Three years after she found herself dragged into the ravenous, ever-expanding black hole that was the 2016 presidential campaign, Taylor Swift has clawed her way back past the event horizon, transformed, and is (now, suddenly) ready to talk politics. In a cover story Q&A for Rolling Stone’s October issue, the former political cipher, whose beliefs had once been so obscure that she briefly became an unwilling totem of alt-right Aryan goddesshood, now says she’s trying to learn as much about American civic life as she can.
“It’s become something I’m now obsessed with,” Swift says, “whereas before, I was living in this sort of political ambivalence, because the person I voted for had always won.” For example, past Commander in Chief Barack Obama, about whom Swift says:
We were in such an amazing time when Obama was president because foreign nations respected us. We were so excited to have this dignified person in the White House. My first election was voting for him when he made it into office, and then voting to re-elect him. I think a lot of people are like me, where they just didn’t really know that this could happen.
Some of Swift’s newfound political obsession entails trying to strategically negotiate how much constructive involvement she can actually have as a megawatt pop star who has won more music industry awards than most people know exist (Sweden’s Rockbjörnen) or could realistically care about (2018 Ticketmaster Artist of the Year).
“I also don’t want it to backfire again,” as she explained to Rolling Stone, “because I do feel that the celebrity involvement with Hillary’s campaign was used against her in a lot of ways.”
While the U.S. political discourse in 2016 probably didn’t need to know the political views of a 26-year-old musician who had (understandably) skipped college in favor of becoming the third-bestselling digital singles recording artist in the country, the public has demanded it, and so Taylor has risen to the occasion.
“There’s literally nothing worse than white supremacy,” Swift says. “It’s repulsive. There should be no place for it.”
Swift added that some of her past reputation for political disengagement was manufactured by Scott Borchetta, her former label boss of 15 years—the one who sneakily sold off Swift’s $300 million–plus back catalog and original masters to her old nemesis Scooter Braun. Borchetta, Swift says, publicly accused her of declining to appear at both a march for victims of the Parkland shooting and “One Love Manchester,” a June 2017 benefit for victims of the May 2017 suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande* concert in the U.K.
Correcting the record, Swift said:
Here’s the thing: Everyone in my team knew if Scooter Braun brings us something, do not bring it to me. The fact that those two are in business together after the things he said about Scooter Braun—it’s really hard to shock me. And this was utterly shocking. These are two very rich, very powerful men, using $300 million of other people’s money to purchase, like, the most feminine body of work. And then they’re standing in a wood-panel bar doing a tacky photo shoot, raising a glass of scotch to themselves. Because they pulled one over on me and got this done so sneakily that I didn’t even see it coming. And I couldn’t say anything about it.
Her new album, Lover, has also become a platform for Swift’s embrace of ideology, a pervasive force whose influence on all facets of human life is inescapable. The track “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” which Swift says she wrote a couple of months after the midterm elections, is particularly loaded with political signifiers, worrying as it does about the “American stories burning” before her eyes and recasting the national stage in high school metaphors:
I wanted to take the idea of politics and pick a metaphorical place for that to exist. And so I was thinking about a traditional American high school, where there’s all these kinds of social events that could make someone feel completely alienated. And I think a lot of people in our political landscape are just feeling like we need to huddle up under the bleachers and figure out a plan to make things better.
Expounding more on the song’s themes, Swift told Rolling Stone:
It’s about the illusions of what I thought America was before our political landscape took this turn, and that naivete that we used to have about it. And it’s also the idea of people who live in America, who just want to live their lives, make a living, have a family, love who they love, and watching those people lose their rights, or watching those people feel not at home in their home. I have that line “I see the high-fives between the bad guys” because not only are some really racist, horrific undertones now becoming overtones in our political climate, but the people who are representing those concepts and that way of looking at the world are celebrating loudly, and it’s horrific.
To the extent Swift has an action plan, or advice, for fans who share her sense of urgency, it’s one of big-tent liberalism and a general chilling or cessation of intraparty feuds.
“We need to stop dissecting why someone’s on our side or if they’re on our side in the right way,” Swift says. “We need to not have the right kind of Democrat and the wrong kind of Democrat. We need to just be like, ‘You’re a Democrat? Sick. Get in the car. We’re going to the mall.’ ”
Correction, Sept. 18, 2019: This post originally misspelled Ariana Grande’s first name.