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Last Saturday I attended the Taylor Swift concert at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas. It was the second of back-to-back nightly shows at the colossal venue. It was a dazzler of high-octane music and whizbang stagecraft. But it was hardly one of politics.
There were no “Beto for Senate” or “Ted Cruz 2018” signs that dot the leafy yards of Preston Hollow, a Dallas neighborhood. I didn’t see any red “Make America Great Again” hats but plenty of leotards, headbands, and unicorn costumes.
The only thing that Swift said that could be remotely interpreted as political was her declaration that these days everyone is looking for something real in their lives, perhaps a rebuke of the falsehoods that pervade our national political conversation.
The very next day, with the U.S.-leg of the Reputation Stadium Tour behind her, she posted on Instagram a cri de couer about the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. She brushed aside previous criticism that she had been apolitical, “Due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.”
Being the victim of groping and watching the rise of Donald Trump, who has bragged about assaulting women, may have provided sufficient grist to speak out.
Later in her post, Swift named names, saying she can’t back Marsha Blackburn, the Republican who is running for US Senate because of the many anti-woman measures the Tennessee representative supports. Swift offered a full-throated endorsement of Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper, who are candidates for the US Senate and House of Representatives respectively from Tennessee, where the pop star votes.
It’s important that Swift spoke up because her voice can make a difference. Only 56 percent of the voting-age population actually voted in 2016. And historically, turnout of young voters hasn’t been strong. Only 50 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 cast a vote in 2016, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research.
Young Americans may feel that their vote doesn’t matter, or they may not know how to register. With 62 million Millennials who are voting age, they now make up the second largest generation after Baby Boomers. They also constitute a significant part of Swift’s fanbase.
To assess the potential impact of Swift’s post, consider her enormous social media audience: 112 million followers on Instagram, 83.6 million followers on Twitter, and 72.6 million likes on Facebook. Her combined audience of 268.2 million is 487 percent more than President Donald Trump’s 55 million followers on these three social media services. When Swift speaks, her legion of fans takes notice, as evidenced by the 1.8 million who have already liked her Instagram post.
Her followers aren’t just taking notice but action. Some 102,000 individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 registered to vote in the two days after her message, according to Vote.org, a nonprofit that educates and registers voters. A majority of these Americans are below the age of 25.
Already, 5,000 voters have registered in Tennessee in October, more than in previous months. “Taylor Swift’s visibility on this issue is driving a lot of coverage of voter registration, and it’s reaching many of her fans who would not otherwise be following news like this,” said a spokesperson for Vote.org. That Swift’s statement is translating into real signups demonstrates her ability not only to drive downloads but perhaps voters to the polls.
Swift’s decision to walk the political plank is not without risks. Having started her career in country music, her embrace of Democratic candidates may jeopardize her standing among some of her more conservative fans. Already, President Trump has responded by saying he likes her music “25 percent less.”
But with her post, Swift has made a courageous choice to let the chips fall where they may, even if it rankles some supporters. This is no doubt an important message for young people, to speak up about your convictions, even if not everyone agrees.
By sharing her personal and political views, not only has Swift activated her sizable fanbase but she has also earned the respect of millions of Americans who have watched aghast at recent political events. With just one post, she has notified the world that the old apolitical Taylor Swift can’t come to the phone right now. That’s because this pop star has burnished a new reputation.
Kabir Sehgal, a Multi-Grammy Award winning record producer and former vice president at JPMorgan Chase, is the author and producer of Fandango at the Wall: Creating Harmony Between the United States and Mexico. Follow him on Twitter @HiKabir .
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