There’s not much Taylor Swift hasn’t done – but can she change the way people vote?
It’s not surprising to learn that celebrity product endorsements work. According to Marketwatch, just one endorsement can increase a business’ sales by 4 per cent almost immediately. Richard Saghian, founder and CEO of the viral brand ‘Fashion Nova’, says an Instagram post from Kylie Jenner promoting their products can translate to $50,000 in sales.
But does this power to influence the world of commerce extend to an influence on the world of politics?
With Taylor Swift having abandoned years of carefully maintained political neutrality, the world is waiting to see just what the impact is going to be of her stunning dive into the high-octane politics of the Donald Trump era.
On Thursday Swift took to Instagram to encourage people to start voting in Tennessee, as well as including a link to the early voting calendar on her profile.
This came after Swift finally broke her political silence on social media last week, endorsing two Democratic candidates in an Instagram post.
“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 said in her post.
“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.”
She said that while she had voted for female candidates in the past, she could not support Republican Marsha Blackburn in the Tennessee election because the senator’s voting record in Congress “appalls and terrifies” her.
Her announcement came the day after she finished the American leg of her Reputation tour in Texas, and days before the deadline to register to vote in Tennessee. The response was, well, swift – including from President Trump himself, who said the singer “doesn’t know anything about [Senator] Blackburn”. For good measure, he declared he liked Swift’s music “about 25 per cent less now”.
Mr Trump had reason to be worried about the potential impact of Swift’s political awakening, which has great significance in the US where voting is not compulsory and parties find it difficult to motivate young voters in particular. Hence the huge headlines about the apparent Taylor Effect: just a day after her Instagram post, voter registrations across the US and in Tennessee increased significantly.
According to vote.org, there were 51,308 new registrations in the 24 hours after Swift’s statement.
At the American Music Awards last week, she again took a political stance when accepting the award for Artist of the Year.
“This award and every single award given out tonight were voted on by the people,” she said.
“And you know what else is voted on by the people is the midterm elections on November 6. Get out and vote.”
“This award and every single award given out tonight were voted on by the people. And you know what else is voted on by the people… is the midterm elections on November 6th. Get out and vote.”
-Taylor Swift, sticking a fork in the GOP after winning Artist of the Year pic.twitter.com/UEkPCSWYY5
Swift has had a long and difficult history with politics. She was raised in Pennsylvania before moving to conservative Tennessee at 14, and it had long been assumed the pop star held conservative Republican views – an assumption reinforced in the lyrics of her early country songs in which she would preach about monogamy, religion and refer to her parents as “daddy” and “mama”. An early version of her song Picture To Burn used the word “gay” as an emasculating insult to a former boyfriend, before the lyrics were changed.
But she remained coy when it came to publicly expressing political views, telling Rolling Stone in 2008 that she wanted to “stick to her specialty” of music.
In 2012 – when the release of her fourth album Red coincided with the US presidential election – she told Time: “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.”
When her 2014 album 1989 was released, she started opening up about her beliefs. She was praised for being a supporter of the LGBTQI community on the track Welcome To New York, which included the lyrics, “You can want who you want, boys and boys and girls and girls”.
She also began to speak publicly about her feminist beliefs.
“As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities,” she told The Guardian in 2014.
“Becoming friends with Lena [Dunham] – without her preaching to me, but just seeing why she believes what she believes, why she says what she says, why she stands for what she stands for – has made me realise that I’ve been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.”
In her acceptance speech for Best Album at the 2017 Grammys, she told young women not to let men undercut their success, in reference to Kanye West’s lyrics: “I made that bitch famous.”
It’s no secret that Swift and West have had a long and complicated relationship, most recently revolving around politics. In 2015 when West announced his plans to run for President in 2020, Taylor played along – volunteering to be his running mate in an Instagram post using the hashtags #KanTay2020 #BFFs.
But the pair weren’t always friends. In 2009, West famously interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. He jumped on stage, grabbed the microphone and yelled the now iconic line: “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.”
Celebrities like Pink and Katy Perry tweeted their disapproval, while President Obama called him “a jackass”.
Neither West nor Swift endorsed a candidate during the 2016 presidential election – though soon after Mr Trump’s shock victory over Hillary Clinton, West said he “would have voted for Trump” had he cast a ballot.
Of course, West has since publicly supported Mr Trump on a number of occasions – wearing his Make America Great Again cap, ranting on Saturday Night Live and taking to Twitter to express his beliefs.
Last week, West met the president at the White House – ostensibly to discuss race relations, criminal justice, tax breaks and mental health. But the encounter soon degenerated into a lengthy rant that silenced even the normally voluble president. A highlight: West declaring that his MAGA cap made him “feel like Superman”.
While West’s political views were becoming public in the years following the 2016 election, Swift was being embraced by some on the far right. After a blog post titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation” was published in September 2017, Swift set her lawyers loose, labelling the post “defamatory”.
Things started to change for Swift in 2017. As the #MeToo movement exploded, she was named one of Time‘s People of the Year after her win in a highly publicised sexual assault case against a radio DJ.
Then in March this year, she tweeted about gun violence and the March For Our Lives campaign.
Although it has taken her years to feel comfortable in her political skin, Swift’s embrace of a partisan stance in a white-hot election year sees her joining the ranks of activist celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé, who all rallied for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Political and showbiz observers are now waiting to see just how big an impact she will have – on the political trajectory of Trump’s America, on Swift’s stellar career – and of course, on her ever-complicated public relationship with the controversial Kanye West.