Not everyone has 250k to just give to people, she wrote on Instagram. Would love to but I didn’t grow up with money and def haven’t made as much as her. At least I speak up about s — t that’s uncomfortable to talk about rather than trying to be politically correct 24/7.
Lovato clearly didn’t do her homework. Did her comments have more to do with resentment of Swift (and her economic clout) than the gesture itself? If Beyoncé had written that check, all would have hailed the queen as going above and beyond the call of her royal duties. Lovato probably wouldn’t dare go up against Beyoncé and her Bey-hive. Swift is a much safer target.
Speaking of Queen Bey, Swift also had the guts to go where so many have chosen not to go by standing up to Kanye West, who in 2009 interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in order to declare Beyoncé the true winner.
When West recently called slavery a choice, I was surprised that only a few big-name stars dared to condemn his comments and that most of those who did handled him so gingerly. It was like they didn’t want to risk offending him.
Swift didn’t say anything about choice-gate, but she’s already had her say about West. Her 2017 number-one hit “Look What You Made Me Do” took aim at him and his wife Kim Kardashian in their feud over the rapper’s 2016 song “Famous.” In the latter track, West boasted about having sex with Swift and took credit for making her career.
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex,” he rapped. “Why? I made that bitch famous.”
Swift had previously called out West from the Grammy pulpit in 2016 while accepting her award for Album of Year.
“I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” she said.
“But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you, and the people who love you, who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
The likes of Lovato and Reznor might not want to hear this, but that was such a bold feminist move. A woman had the balls to stand up to one of the most powerful rappers on music’s biggest stage and, without naming names, address his misogyny and sexism, which no-one ever really calls out. One of the man’s best-known songs is called “Gold Digger.” Where is Lovato’s outrage over that?
Whether we want to acknowledge it, Swift is feminism in motion. She’s got so-called “big dick energy.” It took a lot of it for her to fight Kanye and to battle Apple and demand that new and up-and-coming artists be fairly compensated for their art.
It takes a lot of it to ignore the groans in the peanut gallery and call out the famous men who’ve loved her and (presumably) dumped her in song. She may not be as sophisticated and clever as Carly Simon was when she wrote “You’re So Vain,” which is widely regarded as a feminist anthem, but then few songwriters are.
Regardless of whether it’s symbolic or vocal, there are many ways to take a stand and as many stands to take. Being woke isn’t necessarily about being loud and publicly shaming fellow artists. One doesn’t need to wave around a “Trump sucks” banner or declare themselves a sexually fluid vegan to do their part.
Even if Swift never utters a word about POTUS, she’s done hers.