I truly became a Taylor Swift fan in middle school, after discovering her catalog in seventh grade, on the website Grooveshark, a precursor to Spotify. As a child, I had enjoyed classic Swift songs like "Teardrops on My Guitar" but as a growing tween who was, for the first time, experiencing romantic attraction to guys, I began to relate to these songs on a deeper level, realizing that Taylor Swift had put all of my strong, confusing, exhilarating emotions into words.
As a superstar constantly under the glare of the media, Taylor Swift has had to deal with more than her fair share of criticism and ridicule. Yet there's one criticism that's persisted which I consider legitimate: She has, throughout her career, largely remained silent on political issues. When she was just a country star, this made sense. While country music has historically been tied to the Republican Party, the genre has been largely apolitical in recent years. So in this particular context, Swift's silence was understandable.
But as Swift moved towards pop, growing her fan base to include millions of people around the world, her silence became even more glaring. Around the time of the release of 1989, Taylor was arguably the biggest pop star in America; and yet she refused to comment on pressing issues. Her song "Welcome to New York" had one line referencing gay relationships but despite the characterization of the media, the song was hardly a queer anthem. She didn't endorse gay marriage until a celebratory tweet right after the Supreme Court's decision. She called herself a feminist but was accused of being a white feminist. During the 2016 election, she notably refrained from supporting Hillary or criticizing Trump, who had bragged about sexually assaulting women.
Even with her album Reputation, where she borrows from rap and hip-hop, historically black genres, she didn't support the Black Lives Matter movement. I understood her silence; she wanted to appeal to both liberals and conservatives and from a business standpoint, this made sense. I was willing to defend her from critics, arguing that Taylor's music spoke to the universal human emotion of wanting to be loved, something which transcended partisan politics. Liberals and conservative could disagree on everything else, but at least they could agree that Taylor's songs were amazing. Yet it was disappointing to see someone with so much influence refuse to use their platform to advocate for the betterment of others, particularly marginalized groups.
So I was happily surprised to see Taylor's Instagram post endorsing two Democratic candidates in Tennessee. Not only was it nice to see her standing up for gay rights, acknowledging systemic racism, and proving her feminist bona fides by slamming Marsha Blackburn's opposition to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Violence Against Women Act; her comments were actually helpful. After her post, there has been a significant increase in voter registration. Additionally, the Senate race in Tennessee is a tossup. I doubt that an endorsement of Hillary would have swayed white working class voters in the Midwest, but Swift's endorsement of former Governor Phil Bredesen could actually increase voter turnout among millennials to help him win.
Conservatives were quick to dismiss Swift's comments. Trump said that he liked her music 25% less now. Mike Huckabee, the former governor of my home state of Arkansas, mocked Swift on Twitter saying that 13-year-olds can't vote. Once again, old white men underestimate the power of young people to enact change. Even if you aren't 18 yet, you can still be politically active in other ways. When I was 14, I joined the Young Democrats and canvassed for several candidates. When I was 16, I phone banked for Hillary's campaign. Clearly, voting is not the only avenue for political involvement.
Yet for Swifties above the age of 18, voting is vitally important. Countless studies show that 18 to 24-year-olds have low voter turnout rates, and these are even lower for midterm elections. And that's why Taylor's post is so powerful- it has actually motivated young people to get more involved. In these midterms, we have the opportunity to put a check on Trump's power. If young people actually turn out to vote, we can make a difference.
So hopefully, in these turbulent times, when our politics is so divisive and depressing, Taylor's words can be a light in the dark, reminding young people that our votes and our voices matter.