U.S Election

A Biden endorsement from Taylor Swift? It’s delicate.

Author: Editors Desk Source: The Washington Post
February 4, 2024 at 16:16
(Illustration by María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; Michale Tran/AFP/Getty Images)
(Illustration by María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; Michale Tran/AFP/Getty Images)

Because anyone who knows how Swift operates understands that any meaningful Swift endorsement has to be authentic and on her terms.

Last Thursday, in a not-quite dive bar on the east side of Capitol Hill, five Democratic staffers crammed into a leather booth with beers and white wines to discuss the latest spasms of political drama swirling around the leader of their movement.

“I want one single person to be normal about this and treat her like a human being,” one Hill staffer said of Taylor Swift.

“All the MAGA people have been super annoying this week,” said another.

After nearly 90 minutes, one dared to wonder aloud if Taylor’s relationship with her football-playing boyfriend, Travis Kelce, was, in fact, a publicity stunt. The others screamed.

“We’ve been here for an hour and you’re saying this now?”

The women belong to the Hill Swifties, a group chat of congressional worker bees who adore the pop star and who occasionally let their fandom out at work by sneaking Swift references into their bosses’ press releases — or, conversely, talking those bosses out of posting cringeworthy Taylor content. After all, it’s easy to appropriate Swiftisms poorly in Washington. The State Department’s ‘Eras Tour’-themed checklist for international travel? That was good. The FBI’s tip line tweet cloaked in the aesthetics of Swift’s album “Speak Now,” encouraging citizens who “have information about a federal crime” to “speak now?” Not so good.

The staffers — who allowed The Washington Post to join their conversation on the condition that it not use their names, so nobody mistakes their personal views for their bosses’ — have been fans of Swift almost as long as they’ve been alive. Certainly longer than they’ve been involved with politics.

“Thank goodness we have Taylor Swift,” one Hill Swiftie joked about her obsession with the pop star, “otherwise I wonder if I’d be into QAnon.”

It’s an especially heady time for Swifties in Washington. Her latest appearance at one of Kelce’s games — a playoff win that sent his team to the Super Bowl — coincided with murmurs that President Biden’s campaign may be courting her support. The developments had kicked off a multiday frenzy over what, if anything, Swift could mean to the politics of 2024.

On the left: open thirsting for Swift, a vocal advocate for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights whose known views generally align with the Democrats, to enter her Dark Brandon Era. On the right: speculation that Swift and her “vaccine shill boyfriend” — a reference to Kelce’s advertisements for the coronavirus vaccine — are a “psyop” (spy-world shorthand for a psychological operation) to throw the election to Biden.

Swift, meanwhile, has very much excluded herself from the narrative​: She has not weighed in publicly on the endorsement chatter, and a publicist for Swift did not respond to a request for comment.

Team Biden is playing any Swift strategy close to the vest: A campaign and White House spokesperson both declined to comment on Swift-specific outreach. “I have no idea if Taylor Swift would actively offer herself or not, but of course, he’d love to have her endorsement,” said Mitch Landrieu, a co-chair of the Biden reelection campaign who said he loves Swift and also Beyoncé.

Taylor and Travis — and everything you’re dying to know!

It’s unclear how much the president, a fan of Irish folk music, knows or cares about Swift, whose name he appeared to confuse with Britney Spears’s during remarks at last year’s presidential turkey pardon.

Educating the president has fallen to his die-hard Swiftie staffers. On a day that music manager Scooter Braun visited the White House, former Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield found herself inadvertently briefing the president about Swift’s bad blood with Braun over control of her master recordings. As Biden’s team prepped the president in the Oval Office for the upcoming meeting, Bedingfield stepped forward.

“I was like, ‘Sir, this is the briefing I was born for!’” she says.

An unequivocal endorsement for Biden’s reelection from Swift could matter, says Bedingfield, especially to her fans who aren’t deeply engaged in politics. “Ultimately knowing what she has told us — us the public — about how she feels about issues, I think it would be more powerful for her to say, ‘These are the stakes in this election, and here’s why I’m going to vote Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and I hope you will, too,’” Bedingfield said.
 

Swift performs in Berlin in 2014. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
Swift performs in Berlin in 2014. (Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)


Bidenworld has been inundated with suggestions for how to try to make a Swift endorsement happen — from the person who claimed they had a secret plan with their lawyers that would soon be making its way to Swift’s lawyers, to the person who claimed their brother had played on the same basketball team as Swift’s brother back in Pennsylvania — a swing state! — and perhaps that could be an in. Supporters regularly send aides the latest paparazzi snaps of Swift and her friends out on the town — just in case someone knows someone who knows someone who knows Swift!

Biden’s team was particularly miffed to see a suggestion from a well-meaning supporter, that Biden just show up to a Swift concert, circulating in recent news reports. The logistics alone — Secret Service, getting concertgoers through the security line — would create the sort of headache that could alienate the very Swifties they’re trying to woo.

Because anyone who knows how Swift operates understands that any meaningful Swift endorsement has to be authentic and on her terms.

“Do not seek it,” warned a Hill Swiftie at the Capitol Hill bar. “She does these things on her own, based on the side of history she wants to be on.”
 

Taylor Swift performing in Shanghai during her 2014 “Red” tour. (AFP/Getty Images)
Taylor Swift performing in Shanghai during her 2014 “Red” tour. (AFP/Getty Images)


Once upon a time, a few Eras ago, Taylor Swift was a teenage country music star who never, ever, ever discussed her politics. It was up to obsessive fans to glean what they could from her lyrics and social media posts. “There was this whole portion of the fandom who would examine her old posts, figure out who her friends were and find out if they’d said anything political,’” says Lauren Lipman, a Taylor Swift influencer who discusses the pop queen on her YouTube channel.

When she did get politically active, she kept it nonpartisan and extremely local. In 2007, she worked with then-Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) on a campaign to combat online predators. In 2010, she helped promote then-first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign — showing up, prophetically, alongside some NFL players who had teamed up with the White House through the league’s youth wellness initiative.

Whenever she was asked about her politics, Swift would demur. “It’s my right to vote, but it’s not my right to tell other people what to do,” a 24-year-old Swift told David Letterman in 2014. Members of Congress from both parties held fundraisers at her D.C. stop for her “1989” tour in 2015. When some of her famous friends became outspoken surrogates for Hillary Clinton, campaign staffers wondered if Swift herself would endorse Donald Trump’s 2016 opponent — and were ultimately disappointed when she didn’t.


 
Deuce McAllister, Taylor Swift, Derrick Brooks, and Eddie George pose for a photo during the NFL's Play 60 campaign to fight childhood obesity in 2010. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Deuce McAllister, Taylor Swift, Derrick Brooks, and Eddie George pose for a photo during the NFL's Play 60 campaign to fight childhood obesity in 2010. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Swift would come to regret her silence. In “Miss Americana,” a documentary that chronicles Swift’s political coming-out, the pop star points to her 2017 sexual assault lawsuit against a Denver DJ as a political awakening. (Swift won the suit, which charged that the DJ had groped her at an event in 2013.) The experience left her “completely and unchangeably different,” she says in the documentary.

“I just thought to myself, ‘Next time there is any opportunity to change anything, you had better know what you stand for and what you want to say,’” she adds.

Next time arrived during the 2018 midterms. She offered her first political endorsements — to a pair of Tennessee Democrats: Bredesen, who was running for U.S. Senate against Republican Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Cooper, then a U.S. representative running for reelection. (Cooper, a 17-term incumbent, won his race; Bredesen lost.)

Lisa Quigley, who served as Cooper’s chief of staff, remembers being caught off guard by the endorsement; she was at home and her phone just started “blowing up.”

“I remember Jim being like, ‘That’s nice,’” Quigley says of her boss’s reaction to the news. “Then he called back and said, ‘My daughter says this is a very big deal.’”

Laura Zapata, the communications director for Bredesen’s Senate campaign, had been driving back from a campaign event when a friend alerted her to Swift’s Instagram announcement.

 
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen got the Swift endorsement in 2018, but couldn't get to the Senate. (Rick Diamond/Nashville Rising/Getty Images)
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen got the Swift endorsement in 2018, but couldn't get to the Senate. (Rick Diamond/Nashville Rising/Getty Images)


Swift never spoke with either campaign; Zapata says that she and Swift interacted exclusively through Instagram, liking and reposting each other’s political content. “It was very millennial,” Zapata says. (Blackburn’s 2024 opponent, Democrat Gloria Johnson, is not playing it coy: “I’m a big fan, and we are reaching out,” she says of Swift.)

Swift similarly surprised the Biden campaign in 2020 when she posted an emphatic “YES” in response to then-Sen. Kamala Harris’s announcement that she’d been chosen as Biden’s running mate. Swift would later formally endorse, sharing a photo with cookies frosted with the Biden-Harris campaign logo. She also gave Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) permission to use her song “Only the Young” in a pro-Biden super PAC advertisement that year, according to Variety. How Swalwell got Swift’s cooperation, he’ll never tell: "You’re asking Colonel Sanders the recipe for the chicken,” Swalwell said when asked.

Marquee names mattered a lot to Biden in 2020, a year when nearly all of the campaigning had been done virtually. The 2024 campaign will have a different feel, and particular types of celebrities will be called upon for every reason, every season. The campaign surrogate operation, for instance, is keeping tabs on hip-hop artists in Atlanta, and lists of bands that are influential in Wisconsin, a swing state with a strong local music culture. Big names like Swift will be called upon, the campaign hopes, for a moment in the fall to lend a jolt of excitement to voter registration or get-out-the-vote efforts.
 

President Biden speaks during a campaign event in Manassas, Va. in January. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
President Biden speaks during a campaign event in Manassas, Va. in January. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)


As for the coveted Swift endorsement, some Democratic Swifties are nervous about all the members of their party who are talking explicitly about wanting the pop star to boost Biden — and whether if it’s cool that they’ve said all that.

“I don’t want us to overdo it,” says Annie Wu Henry, who, as a social media producer for Democrat John Fetterman’s 2022 campaign for Senate in Pennsylvania, leaned on Swift references in the candidate’s social posts. “I want us to be aware of how we’re coming off publicly,” Wu, now a digital communications strategist for various Democrats and organizations, says. “All of this conversation is giving me the ick.”
 

Swift accepts the Big Help award from first lady Michelle Obama at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in 2012. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Swift accepts the Big Help award from first lady Michelle Obama at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in 2012. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


The recent Swift backlash on the right — dominated by a vocal, mostly male, minority — has been giving some conservatives the ick, regardless of whether they’re fans of Swift.

“This ‘psyop’ stuff makes us look QAnon crazy,” says Alex Clark, a hardcore Swiftie who hosts a pop culture podcast for Turning Point USA, a right-wing youth organization. “The left tries to say we’re insane, and this doesn’t help.”

“If we looked at these pop culture topics with a spirit of inquisitiveness instead of lampooning them as psyops, then maybe more young people would listen to what we have to say,” says Mary Morgan, a Gen Z conservative who hosts a pop culture YouTube show and isn’t a fan of Swift.

“It’s exactly the kind of criticism that gives weight to the left-wing stereotype that conservative men don’t support women,” says Vanessa Santos, a conservative millennial and non-Swiftie who runs a publicity firm in D.C.

The Hill Swifties have a nuanced view of Swift’s power as a political actor. To them, that power doesn’t necessarily have to do with naming her preferred candidates.

Their group chat is actually a spinoff of another — one dedicated to queer women staffers on the Hill. Swift’s advocacy on LGBTQ+ rights has been meaningful to members of both chats. One of them recalls crying when she saw Swift cast a trans man as her love interest in her music video for her song “Lavender Haze.”

“Maybe she can’t convince a Republican to vote for Joe Biden,” one Hill Swiftie said, “but she could convince them that trans people are people.”
 

CORRECTION

An earlier version of this story misreported the song for which Taylor Swift cast a trans man to play her love interest in the music video. The song is "Lavender Haze." This story has been updated.

Keywords
Advertisement
You did not use the site, Click here to remain logged. Timeout: 60 second