Does the Right Even Know Why it’s so Threatened by Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce?

Taylor Swift performs on the Eras Tour in August. Image: Paolo V/Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Stop the presses! If you’ve been living in a neighboring cave, you too will know nothing about the latest scandal to shock the masses. According to Google and iconic director Martin Scorsese, American songwriter/singer Taylor Swift is dating NFL tight end Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs. If I know a thing or two about conservatives they should approve of a tight endbut apparently the Right has turned on these two like abandoned milk in the summer sun.

For those like me who live off the grid and don’t have the internet, I’ve heard that Swift isn’t simply a singer-songwriter but an entrepreneur who’s vastly influential in the music industry. I walked 500 miles in the valley of the shadow of death to secure a wifi connection long enough to learn what this latest outrage is about. Swift has hit songs like “Anti-Hero” and “Sad, Beautiful, Tragic,” but apparently she sings and dances stiffly (I mean swiftly) and she has a fantastic PR team that carefully crafts her political views so she simultaneously has no vocal opinions or has some opinions on things, ora penchant for liberal politics,” and/or may or may not be a feminist

Since the media is captivated by Swift’s love-life, I can confirm that she’s dating a tight, uhh, endthree-time Super Bowl champion Travis Kelce. This is very important news because after colonization and committing war crimes, the US’s favorite pastime is football (or “hand-egg” if you’re reading from anywhere in Europe, Africa, Asia or South America). Kelce is considered “one of the greatest tight ends of all time,” which may or may not be true because that information is from Wikipedia and I’m not one to question Wikipedia here. Anyway, the Right is outraged!  

I’m also not here to explain to you fans who Swift or Kelce are. You don’t have to convince meI’m sure they’re both great and that you’ll let me know on social media that they don’t care about me. That last part is true but it may not be the own you intend it to be. Although I don’t even care about me half the timeI’m writing this in pjs with an untamed halfro while eating the half burrito that’s been sitting out since last nightI actually don’t think Swift or her new boyfriend Kelce care about much of anything. 

I know we all have life’s stresses of *waves hands* everything from bills, to health, family, that one annoying friend, a sun that’s not just turning alabastarians into ash heaps, but causing us melaninated folks to require sunscreen now too, and our world is falling apart even more so than usual. There are wars and genocides; and while homelessness, education, and healthcare are in crisis, America’s imperialist drum is beating on. It’s a capitalist nightmare for some and an opportune time for those with influence and power to cash in.

The media, Left, Right, and center, are writing about this latest power couple for various reasons but even as the attention still generates money for themand the media who cover themit swiftly diverts attention from a country and culture in despair. For the Right, despite Swift’s ability to appeal to the masses as an “all-American” woman, and Kelce, having just won the Super Bowl, being almost the epitome of American-brand masculinity, the couple have somehow managed to appear as part of a “woke” conspiracy outraging the Right. 

The thing is, no one on the Right can really pin down what exactly it is about these two that’s so upsetting. 

Swift is certainly an influential woman, but has been put on the pedestal she probably never asked for or desired marked “feminist icon.” If anything she’s a White feminist, standing for issues that affect her as a White woman. For the influence and power she purportedly has, I see someone who’s disengaged from the details of “everyman’s” daily struggles. She serves as a distraction, and I think she’s well aware that this gives her some agency and power. Like magpies to shiny objects, we’re bombarded with stories about where she and Kelce are going and headlines speculating about her presence at the next football game, all of which distracts us from focusing on government representatives voting on bills that directly affect our lives, healthcare, and future. 

Yet despite her apparent lack of any meaningful engagement in the political arena, the Right’s conspiratorial hamster wheel is churning fueled by the belief that Swift is somehow subliminally coaxing her Gen Z fanbase into becoming registered voters. What’s worse is that she may be psy-opping and bopping her way into having these new voters register to vote blue rather than red. I don’t know what’s worse, the Right’s conspiracy that Swift is a tool for the Biden administration, or the fact that they need these conspiracies in order to create strategies to prevent new voters from voting. 

Kelce too is a symbol of “one side”you’re either for or against him, them, the team, their political views, etc. He represents part of a culture that sees everything in binaries and political teams. Whereas the Right is literally cashing in on Swift/Kelce hysteria with conspiracies that probably argue that Elon’s latest chip implant turns you into a Swiftie, and the center/pop-culture news is hyper-focused on whether they’re in the same stadium together, some on the Left are critiquing their silence—especially Swift’s—on global issues like genocide.

The Right’s misguided paranoia about Swift potentially speaking up puts her in a powerful position, where her silence continues to whip up controversy and divert attention away from issues that actually matter. And for the Left, her silence when asked to condemn genocide reflects an apolitical corporate shill whose fear of alienating her fan base is more important than a Black or Brown body fighting to survive in what seems like a world away.

Personally, I think it’s unrealistic to assume that Swift could end a genocide with an Instagram post. But given the supposed power and influence she has, particularly over her fans and the media, saying something meaningful would be impactful. Or she or they could just amplify others who are brave enough to say something. And here’s where I think that Swift and Kelce are the epitome of what it means to enable White supremacy in American culture. Ostensibly meaningless fluff pieces about Kelce’s “fade” hairdo suggest that he popularized it, erasing an entire history of Black cultural references and style. Similarly, “swag surfin,” which has been in Hip Hop discourse for at least 15 years, is apparently being reintroduced and popularized to the masses by Swift.

Everybody likes a good comeback, but these stories represent a more insidious part of American culture: to columbus, or to claim something as your own that was originally created by or for non-White people. Sharing is cool, but columbusing strips Black, Brown, Indigenous or other histories out of cultural roots and sanitizes these things for a mostly White audience. Swift and Kelce have been used as vehicles for this sort of sanitization, making things from Black culture “acceptable,” which is a form of advocacy of White supremacy. It was good to see Kelce, at least, respond to the ‘fade’ story, but speaking up on bigger issues, particularly where people are being ethnically cleansed in places like Palestine, Congo, Sudan, and Rohingya would be even better.

We’ve been here before. Silence is complicityand no matter how the Right or the pop-culture world spin the Swift/Kelce story, it’s all about generating outrage to fill pockets while we ignore and suppress an instinctive human connection we all have deep within us. Maybe there’s an argument to be made that these are simply singers and athletes and they shouldn’t have views—“shut up and sing,” as Dinesh D’Souza’s ex-girlfriend titled one of her books

But shouldn’t and don’t are not the same thing, and both are worrying in a world dangerously spiraling towards political, financial, and environmental catastrophe. To be dazzled by the glitz and glamor of a pop singer cheering on a touchdown while US-manufactured and sanctioned bombs simultaneously touch down on schools and hospitals wiping them and entire families off the map is dystopian. So what’s this outrage all about? Anti-heroes, I suppose. It’s sad and tragic, alright. Displaced worship and a failure to recognize when shiny objects are distracting us magpies from the hungry cat waiting around the corner. So we really should stop the presses. Swiftly.