Taylor Swift was one of the first to arrive on the American Music Awards red carpet. She showed up punctually and unquestionably on time – the same cannot be said for when she showed up to speak out against racism, homophobia and women’s rights in America . Did she miss her Party Lyft to the resistance? Taylor’s “political” statement wasn’t exactly prompt, was it? But it’s here now and some would say that’s all that matters. The AMAs was Taylor’s first public appearance since the Instagram post that launched thousands of voter registrations. All eyes were on her for different reasons than usual.
Would Taylor make a social statement in her performance? Would she use one of her acceptance speeches to launch into a monologue about the “sickening and prevalent” systematic racism she just discovered? I’m being facetious but those were the questions in my mind lingering over Taylor’s AMA appearance. Before I get into how much of the newly “political” Taylor we got last night, let’s talk about her performance. Taylor chose to perform a song about “pitchforks and proof, receipts and reasons.” “I Did Something Bad” is one of my favourite bops off of reputation and I’m still convinced it should have been her first single. It is a song about her feud with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. I think Taylor chose to sing this particular song because of the line…
They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one
It’s a good line. It’s a line that can be interpreted as a beacon of female empowerment. I think that was on purpose. I think it was a nice bonus that the song also reminds everyone still following the narrative of Taylor and Kanye that she’s now the one firmly on the right side of history. Is it unfair of me to imply that Taylor Swift is petty enough to use her political views to one-up her pop culture arch nemesis? Probably. I don’t think it’s a coincidence though that images of Kanye acting a fool in a MAGA hat are now juxtaposed with headlines about what a saint Taylor Swift is for swooping in to save the midterms. I liked Taylor’s Instagram post a lot. It was detailed and informed. It was specific. I think she means well. But two things can be true. Taylor can be doing a good and moral thing – the absolute RIGHT thing – and it can also be a strategic move that has less monetary consequence now more than ever before. It can also be a move that is GREAT for her brand at this moment. Both things can be true.
As Lainey alluded to yesterday, Taylor Swift is not vulnerable. She’s not in a position where she might lose it all for voicing her social stance. In fact, Buzzfeed argued that it would be more costly for Taylor at this point if she remained silent:
This all raises questions about whether Swift’s recent and much more explicit political statement is a calculated decision, at a moment when her silence was becoming more costly for her cultural capital and relevance than any potential backlash to her speaking out... Swift wading into electoral politics is partly a result of the fact that her image has evolved from the one that first won her that fanbase. She can no longer function as the adult and relevant artist she aspires to be without taking a political stand.
Do you think Taylor knew that she would be at the American Music Awards this close to the midterm elections and anticipated that celebs like Tracee Ellis Ross and Billy Eichner would be making social statements? Do you think she knew her political affiliations would be questioned once again if she said nothing – especially since she was highlighted on the cover of TIME as a “Silence Breaker"? And she never publicly denounced the hate groups who held her up as their Aryan Goddess? I’m not sure if Taylor Swift has always voted against systemic racism and for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community in the past but I do know that it’s a good look for her to go public with that vote now, even if it is pissing off some sad old Republican white men. I do know that I’m not going to emphatically applaud her for doing the bare minimum decent thing she should have done before November 2016.
If you’re a Swift stan or just generally not a cynical persona, you might think that the timing of Taylor’s statement had to do more with the voter registration deadline in Tennessee than the fact that she was about to be on stage at The American Music Awards. You might say that IF Taylor is embracing liberal ideals now for her brand, why didn’t she use more of her acceptance speeches to lean into this new public persona? You would have a point. Taylor did dedicate a small portion of her acceptance speech for Artist of The Year, the award that made her the winningest female artist in American Music Awards history, to encouraging people to vote but it wasn’t excessive.
“This award, and every single award given out tonight, were voted on by the people, and you know what else is voted on by the people? The mid-term elections on November 6. Get out and vote.”
It felt organic. The impact of this message and Taylor’s power to advance change is not lost on me. I don’t want to knock what Taylor Swift is doing. Like Stereo Williams wrote in The Daily Beast, I think that “more privileged white women should take a stand like Taylor Swift”. Whether it’s fair or not, they have more power than the women of colour who have been fighting for these issues out in the open for decades do - and they should use it. I’m glad that Taylor is finally using her privilege for good but I don’t think we should stop questioning her motives or holding her accountable for how she uses her privilege.
In her acceptance speech for Pop/Rock album of the year, Taylor mentioned that she’s “even more excited about the next chapter” in her career. Now that we know where she stands on certain human rights issues, what does that chapter look like?