Taylor Swift’s reputation has been a topic of conversation since her 2017 album titled just that. But the massively famous singer-songwriter had only started altering her influence in the fall of 2018 when she spoke out about her political beliefs for the first time, despite fearing that it would tarnish her career.
The 30-year-old spoke to Variety about her decision to publicly endorse Democrat Phil Bredesen in Tennessee’s Senate race during the 2018 midterm election, plunging her into the political conversation and leaving her vulnerable to a divisive fan base. And although there were various outcomes considered before Swift posted to social media, the one that made her most fearful was the example set by the Dixie Chicks.
“I saw how one comment ended such a powerful reign, and it terrified me,” Swift told the magazine about Natalie Maines’s 2003 comments against then-President George W. Bush —which forced the top-selling female group into exile. “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.”
Maines’s statement came during a European promo show where she announced the group’s anti-war stance and said that they were all “ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” The statement was met with applause from the British audience, but it ultimately isolated them from their fan base at home — leading to boycotts of their U.S. shows and bans from country radio.
Despite that history, and her team’s attempt to dissuade her from the endorsement, Swift decided that it was a matter of speaking up for the sake of human rights.
“This was a situation where, from a humanity perspective, and from what my moral compass was telling me I needed to do, I knew I was right, and I really didn’t care about repercussions,” she said. “My dad is terrified of threats against my safety and my life, and he has to see how many stalkers we deal with on a daily basis, and know that this is his kid. It’s where he comes from.”
Swift had a similar stance when it came to her hit single “You Need to Calm Down,” which has been deemed an anthem for LGBTQ rights and landed her as the recipient of a Vanguard Award from GLAAD.
“To celebrate but not advocate felt wrong for me,” she told Variety of her alignment with the LGBTQ community. “Using my voice to try to advocate was the only choice to make. Because I’ve talked about equality and sung about it in songs like ‘Welcome to New York,’ but we are at a point where human rights are being violated. When you’re saying that certain people can be kicked out of a restaurant because of who they love or how they identify, and these are actual policies that certain politicians vocally stand behind, and they disguise them as family values, that is sinister. So, so dark.”
Using her “extreme privilege” to speak up about these existing beliefs is something that’s evidently become important to Swift as she’s gotten older and experienced her own challenges, after admittedly staying quiet about them earlier in her career. Namely, the 2017 sexual assault trial that she went through against a DJ who groped her. However, the singer also opened up to the publication about a current battle that she’s facing with her family, which is her mother’s health, and how it’s helped to put everything into perspective.
Swift first revealed that her mother, Andrea Swift, had breast cancer in 2015, but opened up to Variety about the toll that it has taken on her family, especially since she started undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
“I mean, we don’t know what is going to happen,” Swift said, explaining the role of her mom’s cancer in her own decision to not do an extended tour for her latest album. “We don’t know what treatment we’re going to choose. It just was the decision to make at the time, for right now, for what’s going on.”
Still, nobody expected that the difficult journey would get even worse.
“While she was going through treatment, they found a brain tumor. And the symptoms of what a person goes through when they have a brain tumor is nothing like what we’ve ever been through with her cancer before,” Swift explained. “So it’s just been a really hard time for us as a family.”
Amidst it all, Swift maintains the understanding that it’s more important now than ever to fight her fights, in politics, in societal matters and even in issues of artists’ rights, as a person rather than a brand.
“I do think that it’s really necessary to feel like I can still communicate with people,” she said. “And as a songwriter, it’s really important to still feel human and process things in a human way. The through-line of all that is humanity, and reaching out and talking to people and having them see things that aren’t cute.”