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Why Did Taylor Swift Wait So Long to Get Political?

On Sunday night, Taylor Swift took to Instagram and Tumblr to share an opinion that sparked intense debate: In just under 400 words, she expressed her commitment to women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, addressed “sickening and prevalent” systemic racism, and announced that she would therefore be casting her ballot for Democrat Phil Bredesen in his bid to to swing a Republican-held seat in the U.S. Senate this November.

Ever the cutting lyricist, Swift didn’t mince words: “[Blackburn’s] voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values.”

The post is being widely reported as Swift’s first foray into politics. While it is the first time she’s explicitly endorsed a candidate, those who follow Swift closely will note that this is not a toe in the water, but rather the culmination of a year of quiet political actions and discourse. Swift's gradual transformation from apolitical to fully engaged was meticulously designed to help her millions of fans transform with her.

Before 2017, Swift stayed largely mum about her political leanings. During the 2016 election, when seemingly any and every celebrity weighed in with their political opinions, she encouraged her fans to vote, but did not take a side or reveal her own preferences. Critics noted her “striking” silence, and observed that a successful pop star’s carefully cultivated neutrality wasn’t exactly an apolitical stance.

But last summer, Swift was foisted into the political spotlight by David Mueller, a former radio host who sexually assaulted Swift by groping her in 2013. Swift reported the incident right away, telling Time, “I figured that if he would be brazen enough to assault me under these risky circumstances and high stakes, imagine what he might do to a vulnerable, young artist if given the chance. It was important to report the incident to his radio station because I felt like they needed to know.”

Mueller was fired after an independent investigation, and two years later, he sued Swift for false allegations. She countersued for a symbolic $1, and the world watched as she recounted the details of her assault in court. Swift prevailed in the case, but, she says, Mueller never paid the dollar he owed her. 

At the time, Swift was almost universally lauded for her bravery, but a few months later when Time named Swift as one of its “silence breakers” in its 2017 Person of the Year issue and put her on its cover, debate flared over whether she deserved to be there. 

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The interview she gave in that issue of the magazine was the first and only media request she granted in the months after Reputation’s release—a stark contrast to the heavy promotion she did for 1989. The interview was also the first in a series of political statements from Swift leading up to Sunday’s endorsement of Bredesen. 

She began 2018 with a reported $100,000 donation to the Time’s Up legal fund. In March, Swift voiced support for the March for Our Lives on Instagram, saying, “No one should have to go to school in fear of gun violence.” Later that month, Swift went on Tumblr to defend openly lesbian singer Hayley Kiyoko and call out the media’s homophobic double standards (Kiyoko was later a guest performer on Swift’s Reputation tour). During her first concert in June, Swift gave a moving speech about Pride Month, saying, “I want to send my love and respect out to everybody who in their journey hasn’t yet felt comfortable enough to come out, and may you do that in your own time.” 

Later in her tour, Swift dimmed the lights for a full minute to honor Aretha Franklin’s contributions to women’s rights and civil rights, and on the anniversary of her assault trial, Swift delivered a heartfelt thank you to fans who waved $1 bills to show support. “I just want to say that I’m sorry to everyone who ever wasn’t believed,” she said, “because I don’t know what turn my life would have taken if people hadn’t believed me.”

It’s clear that Swift has become increasingly comfortable making political statements, so why did she wait until October of 2018 to make a political endorsement? Some have speculated her decision was fueled by the Senate’s confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, or even by a desire to “win” her “feud” with Kanye West once and for all following his recent post of himself in a MAGA hat. But there’s a much more obvious explanation that tracks with Swift’s career and character: her tour was ending. 

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IT’S CLEAR THAT SWIFT HAS BECOME INCREASINGLY COMFORTABLE MAKING POLITICAL STATEMENTS, SO WHY DID SHE WAIT UNTIL OCTOBER OF 2018 TO MAKE A POLITICAL ENDORSEMENT?

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This is an artist who meticulously manages her image and brand, from the infamous “secret messages” in her liner notes to deleting her entire social media presence and posting only a video of a snake in the lead-up to Reputation’s release. She understood the explosive coverage this post would generate, and there’s no doubt that she carefully planned the timing and content in advance. Waiting until the U.S. leg of the tour was finished also ensured that Swift's political leanings wouldn't affect the tour's status as the highest-grossing tour by an American woman of all time.

By withholding her endorsement until after the end of her tour (but issuing it just before most voter registration deadlines), Swift tried to make sure that each of her fans could enjoy the experience. It’s been widely speculated that this may be Swift’s last tour for the foreseeable future, so the timing of her endorsement of Bredesen makes perfect sense.

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Whenever Swift releases a new album, her fans refer to it as an “era”: For example, the Fearless era featured sundresses and cowboy boots, the 1989 era was #SquadGoals and crop-tops, and the Reputation era has been marked by snakes, hoodies, and the not-so-subtle art of not giving a fuck. Now, Swift is translating her career-long narrative of love, empowerment, and personal bravery into an actionable undertaking in the voting booth. For millions of her fans—particularly queer people and people of color—this endorsement is far from the start of Swift’s political discourse, but it could be the beginning of a whole new era. After all, her political endorsements matter: just a day after her Instagram post, voter registration spiked in Tennessee—and nationwide.

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