Photo by Andre Rowlett / MTSU Sidelines Archive
Story by Kristin Hall / Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Taylor Swift’s first big jump into politics might have gained her some extra haters, but her endorsement in a competitive midterm U.S. Senate race isn’t likely to result in a massive backlash against the country-singer-turned-pop-star, observers say.
Republicans now have some bad blood with the star after a surprise endorsement on Instagram Sunday night for Tennessee Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and an argument against Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn.
Republicans and President Donald Trump have already rebuked her for the endorsement, but the Swifties closed ranks in support of her and many others have applauded her for speaking out.
“She weighs every word carefully, but she has to because few artists receive more scrutiny than she does,” said Beverly Keel, chair of the department of recording industry at Middle Tennessee State University. “People will analyze every single word.”
Accompanied by a Polaroid-looking selfie, Swift acknowledged being reluctant to publicly voice her opinions in the past. But she says things are different in recent years, a possible reference to when she went to court last year to testify against a radio DJ who she says groped her.
Blackburn’s voting record, Swift wrote, “appalls and terrifies me,” noting Blackburn’s votes against equal pay for women and the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Trump, who has campaigned for Blackburn, dismissed Swift’s opinion of the candidate, saying Swift “doesn’t know anything about her. And let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”
She’s not the first artist to endorse Bredesen, a former Tennessee governor who has been helped in his current campaign by four-time Grammy-winner Jason Isbell and rocker Ben Folds. Country artists have weighed in on other state races, including country duo Brothers Osborne playing at a campaign event for Karl Dean, a Democratic candidate for governor.
Keel, a longtime music publicist in Nashville, said some artists are inclined to be political, others are not and there’s a lot of middle ground in between.
“If you look at people like Rosanne Cash, Jason Isbell, it’s part of their DNA. It’s part of who they are. It drives their art,” Keel said.
Cash defended Swift on Twitter, saying “Those who tell her to stay away from politics are actually telling her to stay away from citizenship. The rest of us offer our deep admiration.”
Swift also got support from Ellen DeGeneres and actor Mark Hamill, while Republican politician Mike Huckabee dismissed Swift’s impact on the election by underestimating her fan based by saying that “13 yr old girls” can’t vote. (According to Vote.org, there was a significant increase in new voter registration after Swift’s post, but how much of that was due to the music star is unclear).
In Nashville, the persistent parable of the Dixie Chicks comes up any time artists voice a political opinion. The hugely popular and Grammy-winning country group was criticized after lead singer Natalie Maines told an overseas crowd in 2003 that they were ashamed of then-President George W. Bush over the war in Iraq. It’s so pervasive as a theme in Nashville that it’s become a verb: to be “Dixie Chicked.”
Diane Pecknold, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Louisville, said Swift’s transition from country to pop has broadened her fan base.
“She doesn’t have to concern herself with potentially alienating what is perceived as a conservative country base,” Pecknold said.
Still the common refrain of “shut up and sing” gets lobbed at many artists, but in the age of social media, everyone has an opinion, even on Swift’s opinion, Keel said.
“On Facebook, I have seen my friends say, ‘I am never buying another Taylor Swift album’ to ‘I just went online and bought her entire catalog,'” Keel said.
Nadine Hubbs, professor of women’s studies and music at the University of Michigan, and author of “Rednecks, Queers and Country Music,” notes that Swift’s statement doesn’t ever mention political parties, but instead focuses on issues like human rights, LGBTQ rights, equal pay and racial discrimination.
“She effectively avoids falling into a trap whereby her message could be reduced and dismissed as partisanship,” Hubbs said.
Hubbs said that many country artists, such as Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith and more, follow a similar model of not identifying as Democrat or Republican. Swift instead chose to visibly identify as a Tennessean in the statement.
Swift made her political statement very personal and using very specific language, which goes in tandem with the personal songs that she’s made her brand, Hubbs added.
“There’s going to be a backlash, but I don’t think she’s going to get totally Dixie Chicked,” Hubbs said. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt her career.”
Grammy-nominated country singer Cam said she hasn’t seen a backlash against Swift, but she said anyone should feel free to speak their minds.
“It’s a time when human beings, if they believe something, they should talk about it, especially as I think a lot of white people are waking up,” Cam said during an event at the Grand Ole Opry celebrating Ray Charles.
“I’m not saying what she said is the right thing or the wrong thing. You make your own decision. But at least, don’t be afraid to just talk about it. We can have those conversations.”