Picture the scene: it’s 2009, and you’re watching the MTV Video Music Awards. Country music singer Taylor Swift is accepting her award for Best Video by a Female Artist, when up-and-coming rapperKanye West interrupts her speech to announce to the world that the award should have gone to Beyonce instead.
Suddenly there’s a bright light, and a time traveller appears before you. He tells you that one day, one of these two musicians will be embraced by the far right for their hyper-conservative views. Meanwhile the other will become public enemy number one among US Republicans, and their presence at the 2024 Super Bowl will be a point of extreme contention.
The time traveller vanishes just as quickly as he appeared, leaving you very confused, and wildly misled.
Yes, it turns out that the biggest clash at this year’s Big Game (TM) isn’t between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers (two names I definitely didn’t just have to Google). No, this year the real battle of wills is between fans of the world’s richest recording artist and the entire Republican political establishment. Why? Well, as with all things US politics, there are a few different reasons, and none of them really make sense.
Swift started dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in July 2023, and since then has frequently been spotted at NFL games, cheering Kelce on the way any supportive partner would. Her presence at games has opened the door to many of her fans, who may not have been particularly interested in the sport otherwise, to take an interest in American football.
For some people, that alone is enough of a point of contention. Football, like a lot of hobbies, is immersed in the kind of hyper-masculine “no girls allowed” gatekeeping that we should have left behind in the nineties, and Taylor’s presence has opened a Pandora’s box of Swifties right before the biggest game of the season.
I understand the frustration. It must be annoying whenever the camera cuts to a beautiful woman for all of two seconds when you’re trying to focus on whatever a “tight end” is.
There are also those who resent Swift for her perceived liberal values. In 2020, Taylor violated more than a decade of carefully calculated political neutrality to endorse the ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, which many Republicans saw as a betrayal of her country music roots (the second most conservative genre of music, behind dubstep).
Fox News commentator Sean Hannity this week called Swift out for exactly that reason, accusing her of misunderstanding Biden’s policies, as well as his own Republican values. For these people, Swift’s infiltration of the NFL gives her a brand new – traditionally conservative – audience to infect with her liberal nonsense.
Then there are the more “out there” fringes of the right, who believe that Swift and Kelce are embroiled in a conspiracy to rig the Super Bowl. The theory, which was denied by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, posits that Kelce’s relationship with Swift becoming the main talking point of this year’s football season was no accident, and that the outcome has been “scripted” in advance to give it a perfect fairytale ending. The theory dovetails nicely with broader Republican concerns that Swift’s prominence at the game will act as a convenient endorsement for Joe Biden, due to Swift’s previous support of the president.
At its heart, Republican trepidation around Swift is rooted in the same thing it always is – she’s a very popular recording artist who wants to play for the other team (or, at least, is sympathetic towards them). The political right always seems surprised whenever somebody who creates art for a living turns out to lean left, even though it’s been a proven trend since man first banged two stones together rhythmically. If a person has millions of attentive followers, it would be great if they were pushing your agenda, instead of the other guy’s. That isn’t often the case for Republicans, though, who are stuck with what, exactly? Kevin Sorbo? James Woods? The guy who played Superman in the nineties?
It’s why they were so excited to have got Kanye… you know, for about five minutes, before all that other stuff happened.
When a liberal artist is also a billionaire, it burns to ash and salts the earth any notion that to “go woke” is to, as right-wingers say, “go broke”. Taylor Swift is far from broke – she’s a literal billionaire – and unfortunately, she does seem to be somewhat woke. Or, at least woke for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed country music superstar who’s dating a professional football player.
I’m looking forward to staying up all night and being baffled by yet another Super Bowl. I’m sure it’ll be very exciting – even if, according to conservatives, we already know how it’s going to end.