The bassline: A Swift transition from ‘Red’ to blue — Taylor Swift’s political fight

An image shows Taylor Swift with a star and "vote" on her cheek, against a red, blue and white background of stars.
(Chloe Frelinghuysen • The Student Life)

Taylor Swift needs no introduction. Whether your mind associates her with the girl next door in “You Belong with Me,” the raging rival of Kanye West or the 10-time Grammy winner trailblazing the way for pop music, she is beyond any doubt a cultural icon that has made a name for herself across genres and decades. 

In her records, she is outspoken and vulnerable on one of the most private aspects of life — her romantic history — but has consistently neglected to speak out about her political beliefs, until recently. On her latest album “Lover” and recent Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” she allows fans to access her political stances and left-winged opinions at last. 

As a notorious politically-private celebrity, what instigated Swift to suddenly make her beliefs public? Is her art now tainted with propaganda that will subconsciously influence the minds of her younger demographic?

In the past, Swift has famously encoded a thread of memories and palpable emotion in her lyrics, which oftentimes resemble a puzzle with innocent clues about her romantic history for fans to solve. But in her latest album “Lover,” many listeners picked up on a theme of the color blue — dropped into her songs, hair color and album designs — in sharp contrast to her fourth album “Red,” which was released in 2012.

Along with her blue-dyed hair tips on the album cover, Swift drops the word “blue” on six of the songs on “Lover.” She references the color in peculiar senses and meanings with lyrics such as: “The shape of your body / It’s blue” (“Cruel Summer”), “I blew things out of proportion, now you’re blue” (“Afterglow”) and “My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue” (“Lover”).

Maybe it’s just a simple word to rhyme with, but her other albums have never been so parallel in the use of this specific color. Her 2017 album “Reputation” was black and white, and revolved around the idea of newspapers, Page Six gossip columns and headlines highlighting her victim role in the media.

“Reputation” also never touched upon activist subjects, and kept anything outside her social bubble concealed. The album effectively hid the real-world issues plaguing the U.S. government and neglected to speak upon the age of anxiety at the time.

“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince,” the seventh track of the “Lover” album, explicitly reveals her political stance for the first time, endorsing the Democratic party and fueling the blue wave. She sings, “We’re so sad, we paint the town blue / Voted most likely to run away with you.” 

Swift later commented on the lyrics of the song in an interview with Rolling Stone: “I wanted to take the idea of politics and pick a metaphorical place for that to exist … 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.”

The apolitical star received backlash for not speaking out during the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. Many speculate that she most likely stayed quiet in order to avoid alienating any fans, but Swift herself shared that she wanted to gain more maturity and education for herself in the world of politics.

“I don’t talk about politics because it might influence other people,” Swift told Time in 2012. “And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for.”

This was around the same time she was making the switch from country to pop, from a genre with a mostly conservative demographic to liberal. In 2018, she announced her endorsement for Tennessee Democrats Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for the House of Representatives, going even further to criticize a Republican opponent’s voting records. 

It is unclear whether Taylor Swift’s new album and documentary vindicate her of her past silence. But from country to pop, from Nashville to New York, from heartbroken to heartbreaker, Taylor Swift has reigned as queen of the modern music industry. With the 2020 elections crawling closer each day, the real question is: Will she turn both her audiences from “Red” to Blue?

Kyla Walker PO ’22 is TSL’s music columnist. She loves playing guitar, reading any and all fiction and probably belongs in the 1960s.

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