Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a Make America Great Again meltdown


The love story that linked her world with the NFL has proved incendiary. Kelce’s advertisements promoting Pfizer’s COVID vaccine and Bud Light — already a target of outrage from the right over a social media promotion with a transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney — added fuel to that raging fire.

The NFL’s fan base is huge and diverse, but it includes a profoundly conservative element that cheered on star quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ one-man crusade against COVID vaccines and jeered Black players who knelt during the national anthem. The league has long battled charges of misogyny, from the front offices of the Washington Commanders to multiple cases of sexual and domestic assault and abuse.

Taylor Swift, right, watches from a suite alongside Travis Kelce’s mother, Donna Kelce at the Chief’s Arrowhead Stadium.Credit: AP

The Swift-Kelce story line, for some, has delivered a bruising hit to traditional gender norms, with a rich, powerful woman elevating a successful football player to a new level of fame.

Some of the Monday morning quarterbacking has been downright silly, including speculation that Swift is after Kelce for his money. (Her net worth exceeds $US1 billion, a different universe than the athlete’s merely wealthy status.)

Other accusations appear to be driven by fear and grounded in some truth, or at least in her command of her 279 million Instagram followers: that she has enormous influence, and has supported Democrats in the past. For much of her extensive music career, Swift avoided politics, but in 2018, she endorsed two Democrats in Tennessee, where she owns two homes: former Governor Phil Bredesen, who was running for the Senate against then-Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Cooper, a House member who has since retired.

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she wrote on social media. “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.”

She added, “I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of colour is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”

The alarm bells were loud enough to pull Trump into loudly backing Blackburn: “I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her,” he said at the time, knowing all too well how influential Swift could be. “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 per cent less now, OK?”

He probably liked her even less in 2020 when she criticised his pandemic response and then endorsed Biden.

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While her early pop music may have mainly attracted teens and preteens, those fans have reached voting age, and her music has grown more sophisticated with the albums Evermore and Folklore to match her millennial roots and her fans’ taste.

Much of the Swift paranoia has lurked on the MAGA fringes, with people like Loomer, the conspiracy theorist from Florida who declared in December that “2024 will be MAGA vs Swifties” and Kirk, who declared in November that Swift would “come out for the presidential election” after Democrats had another strong showing in an election that demonstrated the issue of abortion motivated voters to the polls.

“All the Swifties want is swift abortion,” he said.

Then Swift-bashing reached Fox News in mid-January. Host Jesse Watters suggested the superstar was a Defence Department asset engaging in psychological warfare. He tied Swift’s political voice with her boyfriend’s Pfizer endorsement to the remarkable success of her Eras tour, which bolstered local economies and landed her on the cover of Time.

“Have you ever wondered why or how she blew up like this?” Watters wondered on air. “Well, around four years ago, the Pentagon psychological operations unit floated turning Taylor Swift into an asset during a NATO meeting.”

Travis Kelce embraces Taylor Swift after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Baltimore Ravens,

Travis Kelce embraces Taylor Swift after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Baltimore Ravens,Credit: Getty

Andrea Hailey, the CEO of Vote.org, made the most of the Fox News criticism, saying the organisation’s partnership with Swift “is helping all Americans make their voices heard at the ballot box,” adding that the star is “not a psy-op or a Pentagon asset.”

But her appearance on the field with Kelce in Baltimore after the Chiefs beat the Ravens on Sunday, complete with a kiss and a hug, appears to have sent conservatives into a fit of apoplexy that may only grow in the run-up to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on February 11.

The feelings are so strong that Fox News ran a segment Sunday lamenting that Swift’s private “jet belches tons of CO2 emissions,” showing a sudden awareness of the leading cause of global warming.

Ramaswamy said his Super Bowl conjecture was dead serious.

“What your kind of people call ‘conspiracy theories,’ I simply call an amalgam of collective incentives hiding in plain sight,” he said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stoked speculation still more by invoking the Hatch Act, which prohibits political actions by civil servants, in declining to answer whether Biden would be appearing with Swift.

“I’m just going to leave it there,” she said Monday. “I’m not going to get into the president’s schedule at all from here, as it relates to the 2024 elections.”

The Trump campaign, which had initially planned to ignore the frenzy, dispatched Karoline Leavitt, a campaign spokesperson, to dismiss concerns about a potential Biden endorsement.

“I don’t think this endorsement will save him from the calamity” of his record, she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.



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