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Why Not Even Taylor Swift Can Exist in a Political Vacuum

To stay silent, or just self-promote, is to be deafeningly noticeable at a time when global politics have turned upside-down.

by Grace Medford
Jan 31 2017, 6:40pm

The President of the United States is a celebrity. He's a former reality TV host who pointed his stubby fingers at people and fired them on camera for money. All of which is to say: we are way, way past the point of debating whether or not famous people outside of the political sphere are qualified to speak on "real" issues – America just put one in the White House. And he's not even an A-lister!

Of course, just because celebs are perfectly entitled to speak out doesn't mean they have to. It doesn't even mean that they want to. For example, one celebrity who has been notably non-partisan on almost every single civil rights event that can't be repurposed as self-promotion is everyone's favourite snake emoji meme, Taylor Swift.

Throughout her career Swift has been consistently close-lipped on anything that flirts with being socially controversial until it has been deemed "safe" to do so, but for posterity here's a rundown of the few times she has been visible on the issues that matter:

– She made overtures to the gay community (where she retains a strong fanbase) with a non-committal lyric in 1989's "Welcome To New York", which she recycled into a tweet eight months later when the US Supreme Court ruled that same-gender marriage was a legal right in the country.

– A self-professed feminist, she didn't announce whether she planned to attend any Women's March demonstrations on the weekend of Trump's inauguration earlier this month, but shared in a non-committal tweet that she was "proud to be a woman" once the protest was over.

– As for the election itself, well… she voted. Or she stood in line to vote, at the very least, and posted this dry, non-committal photo urging others to also exercise their civil liberties to prove it. That's all we know.

This weekend, Donald Trump's racist travel ban was enacted across America, affecting refugees, immigrants, green card-holding US citizens – and, for a moment, seeming to impact even knighted, gold medal-winning Olympic athletes – who are from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The internet erupted, people scrambled to organise protests, information on how to help disseminated across social media timelines. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift posted the link to the music video for her latest single from the 50 Shades Darker movie soundtrack, a collaboration with Zayn Malik. Three times.

The problem for Taylor is that she's very much stuck between a rock and a hard place. She has toed the line down the middle of the middle ground to a fault, and it has served her well for a decade, but these are different times. Turbulent times. Frightening times. To stay silent is to be deafeningly noticeable, as every single one of your peers and contemporaries from Beyoncé to Madonna to Katy Perry to Lady Gaga to Rihanna to Adele speaks out. To raise your voice now, when you never have before, is to appear grossly opportunistic, something Taylor is censured for regularly. But to blithely continue to hawk your newest release as the world turns to shit around you, is a different beast altogether, and prompted this searingly accurate read from 15-year-old actress Rowan Blanchard.

In short: celebrities can't exist in a vacuum. Not even Taylor Swift can exist in a vacuum. Especially not when the promo cycle for her last album couched itself so heavily in female empowerment, and especially not when she's currently promoting a song in collaboration with a British Muslim whose girlfriend, also from a Muslim background, is one of her best friends. To have such a large, wide-reaching platform and use it only for the advancement of your own ambition reflects poorly, regardless of how progressive your politics may be.

The wildest suspension of disbelief is that we're being asked to accept that Taylor Swift, a woman so in love with America that every year she hosts an I LOVE AMERICA SO MUCH party on July 4, feels absolutely no type of way about what is happening in her country right now? We've been treated or subjected (depending on your outlook) to Taylor's perfectly Pinterested and Instagrammed tributes to the "Star-Spangled Banner" since at least 2013 and now, at a time when her patriotism is most vital, she has nothing to say? Who knew someone so truly red, white and blue could be so yellow.

There are of course risks to showing your colours. It's worth noting that Zayn himself has had nothing to say about the temporary travel ban either, but since the first and only time he dipped his toes into the global events arena (a #FreePalestine tweet in 2014) he was bombarded with an avalanche of death threats, it's likely he's not keen to repeat the experience. Lily Allen and Charlotte Church have been routinely humiliated and ridiculed for trying to use their platforms – however idealistically – for the good and betterment of mankind, while Ewan McGregor cancelled his appearance on Good Morning Britain in solidarity with women only to be called a "paedophile-loving hypocrite" in a national newspaper by faecal matter in a flesh sock Piers Morgan.

On the other side of things, association with Trump's inauguration led to widespread condemnation for people like Jackie Evancho, the second place America's Got Talent contestant who sang the national anthem and Jennifer Holliday, who pulled out of the event citing a "lapse of judgement" when she remembered how much of her mortgage is paid by the LGBTQ community.

It can be hard to enjoy your fave when they do trash things like, for example, announce on stage that they would have voted for The Donald and then turn up at Trump Tower for a photo op. But if there is anything the past two years or so has proven, it's that politics and pop culture are intrinsically interwoven right now. Whether it's Beyoncé's fiery opus Lemonade, Solange's more measured reflections on A Seat At The Table or A Tribe Called Quest's final, deeply humanist, studio album, We Got It From Here; Madonna's impassioned (and inflammatory) speech at the Women's March, Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes, or an open letter to Trump supporters from Lauren Jauregui of Fifth Harmony, current world events are so troubling that they are only going to continue to permeate further into the arts. To ignore is to not merely be "unwoke" but to be embarrassingly out of touch with public conversation. To only speak up about issues on which you can capitalise without fear of alienating half of your fan base is cause for concern. To actively choose not to denounce a presidential candidate – now president – whose campaign promises set out to directly affect the women's rights you spoke so passionately about 12 months ago, is even more so.

As civil unrest across the globe dominates headlines, for how long can our most taciturn public figures remain silent?

You can follow Grace on Twitter.

(Image by Eva Rinaldi via Flickr)