Nevins is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and co-founder and board chairman of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
Speculation is running rampant that Taylor Swift might endorse Joe Biden. On Feb. 4, The Washington Post weighed in: “A Taylor Swift endorsement? It’s delicate” was one of many news stories and op-eds that have fueled the speculation.
Yet while the pundits speculate, I have to wonder: Are they missing the point? Does Taylor Swift really need to endorse a candidate to be a major influencer?
I think not.
Swift has already explained that matters of politics will continue to be part of her music.
"I definitely think there are political undertones in the new music I made," she told a German news agency in 2019. "I’m not planning to stop encouraging young people to vote and to try to get them to talk about what’s going on in our country. I think that’s one of the most important things I could do."
If the past is any indication, Swift is not limiting herself to boosting voter turnout – she is willing to speak to the important issues of our times that most concern her. The lyrics in her 2018 hit “Only the Young” reflect the sense of disappointment she had when candidates she supported lost in her home state of Tennessee:
You did all that you could do
The game was rigged, the ref got tricked
The wrong ones think they're right
You were outnumbered, this time
American history is rich with music stars expressing their political and social opinions through their art form without ever taking the step of actually endorsing a candidate.
In 1964, Sam Cooke wrote and sang “A Change is Gonna Come,” and while not supporting a political candidate his message about the racial climate in America and the need for change was heard loud and clear. The powerful song reflected Cooke’s personal experiences with racial segregation and served as a musical testament to the struggles Black individuals were facing at that time.
In the iconic title track on his 1984 album “Born In The U.S.A.,” Bruce Springsteen expressed his remorse over our nation’s treatment of Vietnam veterans. And almost 25 years ago Springsteen was one of the first major superstars to confront police brutality with “American Skin (41 Shots),”
And in 1970 Neil Young of Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young inspired a generation with “Ohio,” his passionate response to the shooting of a student at Kent State by police:
Gotta’ get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
The song played a significant role in the political tension surrounding the deeply divisive Vietnam War. Through their music, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young became part of the voice of a generation that vehemently opposed the war and the decisions made by President Richard Nixon.
So Taylor Swift joins a long list of artists who understood the connection between their work and social change, who understood the power they had as influencers of change.
As with great artists in the past, pundits analyze her lyrics to look for hidden political messages. Swift’s 2019 hit “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince'' seemingly is about love – but to many it is about her disillusionment with the world of politics:
My team is losing, battered and bruising
I see the high fives between the bad guys
Leave with my head hung, you are the only one
Who seems to care
American stories burning before me
I'm feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed
Boys will be boys then, where are the wise men?
Darling, I'm scared
Many believe “my team” refers to the Democratic Party and its loss in 2016.
Whether Taylor Swift overtly joins the political fray remains to be seen, although these lyrics from one of her early songs, “Change,” give me an inkling of what that answer might be:
Because these things will change
Can you feel it now?
These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down
It's a revolution, the time will come
For us to finally win
And we'll sing hallelujah, we'll sing hallelujah