Taylor Swift gets political, but she has long used her voice

Taylor Swift at the Rose Bowl in 2018.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

An announcement from Taylor Swift often carries seismic social-media ripples — and for good reason: When someone with more than 200 million combined Instagram and Twitter followers speaks, people listen.

Yet Swift’s words Sunday night were the Internet equivalent of a sonic boom.

The revelation: Swift voiced support for a candidate in the race for one of Tennessee’s two Senate seats. The artist endorsed former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen over incumbent Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

“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.”

“Thank you for the kind words @taylorswift13,” Bredesen tweeted in response. “I’m honored to have your support and that of so many Tennesseans who are ready to put aside the partisan shouting and get things done. We’re ready for it.”

The Democratic pledge was especially notable because Swift, who will perform at the American Music Awards on Tuesday, has long shied from explicitly discussing political views. Yet it’s not as if Swift, in making her announcement on her Instagram account, had just emerged from some cocoon in which the realities of the world didn’t matter. The difference is that she’s now simply taking her beliefs public, and without equivocating in precisely what those beliefs are.

“I always have 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,” she said. “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.”

Although Swift, 28, has remained consciously out of the political fray through the decade in which she’s been an eligible voter, the superstar has used her considerable clout as one of the world’s most popular entertainers strategically — and effectively. Her philanthropic efforts have aimed to selectively spread some of the wealth she’s amassed to support causes she supports.

She made sizable donations toward humanitarian relief efforts after floods ravaged Iowa and Tennessee in recent years, and gave $4 million in 2013 to Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to establish a children’s educational center. She also went out on a limb with her savvy opposition to Apple Music’s campaign to establish its new streaming service in 2015.

That’s when the tech giant told musicians they’d have to forgo royalties during the company’s three-month introductory period when it was trying to lure potential subscribers by offering the service free out of the gate. Swift politely, but firmly and very publicly posted an open letter on Tumblr that admonished the multi-billion-dollar firm for asking artists to help subsidize the operation. Apple relented.

She also went to bat for countless victims of sexual harassment in a widely publicized 2017 case in which she asked for — and won — a token judgment of $1 against a Denver radio deejay accused of groping her at a backstage meet-and-greet photo session after a 2013 concert.

Swift then donated to charities and programs dedicated to sexual assault victims in another example of putting her money where her mouth — and heart — is. This came at a very early moment in the #MeToo movement that soon exploded, and it is very likely one of the key motivators in her decision now to use her platform in the political arena.

She’s likewise been vocal about gun violence. In March, she let her fan base know that she supported the March for Our Lives campaign, contributing both money and strong words of empathy for survivors of the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

"No one should have to go to school in fear of gun violence. Or to a nightclub. Or to a concert. Or to a movie theater. Or to their place of worship," Swift posted, again to Instagram.

The pop superstar’s endorsement of Bredesen over Blackburn in a highly charged political campaign may represent a new line of engagement for her, but the focal point shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed her closely.

Swift may have caught some off-guard by throwing her support to a man over a woman, as she has been a vocal advocate of women’s and girl’s rights in her songs and her concert performances, but she explained the choice directly in her announcement this weekend. “As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office,” Swift wrote, “I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me.”

Swift’s inclusiveness as an artist — she has previously voiced support for the LGBTQ community — makes it understandable why she would distance herself from Blackburn.

She then proceeded to count the ways, attacking Blackburn’s record on measures to protect marriage equality, equal pay for women, protections for victims of domestic violence and other issues.

“These are not MY Tennessee values,” Swift wrote.