Taylor Swift's silence on President-elect Donald Trump is deafening
One Instagram is the only evidence we have that Nashville elite Taylor Swift even knew there was an election taking place in 2016.
"Today is the day," she wrote on Election Day. "Go out and VOTE."
So thirsty was the public for hints of Swift's political affiliations, that even an innocent picture of a voting line, stirred up a frenzy. "Who is Taylor Swift voting for?" skyrocketed in search queries, proving at the end of the cycle to have been one of the most popular search terms of the entire election.
Fans read deeply into the symbolism of Swift's outfit and posture. Others took it as an opportunity to try to bait her into the political arena, pointing out her hypocrisy of having once styled herself as an outspoken feminist, only to back down at this most crucial moment. Admittedly some of those commentators had a point. It's difficult to look away from the fact that one of the most staunchly anti-woman candidates gallivanted into Washington followed by scores sexual assault accusations in tow, and Swift just watched.
Swift remains to this day one of the only major A-list celebrities who has not weighed in on the election. Lady Gaga comforted fans distraught by Trump's successful attempts to reduce rape culture to "locker talk." Kesha, Madonna, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and Adele all connected with their fan bases to explain why Hillary Clinton offered the best way forward. Katy Perry literally did not stop singing and speaking for Clinton for the entirety of 2016. In a Time op-ed alongside a handful of clickier stunts, Swift bestie Lena Dunham said her support for Clinton was about far more than just "anatomy" or "girl power" Scores of artists have outright shamed the presidential inauguration committee for even asking to perform.
Given her election silence, Swift has undoubtedly been approached, but her team has yet to offer a comment.
A carefully chosen word of warning about the effect a successful Trump bid on normalizing misogyny or discrimination would have made for a natural extension of Swift's past desires to increase the level of public discourse around feminism. She's made a public show of trying to define the word in the past few years, clarifying what it means for those who would see it reduced to man hating. She's also called out celebrities like Minaj and Perry for not living up to their own feminist principles.
Trump would have likely made a more fruitful target in 2016 than Kanye West, whom she took to task for his misogyny onstage at the Grammys, before being outed by Kim Kardashian West as being caught on tape approving the line in "Famous" and thanking him for consulting her. Of course, he didn't mention that he would be calling her a "bitch" in the line as well, but the word hasn't stopped Swift from enjoying a good Kendrick Lamar "Backseat Freestyle," a song she once described as her "go-to" jam.
One could say the election is just another "narrative" she "never asked to be a part of," and they would be correct. But if you're Swift, why not speak up? For every time she made sure that the word "feminism" was as close to her name in headlines, it feels odd she would pass on a lay-up as easy as helping clarify what "locker room talk" actually means. A close look at the fans she needs to please helps explain the silence.
"She caters to a white audience that used to be country and then crossed over into pop," Ani Johnson, associate professor of Music Business at Berklee College of Music and international lecturer and consultant in music licensing, marketing and strategic startups, said in an email. "She has to 'stay sweet,' 'stay demure' — the perfect picture of the blond, blue-eyed, true blue, young American girl. She can't afford to speak up and lose sales from her red state, Republican base."
It's clear to Johnson what that base wants: "a pretty girl who sings about love and has 'effectively' nothing in her head."
However, would country fans really be so unreasonable as to actually abandon their favorite artists over their political views? Granted, a ton of people turned their back on West when he came out as a Trump admirer. But there's a more direct lesson in the rise and fall of Dixie Chicks. Back in 2003, they came out against President George W. Bush onstage at a show in London, and unleashed absolute pandemonium.
"They were Texan girls, country music darlings — they were the Taylor Swift of country music," said Jeff Rabhan, chairperson of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University and longtime artist manager. "They came out against George Bush, and it nearly destroyed them. People were burning CDs, they were banned from shows, people boycotting concerts."
Swift's silence, comes down to one thing and one thing only: "money," Rabhan said.
"It's always about money," Rabhan said. "Whatever Taylor Swift's views are, and they're probably more significantly liberal than her audiences. She's more than a country artist of course, but that's her base. That's her core. To come out against the views of her base is suicide."
Of course, in the eyes of another group of the Dixie Chicks' supporters the group is on its way toward beatification and BuzzFeed sainthood. It's clear though there's a gamble to make, and the option Swift chose sheds light on where she stands in music and what motivates her every artistic decision.
Looking at Swift as anything more than an entertainer or corporate entity is the fan's mistake and the fan's alone.
However, one day that may change. The majority of Swift's fan base likely can't vote yet, and she's only been able to since 2007. "She's not a grown woman in the psychological sense," Johnson said. "She doesn't stand for anything yet — except her brand." The key word is "yet," but considering the sway she may have over young fans looking ways to make sense of an impending Trump presidency, every moment counts.
"I hope she wakes up soon," Johnson added, "and grows a pair 'of boobs.'"