Taylor Swift wanted to be on the right side of history.
In the trailer for her new Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, Swift says: “Throughout my whole career, label executives would just say: ‘A nice girl doesn’t force her opinions on everyone. A nice girl smiles and waves and says thank you’. I became the person that everyone wanted me to be.”
So, a “muzzled” Swift stayed silent on her political beliefs – she didn’t endorse a candidate in the 2016 presidential election, for example – which saw her labelled by some as “alt-right”.
Fast forward a few years, and a year-long hiatus from the public eye, Swift’s change of lanes is impossible to miss.
It started with a lengthy Instagram post in 2018.
Swift spoke out about then Senatorial-candidate Marsha Blackburn, declaring she would be voting for two Democratic candidates in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
While she didn’t name Donald Trump directly, her words were loaded enough to compel the president himself to declare on Twitter that he “[liked] Taylor’s music about 25% less now”.
Last year, Swift started a petition urging the Senate to pass the Equality Act, condemning the president’s stance on the issue. She also donated $113,000 to the Tennessee Equality Project, a group dedicated to fighting anti-LGBTQ bills at a state level.
Music-wise, her song You Need To Calm Down takes aim at homophobia and supports protections against LGBTQ-discrimination. The music video for that song also had an end card urging her fans to support the bill and her petition.
Her song Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince, which the upcoming documentary is named after, is also peppered with hidden political messages masked by lyrics about high school and cheerleaders.
On top of these things, Swift has also spoken more emphatically in interviews. She told The Guardian: “We’re a democracy – at least, we’re supposed to be – where you’re allowed to disagree, dissent, debate. I really think that [Trump] thinks this is an autocracy.” She also confirmed she would have endorsed Hillary Clinton for president but said her battered public image had left her feeling her support was “useless”.
So, what’s changed? While Swift is certainly not the first celebrity to rally against the Trump administration, her change of heart might be the most significant.
Starting out in Nashville, Swift witnessed first-hand what happens when voicing your political opinion goes wrong when the Dixie Chicks were effectively forced into exile after Natalie Maines passed comment on then-President George W Bush.
“I saw how one comment ended such a powerful reign, and it terrified me,” Swift told Variety. “These days, with social media, people can be so mad about something one day and then forget what they were mad about a couple weeks later. That’s fake outrage. But what happened to the Dixie Chicks was real outrage. I registered it – that you’re always one comment away from being done being able to make music”.
Perhaps the most pivotal scene in the Miss Americana trailer, though, is when we see Swift argue with her father and other members of her team shortly before releasing her first politically-charged statement about Blackburn and – given her stance on the Equality Act – Trump, too.
“For 12 years, we’ve not got involved in politics or religion,” an unnamed associate tells Swift. Her father adds: “I’ve read the entire [statement] and… right now, I’m terrified. I’m the guy that went out and bought armored cars.”
But this time, Swift pushes back. “I can’t see another commercial [with Blackburn] disguising these policies behind the words ‘Tennessee Christian values’. I live in Tennessee. I am Christian. That’s not what we stand for.”
Referencing her regret at not coming out two years earlier, she says: “I can’t change that… I need to be on the right side of history… Dad I need you to forgive me for doing it… because I’m doing it.”
And just like that, Miss Americana was on the right side of history.
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Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.