Few publications that attempt to cover American politics seriously are less suited for a populist moment than Vogue. A couple of years back, I laughed at the magazine’s declaration that “Kirsten Gillibrand is hitting her stride in Washington as the 2020 talk builds,” and attempt to reposition Gillibrand as an economic centrist, an iconoclast, and a campaigning powerhouse with cross-party appeal. You could tell it was a Vogue profile because instead of dwelling on how Gillibrand votes or her proposals, the profile talked a lot about the architecture of Gillibrand’s house, her furniture, and her husband’s record collection. (We can see how Gillibrand’s message is selling lately.)
Now Vogue is bringing the world the political thoughts of megastar Taylor Swift, including her declaration that “rights are being stripped from basically everyone who isn’t a straight white cisgender male.” The quote is used as the caption for a photo, and Vogue helpfully notes in the caption that Swift is wearing a Celine coat and Dior shoes.
It would be exceptionally easy to be snarky about Swift making these comments as she is, as the profile described, “comfortably ensconced in a human-scale basket that is sort of shaped like a cocoon. Swift has brought up an ornate charcuterie board and is happily slathering triple-cream Brie onto sea-salt crackers.” Lord knows, I was tempted to just make fun of her. But if you read further, she offers a bit of a much-needed rebuke to online mobs, and seems to have a better sense of the double-edged power of celebrities in politics than many other famous figures.
Swift says she always supported gay and lesbian rights but had been cautious about expressing that view, for fear of inadvertently offending gays and lesbians: “I didn’t realize until recently that I could advocate for a community that I’m not a part of. It’s hard to know how to do that without being so fearful of making a mistake that you just freeze. Because my mistakes are very loud. When I make a mistake, it echoes through the canyons of the world. It’s clickbait, and it’s a part of my life story, and it’s a part of my career arc.” (The woman has a point.) One could characterize this as a subtle indictment of our culture of perpetual grievance and online outrage mobs that seek out flaws in well-intended statements and gestures.
In a later comment, describing the hashtag #TaylorSwiftIsCanceled arising after a controversy, she declares, “A mass public shaming, with millions of people saying you are quote-unquote canceled, is a very isolating experience. I don’t think there are that many people who can actually understand what it’s like to have millions of people hate you very loudly.” (Millions, no, but anyone who’s ever expressed a controversial opinion on social media has probably experienced a wave of venomous responses from strangers.)
She adds, “When you say someone is canceled, it’s not a TV show. It’s a human being. You’re sending mass amounts of messaging to this person to either shut up, disappear, or it could also be perceived as, Kill yourself.” She’s not wrong; it’s just unfortunate that everyone who needs to hear this message the most is probably among those least likely to heed it.
Swift points out that if she had publicly expressed her opposition to Trump in 2016, it probably would have backfired: “Unfortunately in the 2016 election you had a political opponent who was weaponizing the idea of the celebrity endorsement. He was going around saying, I’m a man of the people. I’m for you. I care about you. I just knew I wasn’t going to help.” She’s probably right, and her endorsement of Phil Bredesen in Tennessee’s Senate race in 2018 didn’t move the needle in his direction.
Still, the interview includes quite a bit of Swift discussing how difficult it is to be her, a bit of complaining that some may find irritating. The writer lays out purported examples of how Swift is a victim of a double standard compared to male artists. Maybe she has indeed been victimized in that manner, but it certainly hasn’t held her back very much; she is the world’s highest-paid celebrity, according to Forbes magazine. If Swift doesn’t represent an example of a woman who overcame the obstacles of sexism . . . who does?