You have to wonder if celebrities have a clause in their contract to voice their political opinions, but more specifically to signal certain virtues that they think their audiences would agree upon. This underestimates who that segment is and how they would think. If you don’t have the correct perspectives, you’ll have hundreds of op-eds where cultural critics call you a traitor and disowned you. But if you don’t engage with politics anymore, you’re described as an enabler for totalitarianism or choose to bury your heads in the sand.
In that respect, you could be in the shoes of Taylor Swift.
Last week, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor was interviewed by The New York Times and he had some words to say about Donald Trump, which is not surprising. When asked about him being his political activist, he has some words about Taylor Swift:
And I think about that today, because it seemed like it was a lot easier to just keep your mouth shut and let it go back then. 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.
Reznor’s comments are downstream from the shallow gatekeeping of the chattering classes engaged in politics by turning to someone with no moral authority on the matter. Taylor’s reputation for being self-interested and vain had made her incapable of calling out Donald Trump.
Regardless of how you feel about her music, Swift’s political non-participation seems refreshing. Unlike Kim Kardashian, who actually had a positive impact on the Trump Administration, or any other celebrities, Swift’s position is beneficial for anyone exhausted from the transparent politicisation of popular culture. Everyone who headlined a music festival and has starred in many movies and TV shows should amplify how Trump is a fascist and that the wage gap still exists.
The trajectory of the Swift’s relationship with her cultural gatekeepers should be worth noting. When she launched 1989, a departure from the country sound that many had come to associate with her, Taylor Swift was seen as an aesthetic underdog. (If you’re a man who covered that album, it means that music journos are enabling patriarchal notions about her music.)
Then she released Reputation, and the same journos had turned their backs on her. A review in The Guardian hailed 1989 as ‘leagues ahead of the teen-pop competition. Three years later, the outlet ran an editorial with no specific byline calling her an envoy for Trump’s values.
It’s unusual for someone like Swift to become their scapegoat, as much of the obsession verges on pettiness. Amy Zimmermann, a reporter for The Daily Beast, has made the courageous effort writing about Taylor Swift’s political whereabouts such as whether she is a foil for the alt-right, or that she is derailing the #MeToo movement, despite being a victim of sexual harassment herself.
Jezebel and New York Magazine condemned her for a post on her Instagram where she said that her 2017 had been one of the best years of her life. Jezebel tells the pop star to shut up, while New York Magazine headlined the story as ‘straight, white, multi-millionaire pop star had a great 2017’.
Swift wasn’t bragging that she had it better than anyone. She was saying that she had a great year, which is commonly said by possibly millions of her fans. That great year could be starting a new job, doing bigger projects, the latter of which she actually did.
Swift’s politics have been documented before by the media. She was ambivalent about the feminist label before fully adopting it in an interview with Maxim. You can argue that her politics lately has merely been self-branding and adopting what should be a universal label for her self-interests. But whatever she’s doing under this umbrella term, will never satisfy the most ideological of cultural critics.
She ultimately became her own villain in the narratives that she herself has shaped. For instance, in a painful exercise of practising intersectionality, Pitchfork’s Virinda Jacota wrote that “Consuming Taylor Swift’s music as a brown person can mean implicitly accepting that your body is not worthy of poetry”, implying that Swift was implicit in silencing women of colour.
Taylor Swift’s political abstinence reminds us that being fixated by a person for not participating, or having the wrong kind of politics, says more about the people making that judgement, rather than the abstainer.
It’s lame to be the truth-teller in what you want to believe in, but it’s lamer to think that celebrities have the upright authority to dictate the landscape for your moral comfort.
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