When pop megastar Taylor Swift praised two Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee, she broke a years-long policy of keeping her politics to herself.
Her endorsements drew much praise but also a fierce backlash. Some white supremacists who have formed an odd cult following around the singer cried betrayal, while some more mainstream fans said she should have stuck to her music.
On Monday, Donald Trump joined in, saying he now liked Swift’s music “about 25% less”.
Criticism is nothing new for Swift, whose political silence has drawn just as much vitriol as her decision to speak out.
In an Instagram post on Sunday night, Swift threw her support behind Phil Bredesen, candidate for Senate, and Jim Cooper for the US House.
She wrote: “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions. I feel very differently about that now. Have always and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.
“I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”
Swift, 28, has previously stayed scrupulously neutral, frustrating many liberals. She has said that as a young woman whose expertise is in music, she does not feel right influencing her fans’ politics.
She inched closer to revealing a liberal orientation when she tweeted support for last year’s Women’s March, saying: “So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched. I’m proud to be a woman today, and every day.”
Swift’s public neutrality allowed fans to project views on to her. She developed a following among white supremacists, who held her up as the ideal of white femininity. The singer’s lawyers went after one blogger. Critics wondered why she wouldn’t publicly denounce neo-Nazi fans.
Swift even sparked controversy with a short Instagram post marking her birthday at the end of 2017, where she said she “couldn’t have asked for a better year”. Those who saw little to celebrate in the first year of the Trump presidency begged to differ.
So it was no surprise that Swift’s decision to finally wade into politics sparked backlash of its own. Those rightwing fans, for one, were incensed.
“Oh yay! Another literally retarded celebrity the left can fawn over while we make fun of her and them for being retarded,” wrote one poster on the often-controversial online message board 4chan.
“Taylor swift just ended her entire career lmao,” [sic] another poster wrote. A third chimed in: “Guys I think those fucking cultists who torment [sic] us killed Taylor Swift and replaced her with a brain dead [non-playable character]. Those fuckers have gone too far this time. I will defend the honour of my lady Taylor Swift and find a way to return her to normal.”
Mainstream Republicans were also displeased, posting a response promising she would not be able to, in the words of one of her hits, “shake it off”.
“If you haven’t heard, multimillionaire pop star Taylor Swift came down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans to vote for Phil Bredesen,” said the post by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Charlie Kirk, president of conservative group Turning Point USA, tweeted: “You just endorsed a Democrat in the Tennessee Senate race with a ridiculous statement saying Marsha Blackburn, a woman, is against women. You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.”
Later, Trump told reporters: “Marsha Blackburn is doing a very good job in Tennessee. She’s leading now substantially, which she should. She’s a tremendous woman. I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her. Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25% less now, OK?”
Swift found support as well. Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner said on Twitter: “A big shout out to Taylor Swift for speaking out. You can single handedly change this country. Impress on your fans how critical and powerful their voices are. If you get them to the polls on Nov 6, everything you care about will be protected.”
The Democrat also taunted his opponent with lyrics from Look What You Made Me Do. A hit on Swift’s last album, Reputation.
“@VoteMarsha, look what you made her do,” Bredesen tweeted at Blackburn. “@taylorswift13 doesn’t like your little games and she wants Tennesseans to know that you’ve been in the swamp long enough. It’s time for some fresh air up in Washington.”
Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the anti-Trump Democratic Coalition, wrote: “Taylor Swift just took the mic from Kanye.”
Celebrity endorsements, however, do not always guarantee an edge. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was supported by Jay-Z and Beyoncé in Ohio, Bruce Springsteen in Pennsylvania and Jennifer Lopez in Florida. All three states went for Trump.