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‘I just knew I wasn’t going to help’: Taylor Swift finally explains why she didn’t endorse Hillary Clinton

Taylor Swift at the Time 100 Gala in New York on April 23. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

When Taylor Swift declined to endorse a candidate in the 2016 election — posting only a cryptic picture of herself standing in line at a polling station with an encouragement to her followers to “Go out and VOTE” — theories about her silence abounded.

Some suspected that the pop star didn’t want to anger conservative country music listeners, who still made up a considerable portion of her fan base, by coming out as a liberal. Others interpreted her refusal to denounce Donald Trump as proof that she supported him, and she was venerated by members of the alt-right. Meanwhile, “Who is Taylor Swift voting for?” became one of the top searches on Google, and fans painstakingly scoured the singer’s Instagram for clues. Some even theorized the cutout sweater Swift wore to the polls could be subtly referencing a shoulderless dress that Hillary Clinton wore in 1993.

Now, in a new interview with Vogue that appeared online Thursday and will run in the magazine’s September issue, the singer has finally broken her silence and explained why she refrained from endorsing Clinton, even as she was pilloried for her neutrality.

The decision was strategic, Swift said: She felt that adding her name to the list of high-profile Clinton-backing pop stars like Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Lady Gaga could backfire given that Trump was positioning himself as a candidate who spoke for regular people, not celebrity elites.

“Unfortunately in the 2016 election you had a political opponent who was weaponizing the idea of the celebrity endorsement.” Swift told writer Abby Aguirre. “He was going around saying, ‘I’m a man of the people. I’m for you. I care about you.’ I just knew I wasn’t going to help.”

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)

Swift also noted that she and Clinton have something in common: Their critics have accused them of being calculating and dishonest.

In the months before the 2016 election, Swift reached the low point of her popularity after she slammed Kanye West for making derogatory references to her on his song “Famous” and was accused of being a “snake” by West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, who posted videos showing that the singer had approved the lyric, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex.” (Swift has maintained that she wasn’t told about the line that follows — “I made that b---- famous.”) One consequence of the backlash was that Swift worried her endorsement would do more harm than good.

“The summer before that election, all people were saying was, ‘She’s calculated. She’s manipulative. She’s not what she seems. She’s a snake. She’s a liar,'” the pop star told Vogue. “These are the same exact insults people were hurling at Hillary. Would I be an endorsement or would I be a liability?"

She described how the attacks might have gone: "'Look, snakes of a feather flock together. Look, the two lying women. The two nasty women.’”

Though political analysts have since questioned whether having a star-studded lineup of celebrity endorsements contributed to Clinton’s defeat, rather than helping her, Swift’s refusal to take a side led to widespread backlash in the run-up to the 2016 election and only intensified after Trump was elected.

A Guardian editorial deemed the singer “a musical envoy for the president’s values” on account of her silence, while other writers accused her being complicit in racism and sexism. Though Swift expressed support for the inaugural Women’s March in 2017, she was derided for not attending.

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Swift had previously hinted that she held liberal views — in 2009, she told Rolling Stone that she supported President Barack Obama. But her pointed refusal to discuss politics in the years that followed, coupled with the nostalgic themes of her early music, allowed some far-right commentators to speculate that she was secretly conservative.

In October, a month before the 2018 midterms, that illusion was destroyed: Swift, who has a home in Nashville, announced that she planned on voting for two Tennessee Democrats, Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper, who were running for the Senate and House, respectively, and expressed her support for LGBTQ rights.

“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 in an Instagram post that received more than 2 million likes. “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.”

The response highlighted Swift’s political influence — and its limits. On Instagram, Swift name-checked, and within 24 hours, some 65,000 people headed to the site and registered to vote. It was impossible to say exactly how many of those new registrations could be directly attributed to Swift, but the data showed that the largest surge had come from the 18-to-24 demographic, matching her fan base. And though Cooper won reelection, Bredesen lost to Republican Marsha Blackburn, whom Swift had slammed in her post. (President Trump, meanwhile, told reporters that Swift “doesn’t know anything” about Blackburn and he liked the singer’s music “about 25 percent less now.”)

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

In recent months, Swift has thrown her weight behind LGBTQ issues, and lobbied to amend the Civil Rights Act to include provisions that would bar discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. (She’s also been accused of appropriating gay culture in her latest music video.) Speaking with Vogue, she explained that she decided she needed to be more vocal about her views a year or two ago, when friend and singer-songwriter Todrick Hall asked her, “What would you do if your son was gay?”

The fact that he had to ask, Swift told the magazine, “shocked me and made me realize that I had not made my position clear enough or loud enough.” To her, it was obvious that having a gay child wouldn’t be a problem.

“If he was thinking that, I can’t imagine what my fans in the LGBTQ community might be thinking,” Swift said. “It was kind of devastating to realize that I hadn’t been publicly clear about that.”

Though Swift didn’t indicate in the interview if she has a preferred Democratic candidate for 2020, she wrote in March that she wants to be more engaged in politics going forward.

“We have a big race coming up next year,” she noted.

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