what took taylor swift so long?

As Taylor Swift finally ventures into the political sphere you have to ask: why now?

by Alim Kheraj
11 October 2018, 10:56am

courtesy of Taylor's instagram 

At the American Music Awards on the night of Tuesday October 9, Taylor Swift got political again. Speaking to the audience after picking up the award for Artist Of The Year, the notoriously politically-shy singer encouraged viewers to go and vote in the upcoming midterm elections. “I just wanted to make a mention of the fact that 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? The midterm elections on November 6 — get out and vote.”

It’s the second time in so many days that Taylor has cracked her apolitical cocoon. In an Instagram post, she divulged for the first time who she’d be voting for in the upcoming midterms. “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions,” she wrote, “but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.” Continuing, she added that she would be voting for two democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee, encouraging her followers not to vote for republican candidate Marsha Blackburn because of her voting record against women’s and LGBTQ rights.

The post is layered. Not only does it clearly signpost Taylor’s political views, which, following the 2016 presidential election, were called into question, but it subtly hints that she voted for Hillary Clinton in said election. There are also allusions to the singer’s own experiences with sexual assault, specifically her civil suit against radio DJ David Mueller, whom she accused of groping her. Taylor won that case, her perseverance and testimony praised by advocacy groups and the media.

For an artist that ducks out of public appearances, refuses to give interviews and (now) keeps her personal life private, the post is unexpectedly barefaced. Her mini-essay is well-researched and tightly written to prevent breaches by conservative and alt-right trolls and the oily agenda of America’s murky socio-political quagmire.

What’s more, since she shared her thoughts on Instagram to her 112 million followers, it was reported that the voter registration service in the US experienced a surge in activity. Kamari Guthrie, the director of communications for vote.org, said that there were 65,000 new registrations after the singer’s post, with a spike in Taylor’s home state of Tennessee specifically. The New York Times also reported that 42 percent of newly registered voters were aged between 18 and 24.

While there are, of course, other reasons for a rush of voter registrations, the impact of Taylor’s post can’t be underplayed. It makes you wonder, as Baby Spice Emma Bunton once asked, what took you so long? It’s the elephant hanging in the comments section on Instagram and the question that two years into our Trumpian dystopia hasn’t been answered. What was the thing that made Taylor snap, turn to Instagram, get political and say, “Look what you made me do”?

Celebrity cynics — of which Taylor Swift has more than her fair share — have argued that Taylor’s apolitical attitude stemmed from the singer’s country roots. As i­-D explained in June, Taylor’s silence around Trump could well have been directly related to her hesitance to lose her country fanbase and their traditionally Republican political views.

"Her previous forays into the world of socio-politics were criticized; she was initially hesitant to align herself as a feminist and was then later accused of co-opting feminism, eschewing intersectionality and becoming true debate for glitzy girl squads."

This silence, paired with the figures about the number of white women who voted for Trump and the alt-right’s co-option of Taylor as an “Aryan goddess”, lead to a litany of op-eds suggesting that Taylor could no longer “exist in a political vacuum”. When her 2017 album reputation was released — with its barbs against the press and seemingly self-absorbed dredging up of the Kimye dramaNoisey suggested that the singer and her penchant for personal drama should “sit this year out.” Taylor, perhaps, listened to this demand. Her previous forays into the world of socio-politics were criticized; she was initially hesitant to align herself as a feminist and was then later accused of co-opting feminism, eschewing intersectionality and becoming true debate for glitzy girl squads.

Now, however, the stakes for Taylor just aren’t that high. Following an unsuccessful bid for Album Of The Year at the Grammys in 2014 with Red, for its follow up, the pop behemoth 1989, Taylor’s drive to become the world’s biggest pop star was palpable. It was successful, too; she sold millions of copies of that album and picked up her desired prize at the Grammys, while also taking jabs at Kanye West.

Since she released reputation last year, she has not only cemented that position with more records sold and a global stadium tour, but pulled back from the media narrative, refusing interviews and public appearances. The Taylor with something to prove has been buried.

More than that, though, reputation signaled the beginning of the end of the singer’s 12 year recording contract with Big Machine Records; from November this year, Taylor Swift will be without a record deal. The end of her deal perhaps signals an end to the responsibilities foisted on her by Big Machine. Essentially a small time label, Taylor’s success — like Adele’s with XL — has helped them jump to the big leagues. Still, the transition from Taylor’s country days to fully-fledged pop juggernaut haven’t necessarily been smooth sailing. With the release of Red, the label was reportedly tetchy about its lead single, the Max Martin produced We Are Never Getting Back Together, insisting that a “countrified” version be sent to radio too. Likewise, during her 1989 promo tour, Taylor insinuated that the label had been “a little nervous” about her shift to proper pop.

Taylor’s next moves, professionally, might be very telling about the limitations that may or may not have been placed on her by Big Machine. Given she signed when she was 16 years old, there’s no telling what sort of clauses and caveats her record deal had. If she chooses to move on, which she may do for purely financial reasons, there could be a reckoning for the country music industry.

"Kanye’s devolution into a right-wing fanatic may not necessarily have been a driving force, but it’s an indication that in the Kanye vs Taylor "beef," maybe the wrong side was picked."

Similarly, there’s Kanye West. Their stories — because of his stage interruption and her inability to let it all go — will forever be linked and this political move is no different. As Taylor, the supposed beacon of the alt-right, speaks out against the Republican party and encourages her fans to vote for the Democrats, Kanye West is about to visit the White House to talk with his pal Donald Trump. Kanye’s devolution into a right-wing fanatic may not necessarily have been a driving force, but it’s an indication that in the Kanye vs Taylor "beef," maybe the wrong side was picked.

On the other hand, this decision feels more heavily weighted. As Taylor explained in her Instagram post, “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years,” she feels differently now. While every day is a torrent of despair, the most recent horrific aspect of American politics has been Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment as the 114th Justice of the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh’s nomination and subsequent ascension occurred despite numerous accusations of sexual assault and misconduct, a public committee hearing where testimony was delivered by accusers, specifically Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school, and a resulting FBI investigation. If Taylor’s court case against the radio DJ was a step forward for the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh hearings and his subsequent appointment were two giant leaps back.

It’s not a reach to speculate that Taylor’s Instagram post was a direct response to the Kavanaugh ruling and appointment. As a survivor herself, the reverberations of Trump and the Republican support for Kavanaugh, and his own conservative social ideals such as his view on abortion and LGBTQ rights will surely have resonated. If the stakes for women and LGBTQ people were high before, Kavanaugh’s crowning into the highest court in the United States could well have been the catalyst to break Taylor Swift’s silence.

Nevertheless, pop conspiracists will look at the ‘Taylor Swift gets political’ headlines and marvel at the singer’s mastery over the celebrity chess board. From her fall following 1989 and the release of reputation, the pieces for her redemption story — that old American classic — have been gliding into place, fixing up her tower after its topple. It’d be a disappointing reason for a political call-to-arms, especially considering the state of global politics, but it would also be a move so calculated that it’s practically inspired; the final part of her transformation into a snake.

This House of Cards-like situation is unlikely. Sure, it sounds great on paper and it slots well in world where the villains have, for the time being, won. But, just maybe, this time Taylor Swift had it right. There’s never a wrong time to make a stand against racism, bigotry, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and the fact that it took her two years to learn that is her business (although I’m sure we’ll learn all about why in the not-so-distant future). Self-serving or not, it’s impacted voter registration at a time where mobilization could help society on the brink of collapse. What’s more, despite her bad reputation, it’s proof that Taylor Swift doesn’t lie — the old Taylor really is dead.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

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