Last Friday, the notoriously far-right Breitbart News’ Twitter account started the morning tweeting out stories as normal. But by the end of the evening, whoever was managing the account decided to have a bit of fun with the captions: one article (‘German Left Wing Magazine Cover Portrays Trump Giving Hitler Salute’) was captioned with the lines ‘The role you made me play/Of the fool, no, I don’t like you’. Another piece (‘Majority of Australians Support Public Ban On Islamic Burqa’) was captioned ‘But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time’. All in all, 30 consecutive Twitter posts from Breitbart News were captioned with song lyrics – song lyrics, as you might have picked up, from Taylor Swift’s very new, very popular single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’.
The song is already a massive hit – it made the biggest debut of any video in YouTube history, getting over 43 million views, and it’s also broken Spotify’s single-day streaming record.
And the far right – Breitbart’s audience of Neo-Nazis and white nationalists – love it.
The Daily Stormer, which paraded itself as the ‘the world’s most visited alt-right site’ before it was taken down following the violent Charlottesville protests, frequently posted content of quotes from Adolf Hitler that were superimposed on pictures of Swift. It’s the same site that has published articles such as ‘Taylor Swift, Avatar of European Imperialism,’ ‘Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift: Nazi Avatar of the White European People,’ and ‘Aryan Goddess Taylor Swift Accused of Racism for Behaving Like an Ape in a Music Video’.
Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin explained to Vice’s Broadly that ‘Taylor Swift is a pure Aryan goddess, like something out of classical Greek poetry…. Athena reborn. That’s the most important thing’, ‘It’s incredible really that she’s surrounded by these filthy, perverted Jews, and yet she remains capable of exuding 1950s purity, femininity and innocence.’
Milo Yiannopolous, a libertarian Internet icon, wrote in a Breitbart column that ‘Swift is covertly ‘red-pilled’, concealing her secret conservative values from the progressive music industry while issuing subtle nods to a reactionary fan base’.
It’s strange that Taylor Swift has been taken up as a symbol of the far right, considering the status she has developed as an empowering, feminist figure who battles and wins, against men in courts, business and romance.
In her recent sexual assault trial, where Taylor Swift countersued a Denver DJ who attempted to sue her for $3 million, she released a statement saying:
‘I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this. My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organisations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.’
And she received praise from commentators who were definitely, absolutely not Neo-Nazis: ‘In speaking out about sexual assault and encouraging other women and girls to do the same… Swift has, at last, done something truly feminist,’ wrote Claire Cohen in The Independent.
BuzzFeed’s Lauren Yapalater wrote, ‘Right now, I’m pretty much giving Taylor’s testimony a standing ovation from my desk’.
Why is Taylor Swift one of the only artists in the world who is adored by both conservatives and liberals?
One explanation is that all of Taylor Swift’s songs – and in particular ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ – are deeply projective. As listeners, we demand repetition and predictability. In 2012, the Spanish National Research Council looked at 464,411 recordings from 1955 to 2010 and found that popular music these days had “less variety in pitch transitions” than preceding music. And we listen to the same music over and over again: the top 1 per cent of music artists receive 77 per cent of the revenue from the industry.
Any ideology can think that their values, or concerns, are reflected in music that has gotten increasingly bland, even if the composer intended for it to be seen otherwise. In Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, the you could be anyone, and the me could be any of us.
Another explanation is that the relationship between politics and pop culture is symbiotic: for the far right to be seen as a legitimate force, one of the easiest ways for them to insert themselves into the ‘mainstream’ is to latch onto the largest cultural icons available. It’s a cheap tactic, one that has more often been co-opted by liberals – such as in the star-studded 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Only now is the far right catching on.
Taylor Swift is often presented in the media as a divisive figure, but the reality is that she unites the poles of politics in a way that culture rarely does.
Love or hate her new song; it shows us that we can all be Swifties.