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What led Taylor Swift to post her political Instagram message?

Taylor Swift endorsed two Tennessee Democrats before the 2018 midterm elections, breaking her long silence on political subjects. Here's why she spoke up. (Video: Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

Hours after she walked offstage Saturday in Texas, Taylor Swift posted a photo to Instagram: an image of her joyously dancing onstage in a sparkly rainbow dress. “We had an indescribably incredible time with you Dallas. Thanks for making us the first tour to play back to back nights in AT&T Stadium,” she wrote to her 112 million followers, 1 million of whom “liked” the photo.

Less than 24 hours later, Swift posted another Instagram photo. And this one caused an Internet meltdown.

Swift, the pop megastar who launched her career in Nashville, has remained conspicuously silent about her political views. That is, until Sunday night, when she published a nearly 400-word message in which she endorsed Tennessee Democrats Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for the House. She also slammed Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the GOP candidate for Senate, writing, “Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me.”

Taylor Swift’s stunning statement: Famously apolitical star slams Tennessee Republican, endorses Democrats

It was a shocking shift for a star who has refused to share her opinion on anything political, even during the divisiveness of the 2016 presidential election. Not to mention the criticism she’s received for glossing over current events: Last January, her tweet during the Women’s March (“So much love, pride, and respect for those who marched. I’m proud to be a woman today, and every day”) resulted in backlash from those who wondered why a star who made feminism a significant part of her brand didn’t join fellow celebrities at the march, or elaborate further.

So what led to this abrupt turnaround?

The timing is telling, as the North American leg of Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour ended on Saturday. (She takes the show to Australia and Asia later this month.) So not only is there no pressure to sell tickets or face unhappy fans, but other problems disappear as well.

“The difference, I think, is this can’t become a news story at one of her events,” said Brian Mansfield, a Nashville-based former music journalist who covered Swift’s early career in country music. “There’s not going to be picketing. She’s not putting her fans at risk because of somebody that might respond inappropriately to this. . . . Until yesterday, that could have been an issue.”

The common thinking is that Swift stayed silent for so long because she didn’t want to alienate anyone, particularly her country fan base, which probably leans conservative. In her Nashville days, she declined to reveal who she voted for in the 2008 election, which isn’t a surprise. Country music publicists often counsel their artists to avoid discussing politics, lest they wind up in a Dixie Chicks-type situation and anger country radio.

However, now that Swift is officially in the pop world and selling out stadiums, many feel like a political stance is unlikely to spark a hugely negative reaction. Even though Swift occasionally has a song on the country chart these days (“Babe,” a co-write she gave to Sugarland, is in the Top 20), she’s already proved herself to the genre.

“Is it a risk for Taylor to speak out? Will it damage her career? No,” said Beverly Keel, professor and chair of Middle Tennessee State University’s Department of Recording Industry. “But look at the attention it’s receiving — it’s going to be a headache. So it had to be worth it for her, and clearly she felt so strongly that she did it.”

Obviously, only Swift knows why she wrote it; her publicist did not respond to questions about the reasons for the content and timing of her post.

Those who follow Swift know that she’s long supported various causes. She helped pop star Kesha pay her legal bills in her sexual assault lawsuit. She donated money to the student-led March for Our Lives rally to stop mass shootings. At her concert in Chicago in June, she gave a speech about LGBTQ rights for Pride Month.

But this time, Swift tied it all together in a forceful statement.

“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” she wrote. “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.”

Swift’s post detailed her positions (“I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG”) and called “systemic racism” in this country “terrifying, sickening and prevalent.” She called out Blackburn’s voting record, including her stances on LGBTQ issues, and the fact that she voted against equal pay for women and an act that attempts to protect women from domestic violence. “These are not MY Tennessee values,” Swift wrote.

On the stand in her groping case, Taylor Swift was every woman. And that’s what’s so sad.

One clear connection to these issues is Swift’s sexual assault lawsuit last year — a Colorado country radio DJ sued her after he lost his job when she reported that he lifted her skirt and groped her before a concert. Swift countersued for assault and battery for a symbolic $1, and won. Her searing testimony (“You can ask me a million questions. I’m never going to say anything different”) made international headlines, and what she called a “demoralizing” trial experience had an effect.

And of course, as social media dissected Swift’s post, she was largely contrasted with her nemesis Kanye West, as they have feuded since the MTV VMAs incident in 2009 when he crashed her acceptance speech. West is now famously a Trump supporter. But in her message, Swift didn’t declare a party affiliation — she just encouraged everyone to vote in general.

“Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values,” she said. “For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway.”

When asked about Swift’s remarks, President Trump said on Monday, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now.”

Read more:

‘A betrayal beyond words’: The far right melts down over Taylor Swift’s endorsement of Democrats

Why Taylor Swift’s political activisim has a better chance of success than Kanye West’s

Taylor Swift is no revolutionary. But her reason for getting political matters.