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What Made Taylor Swift Finally Get Political?

The pop star’s Instagram endorsement of two Tennessee Democrats is an about-face from her previous political silence. Why is she picking sides now?

Taylor Swift on stage, waving Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Look what we made her do. A little less than two years into Trump’s presidency, Taylor Swift has finally picked a side. The pop star was notoriously apolitical during 2016’s bitter presidential election—a position that frustrated portions of her fan base and liberal-leaning media outlets. But Sunday night, she changed course with an Instagram endorsement of two Tennessee Democrats—former governor Phil Bredesen for U.S. Senate and U.S. Representative Jim Cooper, who’s running for reelection—ahead of next month’s congressional midterm elections.

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I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. 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. 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. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her 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. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives. Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting!

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“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” she wrote in a caption beneath a black-and-white polaroid of herself. “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. 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. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”

Swift went on to criticize Marsha Blackburn, the Republican candidate running against Bredesen. Explaining that Blackburn’s lack of support for equal pay, protection against domestic violence, and LGBTQ rights “appalls and terrifies” her, the singer made a plea to her fans. “Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values,” she wrote. “For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway.”

Swift’s statement reveals her personal struggle to enter into the political conversation. Her stiff citation comes off as oddly cautionary—especially when displayed in the small, blocky text of an Instagram caption—and suggests that she is acutely aware of conservative media’s tendency to belittle musicians for making sweeping moral statements. Swift’s decision to omit party affiliations also implies she does not want to alienate her conservative listeners. But the timing of the statement is most telling. Along with the rest of the world, Swift has watched nearly two years’ worth of President Donald Trump administration’s relentless attack on human rights—from limitations on reproductive health care to the separation of immigrant families at the U.S. border—and yet timed her political debut to a state midterm election. It’s no wonder that many of her liberal followers and members of the media responded to her post by repeating a single statement: “Taylor Swift, welcome to the resistance.” But many who have been actively fighting against damaging and discriminatory laws are far too bedraggled to hand out gold stars to the privileged pop billionaires who are just now realizing that we are in the midst of a frightening political moment.

These days, most pop stars have naturally integrated their political beliefs into their public personas. Even if we’ve never heard Beyoncé utter Trump’s name, her work, her performances, and her endorsement of Hillary Clinton are all enough for us to know where she stands. Katy Perry may still be exploring who she is and what she represents, but she’s at least forthcoming enough to let you know her moral compass does not point anywhere near the direction of the Republican Party. Most stars have enough of a rapport with their fan bases to express their political dissatisfactions in the form of simple images or short denouncements. When Top 40 darling Cardi B calls Trump a “dickhead” or a “madman,” the world doesn’t blink. Swift’s discomfort in this arena is indicative of her personal identity. Even if she’s believed in human rights all along, her reluctance to speak out against the Republican Party’s increasingly hateful policies seemingly show that she’s ambivalent toward those who do not.

In the past, Swift cynics reasoned that her political silence was not a signal of support for Trump, but an effort to make as much money as humanly possible by not alienating any fans. As I wrote in November, that logic does not necessarily track in a market where more and more millennials are seeking out morally conscious brands. There’s no doubt that “several events” in Swift’s life and world in the past two years helped push her to speak out. But maybe—just maybe—she realized it would be good for her brand, too.