Taylor Swift Finally Got Political — Why Isn’t It Enough?
For years, it seemed as though the internet had one collective request for Taylor Swift: Use your platform for the greater good! The singer-songwriter was noticeably silent after the 2016 election, save for a vague voting selfie that didn’t give any insight into the specifics of her politics, and a tweet during the inaugural Women’s March that many fans found lacking. And throughout the first year of Trump’s presidency — a time when so many celebrities came forward to take a stand against his policies and administration — Swift remained quiet, despite fans urging her to speak out at every turn.
Swift’s current era is a lot different. Beginning in October 2018 with an Instagram post declaring her intention to vote Democrat in the Midterm Elections, this version of Swift is anything but apolitical. At the start of Pride Month (June 2019), Swift shared a letter written to Senator Lamar Alexander asking him to support the LGBTQ community via the Equality Act, and her latest music video for “You Need To Calm Down” urges her fans to do the same by linking to a Change.org petition. On top of that, Swift has donated $113,000 of her own money to the Tennessee Equality Project, a LGBTQ advocacy group in her home state. In a word, Taylor Swift has gotten political. And yet, for some, it’s still not enough.
Taylor Swift’s new song “You Need To Calm Down” is her first track that openly tackles socio-political issues, with a verse dedicated to taking down homophobia. The single was initially met with positive reception from her fans and fellow celebrities, but others soon expressed skepticism about the singer’s allyship, questioning the motives behind her choice to advocate for the LGBTQ community. One review says “YNTCD” simply “feels insincere,” calling it a “half-hearted protest anthem” with a message that seems “forced and unnatural.”
But the facts of Swift’s activism tell another story. At the time of writing, Swift’s Equality Act petition has garnered over 275,000 signatures, with a goal of 300,000. GLAAD reported an influx in donations in the amount of $13 (AKA Swift’s favorite number) shortly after the release of “YNTCD,” which nods to the organization in one of its lyrics. And after Swift posted her letter to Senator Alexander, her fans followed suit, writing letters of their own, and the singer’s first political Instagram post seemingly served as the catalyst for an uptick in voter registration in Tennessee.
Critics should note this isn’t a new occurrence. In 2017, Swift testified in a countersuit against a DJ whom she accused of groping her at a meet-and-greet four years earlier. Shortly thereafter, sexual assault hotlines saw an increase in calls, with organizations attributing that increase to the singer’s choice to speak out. “[Swift’s victory was] a great demonstration to other victims that there is strength in coming forward and pursuing justice,” RAINN President Scott Berkowitz told ABC News at the time. “Seeing someone that they respect, that they identify with [state they've been assaulted], has a big impact.”
Swift’s personal generosity has also been long documented. Back in 2011, the singer donated nearly $70,000 in books to her hometown library. Upon the success of her 2014 single “Welcome To New York,” Swift donated $50,000 of the song’s proceeds to the New York Department of Education, and she has a reputation for personally helping fans in times of need.
In the wake of Swift’s recent political activism, plenty of public figures, politicians, and organizations have voiced their gratitude to the artist. Senator Cory Booker, who co-introduced the Equality Act in May 2017, said: “Throughout our history, movements powered by people have propelled our country forward, and today’s times are a true reflection of that legacy. I’m so grateful to Taylor Swift for starting this petition. Seeing it grow...in a matter of days is a demonstration of how change happens, and it’s inspiring.” Anthony Ramos, Director of Talent Engagement at GLAAD, called Swift’s actions the “true sign of being an ally,” and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) thanked the singer for “her commitment to equality.”
But Swift’s biggest critic has always been the collective voice of the internet, as she herself even recognizes in the opening lyrics of “YNTCD.” And it seems as though the internet will always find a reason to dislike Taylor Swift no matter what she does; yes, even when she does exactly what people have called on her to do for years. That same review that labeled Swift’s song as “insincere” also used the phrase “valley girl” to describe her lyrics (an insult that is both tired and sexist), arguing that “YNTCD” sounds like “a dozen Taylor Swift songs you've already heard.” Some on social media have accused Swift of once again playing the victim with a song leveraged at her “haters” — a common theme throughout her career.
Quite often, the negativity directed towards Swift isn’t tied to anything tangible: her song feels insincere, she seems like she’s being fake — the list goes on. When she was silent on politics during and after the 2016 election, the public decided to fill in the blanks, with many assuming Swift was a Trump supporter simply because she didn’t say anything to the contrary. And now, even with concrete numbers to reinforce the fact that Swift is making a positive impact by using her voice in the exact way she’d been called on to do, there are some who still aren’t satisfied.
The pervasive disdain for the singer — regardless of her words, actions, or lack thereof — seems to suggest that none of this has ever been about Swift’s politics. A lack of outright activism allowed Swift to become a punching bag, and some folks are having a hard time reversing that narrative to align with the facts.
But regardless of how anyone feels about Swift’s music, her impact is undeniable — and it’s only going to grow. With over 83 million followers on Twitter, and 118 million on Instagram, she has an enormous audience of impressionable fans, ready to jump on board with whatever she says or does. Swift has power, and she knows it. And this time around, she’s not using that power to reclaim the snake emoji or stir the pot of age-old celebrity feuds; instead, she’s using her voice to advocate for issues that matter. She listened to what the internet had to say. Maybe it’s time we returned the favor.