Taylor Swift is not, necessarily, about to swing the midterm elections. Nor is she exactly finding her political voice: Though her silence during the 2016 presidential election fueled intense speculation about whom she was voting for, she has commented on issues like gun violence and sexual harassment before. What the pop star has done, with a viral Instagram post on Tennessee’s upcoming election, is encourage political action in its most basic form—calling not for protest or explicitly for a takedown of the mighty, but for the modest yet incrementally powerful act of casting a ballot.
“Please, please educate yourself on the candidates … and vote based on who most closely represents your values,” she urged her 112 million Instagram followers on Monday. And on Tuesday night, at the American Music Awards: “You know what else is voted on by the people? It is the midterm elections on November 6. Get out and vote. I love you guys.”
That’s not to say Swift didn’t take a clear stand with her post (she condemned racial and gender discrimination, and endorsed specific Democratic candidates in Tennessee) or that she can’t prompt civic engagement (though there’s no way to verify the causes of the spike, Vote.org counted 102,000 new registrations by people under 30 within the first 48 hours after Swift directed fans there). Still, the statement the musician has made is strikingly simple for all the hubbub around it. These responses—the breathless, the skeptical, the exasperated—are perhaps best understood as responses to Swift herself: a star whose public image has always been as fraught as it is polished.
Swift is massively popular, the winner of multiple Grammys, and yet is frequently spoken of with the mixture…