Confession time. I am absolutely loving the “Could Taylor Swift sway the US election?” political coverage. Story, after story, after story. The pop star kicks off an Australian tour this week, bringing her MASSIVE concert event to Melbourne on Friday night, expecting to fill the cavernous ring of the MCG with her biggest crowd ever.
And they say American soft power is in decline.
Look, I was/remain an avowed Britney Spears fan. I thought Paris Hilton’s intervention in the 2008 US presidential race was HILARIOUS, poking fun at that “wrinkly, white-haired guy” John McCain. Ah, simple days. Before the Orange Man.
But wind back. How much do celebrity endorsements really matter? “Tay Tay” was a ScoMo favourite, so much that it sparked an academic study. The former PM used to cite Shake it Off lyrics in parliament and give Swifties shout-outs at press conferences. But this was a dorky dad effort to reach a younger audience. Donald Trump himself once professed “Taylor is terrific!” YUGE!
That was 2012. Trump was happy then because Swift’s aloof approach to politics played in his favour in the 2016 race against Hillary Clinton, allowing speculation that she was secretly in his corner. That all changed while Trump was president, when Swift decided to speak out and in 2020 she weighed in on the side of Joe Biden.
So, why does her endorsement matter now? Is there really a chance she’d switch? I confess, I wondered the same when the speculation kicked off again.
Swift is an even bigger star these days, true, with her The Eras Tour expected to shift a GDP-sized economy. And with that kind of celebrity comes some pretty kooky conspiracy theories. The NFL Superbowl drives extra hype, surrounding her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs player Travis Kelce, himself a focus of some crazed political conjugation, especially on Covid vaccines.
But apparently, so it's claimed, nearly one-in-five Americans will swing the way Swift suggests with an endorsement. Yep, and they sell bridges in the United States, too. But even allowing a heavy dose of scepticism about such polling, the Biden camp is clearly eager. The New York Times reported last month that Swift was “the endorsement of their wildest dreams”.
I’m still dubious about the value that attaching her image to Biden’s campaign might bring. The “celebrification” of politics seems to play more to Trump’s tactics than Biden’s strengths. Meantime, the “will she/won’t she” debate amounts to a distraction. Biden is struggling with a reputation for being feeble, in age and memory. If she doesn’t back him now after her mooted endorsement has become such a big deal, that might cost him more.
Trump has a genius for making himself the story. He said he liked Swift’s music “25 per cent less” after she declared her opposition back in 2018. Today, he’s far more visceral. “There is no way” he declared about the prospect of Swift endorsing Biden around the Superbowl event. Besides, he said, it would be “disloyal”, given that he made her rich by protecting music copyright laws during his time in the White House. Trump is again making himself and his claims to greatness the mainstay of the coverage. He’s playing to the crowd. And for a media industry struggling for audience and searching for revenue, reporting his every word in a big celebrity stoush amounts to click, click, click.