Taylor Swift has some Republicans worried.
A young, self-made billionaire, the pop star travels the world, drawing millions to her one-woman concerts at football stadiums, and singlehandedly boosts the economic fortunes of the cities where she plays. She’s already shown she can motivate potential voters and her fanbase tends to be younger and more liberal than the United States as a whole. Plus, she’s previously been critical of former President Donald Trump.
Some Republicans have speculated that Swift is some sort of Pentagon plant, ginned up by secret liberal forces to swing the 2024 presidential election while also boosting the fortunes of the Kansas City Chiefs, who are headed into the Super Bowl with Swift’s boyfriend, Travis Kelce, a tight end. Others suggest her prior support for Democrats and opposition to Republicans is misguided.
“Any woman who is accomplishing what she’s accomplishing is a sitting duck to them: It’s easy to fight against her,” said Amee Vanderpool, a New York-based writer and commentator who publishes the woman-focused and liberal-leaning SHERO Newsletter.
What are Republicans saying about Taylor Swift?
FOX NEWS commentator Sean Hannity this week accused Swift of misunderstanding Republican values, suggested she doesn’t properly understand the policies and history of President Joe Biden, and warned her against endorsing him. Hannity is a longtime Trump supporter and confidant who texts and talks regularly with the former president.
Tweeted Vanderpool in response: “Having the nerve to warn a younger woman, who is much more rich and powerful than you are, that she needs to ‘think twice’ about making a personal endorsement of Biden, is peak 2016 White Male Privilege.”
Influential right-wing commentator Jack Posobiec has also been questioning the Swift-Kelce connection, arguing their relationship is a PR-driven effort designed to boost the NFL and complaining she’s going to turn out white liberal women voters for Biden. Posobiec then suggested staging a swing-state concert tour with Kid Rock and ZTed Nugent, who have previously backed conservatives.
Additionally, this week, former Republican contender for president Vivek Ramaswamy openly questioned whether the media was set up to highlight Swift and Kelce’s friendship before Biden’s endorsement. Another conservative pundit predicted that she and Kelce will support Biden at the Super Bowl halftime show.
Kayla Wong, a Swift enthusiast, rolls her eyes at that. She claimed that when conservative detractors attack Swift, it reveals their true nature.
“I think both theories are flimsy and reaching, honestly,” said Wong, 28. “There’s probably a feeling that their strongholds are shrinking in influence and they are trying to figure how to reverse that.”
Wong has been a Swiftie for 15 years, and said it’s easy for critics to think of Swift’s fans as teens with no real knowledge of the world. The reality, she said, is that many of them have followed her career for decades, going to college, getting jobs and starting families.
“I wouldn’t just vote some specific way just because Taylor said it,” Wong said.
Why is Taylor Swift controversial among some Republicans?
Why is Swift suddenly controversial? In a word: Power.
Swift has a massive, dedicated fanbase, and there’s significant overlap between her fans and the voters Biden needs to secure for his re-election.
The New York Times recently reported that Biden’s campaign team is trying to figure out how to get Swift’s endorsement during this election. Swift supported Biden and criticized Trump in 2020, and experts say she can absolutely sway voter sentiment. Last fall, Swift helped get more than 30,000 people registered to vote in a single day.
“When you have someone registering 30,000 votes at a time it absolutely can have an impact,” said Andrea Hailey, the CEO of nonpartisan Vote.org.
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Swift has repeatedly urged her fans to vote, although she usually remains neutral about specific candidates. But in 2018 she endorsed two Democratic candidates for Congress in Tennessee, citing her opposition to Marsha Blackburn. Blackburn won with 54.7% of the vote for a U.S. Senate seat, beating Swift’s preferred candidate Phil Bredesen. Swift’s other endorsed candidate, Jim Cooper, won his House race.
In a documentary that captured Swift’s conversations with family and staff when considering those 2018 endorsements, she worried aloud she should have more forcefully condemned Trump during the 2016 campaign. In 2020 Swift declared to Trump “we will vote you out,” and endorsed Biden.
Swift’s positions and influence have been noted by conservative groups, and FOX News presenter Jesse Watters on Jan. 9 speculated aloud that Pentagon officials were using Swift as a “psyop,” or a psychological operation, intended to influence the public into voting a certain way.
Swift was named Time’s 2023 Person of the Year, and her Eras Tour last year sold more than $1 billion worth of tickets to more than 4 million fans worldwide. She’s won 12 Grammy Awards, an Emmy, 40 American Music Awards, 40 Billboard Music Awards, and 23 MTV Video Music Awards.
Miranda Findlay, a PhD candidate in women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University, said it’s easy to connect the attacks on Swift to a longstanding belief by straight men that only their hobbies and entertainment are valuable.
That’s why they’ve attacked Swift’s presence at football games, and why they downplay her accomplishments as a performer who can personally fill those stadiums with her own fans, she said. It’s also why some of Swift’s critics have suggested she has Pentagon backing: That there’s no way she could be that successful on her own.
“Traditionally, women’s hobbies have been constructed as annoying and inferior,” said Findlay, a longtime Swift fan who has contributed to a forthcoming book about the performer. “It goes to this idea that if the men are not enjoying something, it’s probably not worth enjoying.”
Findlay said she suspects Republican attacks on Swift also signal their concern she could influence more than just white, liberal women: “This is a county that was built for white, straight men and Taylor Swift as a presence directly threatens that. She is a uniting force and that is part of what terrifies them, honestly, whether they want to admit it or not.”
Why is Travis Kelce controversial among some Republicans?
Some Republicans don’t like Kelce because he appeared in a Pfizer advertisement encouraging people to get the flu and updated COVID-19 vaccines, and collaborated with Bud Light, which drew right-wing criticism for its support of a transgender influencer.
Many right-wing Republicans have declared their opposition to getting vaccinated, and attacked Bud Light for supporting trans rights. Kid Rock infamously shot up a stack of Bud Light with a semi-automatic rifle last year in protest of the beer.
Kelce has already won two Super Bowl rings with the Chiefs, who are playing for their fourth championship in five years.
Some television viewers were angry that coverage of the Chief’s Jan. 28 AFC title game included focus on Swift, who attended the game. Sports Illustrated noted that Swift was shown seven times for a total of 44 seconds, the equivalent of 0.39% of the three hour and nine minute-long broadcast.
Wong, the Swift fan, said she can understand why some viewers might have been upset. After all, most were tuned in to watch a football game, not a player’s girlfriend.
“I just think it’s not her fault that the NFL is putting her on the screen, because that does help their viewership,” she added.