Can Taylor Swift swing America's presidential vote?

According to a survey by Morning Consult, 53% of American adults are Swift fans, ratings that Biden and Trump “can only dream of.”

A tussle is developing over who Grammy record-breaker will endorse as Biden and Trump vie to be the name in Swift's 'blank space'.
Andy Edwards
A tussle is developing over who Grammy record-breaker will endorse as Biden and Trump vie to be the name in Swift's 'blank space'.

Can Taylor Swift swing America's presidential vote?

It may be a little early to determine what will swing the election in America. If a week is a long time in politics, ten months feels like an eternity, and the voters have to endure all this just for a re-run of the last election.

What’s it to be this time? Can the Democrats pull off a repeat victory and turn the White House into an elephant graveyard? Or will the Republicans evict the incumbent from his donkey sanctuary?

Whichever candidate wins, the gerontocracy is sure to triumph.

Thank goodness, then, for a completely different question to take the voters’ minds off the least electrifying presidential election since records began: endorsement.

And not, in the traditional way, endorsement by an actual politician, or of some faceless corporation or other, but by a celebrity, the biggest celebrity of her kind, of one of the old duffers still barely managing to stand.

She is not even a celebrity solely famous for being a celebrity like Kim Kardashian. This woman has immense talent. She’s smart, and in songs like ‘Blank Space’ or ‘Anti Hero’, she’s witty and melodious, and her voice has matured since the days when she was a squeaky country star.

She even has a soft spot for British English. She also has a massive following, more devoted than Trump’s or Biden’s: the Swifties.

These look like turbulent times for Taylor Swift, though I doubt she will mind much. One thing you pick up on from the most cursory glance at this particular pop star is her supreme self-assurance.

In just the past few weeks, she has suffered intrusive speculation about her relationship with a famous football player and had deepfake sexual images of herself broadcast to millions – before, that is, the president expressed his ‘alarm’ and the photos were taken down.

Taylor Swift waves after the AFC Championship NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, January 28, 2024, in Baltimore.

Now, there are people on the extreme right of the political spectrum in the US who claim she is serving the Democrats’ agenda and is the Pentagon’s ‘psyop asset’.

There may even be an element of chagrin that she is not a good, upstanding Republican. According to Jill Filipovic, ‘her blond hair, blue eyes and country music roots once led white supremacists to turn her into an icon of white Aryan womanhood’.

You can easily hear what she thinks about that kind of role. In ‘Lavender Haze’, she refers to the ‘1950s stuff they want from me.’

I don’t have the same cool and calm as Taylor Swift, so for me it’s hard to deal with this barrage without getting confused. Let me take the New York Times article first and what has become known as Gaylor, or the conviction that this particular gay icon is, well, gay.

This explosive claim in a broadsheet newspaper was a curious instance of friendly fire since the writer – one Anna Marks – is clearly a big fan. She is also given, like so many Swifties, to meticulously unpicking the songwriter’s lyrics.

To be fair, Swift only has herself to blame. She openly encourages her fans to examine her lyrics, as well as the aesthetics of her videos and her public pronouncements in general, in search of what she calls ‘Easter eggs.’

As Marks puts it, ‘Her work is a feast laid specifically for the close listener.’ Yep, she doesn’t just hide them; she lays them.

According to Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, ‘Swift is followed by fans whose dedication to her mythology is Byzantine and layered and complex and messianic.’

A female messiah, then. Quite a novelty.

There are people on the extreme right of the political spectrum in the US who claim Taylor Swift is serving the Democrats' agenda and is the Pentagon's 'psyop asset'.

It is undoubtedly the case that Taylor Swift has frequently voiced her support for gay politics, and Anna Marks catalogues the occasions on which she has done this with loving care.

A couple of cases in point: check out the videos for 'ME!' and 'You Need to Calm Down.' 'There are some queer people.' Marks says, 'who would say that through this sort of signalling, she has already come out, at least to us.'

At the same time, Swift has made it clear that her relationships with women should not be sexualised. Despite this, the whole argument of the article is that her lyrics betray a closeted predilection for women.

The 'proof' hinges on one particular song, called 'Hits Different,' a smoking gun where Swift asserts "Bet I could still melt your world; argumentative, antithetical dream girl." This might actually be the clincher Marks takes it for, if it were not for the fact that the singer is almost certainly referring to herself as the 'argumentative, antithetical etc.'

Earlier in the piece, the writer had cautioned herself thus:

'The first time I viewed "Lover" through the prism of queerness, I felt delirious, almost insane. I kept wondering whether what I was perceiving in her work was truly there or if it was merely a mirage, born of earnest projection.'

Her tendentious interpretation of this lyric is a perfect example of such earnestness. Aural hallucination would be another way to describe it. The most devoted fan always hears what they want to hear. This is echoed in the gush of enthusiasm at having found the biggest Easter egg since the premature death of Paul McCartney – but I'll come to Beatlemania anon:

'For a moment, Ms. Swift was out of the woods she had created for herself as a teenager, floating above the trees...'

This, to a dedicated Swiftie, is an obvious allusion to a Swiftian metaphor. It might even be called an example of 'fanilect.' It's a bit like when Fox News was ridiculed for a segment on the psyop claim, by a Pentagon spokesperson no less:

"…as for this conspiracy theory, we are going to shake it off."

Ha, another Swiftie! I bet Rishi Sunak does this, too. They're all at it. But apologies, I interrupted Ms. Marks mid-gush:

'The future was within reach; she would, and will, soon take back the rest of her words, her reputation, her name. Maybe the world would see her, maybe it wouldn't. But on that stage, she found herself. I was there. Through a fuzzy fancam, I saw it.'

Well, who knows, maybe she did see something. It seems with a cultural phenomenon as huge as Swift. She is incredibly prolific, for a start.

A fan holds up a Kansas City Chiefs jersey with Swift #13 during Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 5, 2024. The jersey refers to Travis Kelce's girlfriend Taylor Swift.

Moreover, Nathan Hubbard, a ticketing executive, has called her the first musician ever to be 'natively online.' Her reach is off the scale. Which means Taylor Swift is just too big for anyone to see.

Whether you're a fan or not, projections or partial views are inevitable. Take Gaby Hinsliff's comments on this whole alt-right farrago:

'Like Donald Trump, whose allies are said to be threatening a remarkably silly-sounding "holy war" against the singer, Swift is an unstoppable cultural phenomenon with a deep hold over the female psyche.'

'She epitomises what many women want to be – powerful but joyful, financially independent, patently not in need of a man but having zero trouble getting one, while he (Trump) stands for all those threatened by this subversion of the patriarchal order'.

Notice it's the 'female psyche' she is supposed to have a hold over. You would never know that, according to a survey by Morning Consult, 53% of American adults are Swift fans, or that there are almost as many men as women, almost as many Republicans as Democrats, including baby boomers, millennials, Gen Xers and young adults from Gen Z.

This kind of constituency could make or break a national political campaign. As the journalist Ellie Austin has said, they are ratings that Biden and Trump "can only dream of."

Talking, as Mary Harrington did in a recent article for Unherd, about Swifties as 'girlies' puts a pretty arbitrary limit on the singer's appeal. She has admitted in the past that she is not a Republican and has also urged her fans to vote. If she endorses Joe Biden, this could lose his opponent more than simply the female half of the electorate.

Nonetheless, the facile tendency to see Swifties as 'girlies' is ingrained among the opinion-formers. It is the basis of Harrington's characterisation of Swift's fandom as not just based on 'popular music women really like,' but something 'far more insidious and wide-ranging: her role as metonym for the female-coded phenomenon of swarmism.'

According to a survey by Morning Consult, 53% of American adults are Swift fans, ratings that Biden and Trump "can only dream of."

That's us told: 'Infectious emotions are not uniquely female, but studies suggest women are more prone to them. Anyone who has ever observed a group of teenage girls will recognise the way, whether in real life or via internet channels, emotions felt by one member of the group refract and are amplified by others…'

She goes on: 'Trump instinctively grasps internet demagoguery. But I can see how, for less adept conservative internet denizens, the femaleness of Swifties and Swift herself, plus women's broader tilt away from Right-coded fandoms, might make the emerging power of swarm politics look, in aggregate, like a sinister girly plot against the Right.'

Sometimes, it's hard to know who is doing the most projecting. A 'girly plot' may sound like the language of the patriarchs, but most of the writers I've quoted thus far agree that this is about girls.

Could it be they associate all this 'fandom' with a phenomenon that long predates the 'collective effervescence' we are witnessing now: Beatlemania? Or 'phoney Beatlemania,' to quote Joe Strummer.

This photo taken on February 3, 2024, shows Chinese fans of US singer Taylor Swift reacting as they watch the concert film "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" at a cinema in Beijing.

It's a comparison made explicitly by Jon Bream in the Star Tribune: 'Swift has achieved a once unthinkable monoculture, a zeitgeistian redux of Beatlemania.'

Whoa, steady on there. Sadly, Joe Strummer is not around to tell us how phoney that redux might be.

The Beatles thing seems like such an unimaginably long time ago, and it wasn't even the first such eruption of mania – Franz Liszt, anyone? – but a quick glance at the Wikipedia entry on the phenomenon that greeted their arrival way back in the early Sixties is remarkably suggestive of its similarities.

Even before their first recordings, Bob Wooler, who regularly presented them at Liverpool's Cavern Club, was writing in August 1961 that they were "the stuff that screams are made of." Give that man a job in advertising.

In advance of the Beatles' arrival in the US, Time magazine reported that the 'raucous sound' of the band's screaming fans made their concerts 'slightly orgiastic.' Time did a nice line in understatement back then. Not everyone was so discreet.

Even the intellectual organs of the media were remarkably graphic. The New Statesman, for instance, expostulated that how the Beatles aroused fans.

Taylor Swift poses on the red carpet as she attends the 66th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2024.

In contrast, the band's press officer sounded positively coy when he described the relationship between the Beatles and their fans as 'the twentieth century's greatest romance.'

All this was happening when Joe Biden was a callow 21-year-old, and Trump was a pimply 18-year-old. One wonders what on earth, if anything, they made of it. O tempora, o mores!

However, the comparison of Taylor Swift's lot with the craziness they must have witnessed all those years ago seems, on sober reflection, strained.

The Wikipedia entry for Swifties could not be less reminiscent of over-excited micturition in the concert halls. It mentions the bonds between Swifties, and the way Swift herself interacts with them:

'Her connection with fans is considered unique for artists of her stature; she has interacted with them on social media, sent them gifts, hand-selected them to attend intimate concerts or meet-and-greets, made surprise visits, participated in some of their functions (such as a wedding or a bridal shower), and gifted free tickets to disadvantaged or medically ill fans. Swift's habit of lurking her fans online has been referred to as Taylurking…'

And so on.

Now me, I don't even know what lurking – in this sense – is. I don't suppose for a minute that either of the presidential candidates has the faintest idea either.

But just as Harold Wilson, aspiring to become prime minister at the time, had the good sense to be photographed next to the Fab Five mop top heartthrobs, so one of the presidential hopefuls needs to fess up to being a senior Swiftie.

All you need is love. 

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