You can be highbrow. You can be lowbrow. But can you ever just be brow? Welcome to Middlebrow, a weekly examination of pop culture.
Here we are: just days away from the election, and stress levels on both sides are at an all-time high. Emails are leaking, polls are going up and down, Donald Trump is still Donald Trump. It’s not a great spot to be in.
In times of confusion and chaos, some are relying on what celebrities have to say to assuage their fears that the United States will become a flaming dumpster fire on Nov. 8. We want the same people who uplift and inspire us through acting and song to do the same on the political scene, lack of political experience and know-how be damned.
And they have. To name a few, Miley Cyrus has popped up in Virginia to campaign for Hillary Clinton, while Anne Hathaway showed up in Pennsylvania to stump for the Democratic candidate. Katy Perry’s and Madonna’s antics have caught the public eye, for better or worse. Lena Dunham, she of the “grabbed pussy” Halloween costume, even commented on the absurdity of celebrity voting PSAs with a somewhat awkward, pantsuit-laden rap.
It’s great that these women are using their public platform and influence to encourage voters — especially ones in that crucial youth demographic — to stop by the polls next Tuesday. Even better that they use the societal megaphone of social media to speak out against the sexual harassment and bigotry that has unfortunately become part of our 2016 election narrative.
But, should a celebrity have to do so in today’s political climate, where a politically experienced woman is contending against a loudmouth real estate tycoon, especially if part of their brand includes feminism (in actions, if not explicitly by name)?
While we’ve heard ringing endorsements from some celebrities, whether it’s those mentioned above or Scott Baio and Clint Eastwood supporting Trump, other prominent figures have kept mum. According to Esquire, top names like P. Diddy, Garth Brooks, The Rock, Ronda Rousey and Chris Pratt haven’t said one way or another who they’ll vote for, if they plan on voting at all. Then there’s the queen of #squadgoals herself.
Taylor Swift is one notably silent celebrity when it comes to politics, and one who’s also championed the power of women helping each other (except in cases like her “Bad Blood” video, where she is ... not). She’s had a complicated year between her breakup with Calvin Harris, the Hiddleswift romance heard ‘round the world, and a certain damning Snapchat released by none other than Kim Kardashian. To embroil herself in another potentially controversial topic could bring her image down.
In July, Daily Beast writer Amy Zimmerman pointed out that Swift’s white feminism (e.g., her ill-advised tweets with Nicki Minaj under the guise of said feminism while ignoring that women of color have been historically underrepresented at award shows) seems like an apt match for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In the direct aftermath of the #KimExposedTaylorParty, Zimmerman wrote, “With all the time Swift and her squad have spent ... urging fans to focus on issues that really matter, the pop superstar could have actually directed some much-needed millennial attention toward HRC.”
In the days leading up to the election, Twitter users have been asking the pop star to speak up.
Swift has a track record of being one of the nicest pop stars around. She’s personally selected holiday gifts for lucky fans. She makes a show of stopping by children’s hospitals and quietly donated a huge sum to Kesha’s team when the singer was embroiled in a legal battle with Dr. Luke. Still, it seems that her generosity is doled out when it aligns with her carefully crafted image, that of a benevolent BFF who showers you in cat pictures and sparkly stage outfits and never wants to talk about the hard stuff.
One could argue that that’s OK — Swift is a pop star. She’s in a different realm than the dogged Republican-Democrat sparring that shows up daily in the news. Sure, but the hateful rhetoric, including attacks on the Muslim community, women, Latinos and reproductive rights, among others, spewed during this election takes the typical election-year debates over policy into one of simple human decency.
We’re in an election season where women have reported feeling traumatized from the news of Donald Trump’s multiple alleged assaults and his offensive “locker room talk” captured on a 2005 tape. It would be a powerful show of support for sexual assault survivors if the highest-earning female musician publicly denounced the kind of offensive speech the Republican nominee is known for. It wouldn’t be an explicit endorsement of Clinton, if drawing too hard a political line would be bad for business — as Allie Jones points out in New York Magazine’s The Cut, siding with Hillary would mean being on the same team as her avowed enemy, Perry. But if Swift’s pro-women beliefs are as strong as she purports, it would be a significant nod of support to those who have been deeply affected by this year’s headlines.
It’s doubtful we’ll hear anything from Swift in the coming days — even a shot of an “I voted” sticker seems unlikely, considering her reticence on talking politics in the past. To admit to voting would spark a furious demand from fans to know who she voted for (heck, maybe Swift is secretly psyched for Jill Stein??), and an admission either way would risk alienating a chunk of her fanbase (or their parents).
Could Swift’s silence on important matters like sexual assault threaten her fanbase’s loyalty more, though? We’re all heading into a new world with either outcome on Nov. 8 — perhaps Swift will have to change her public-facing strategy, too.