Imagine an alternate reality where the 2016 presidential election is such faint background noise that it barely registers in your consciousness at all, leaving you free to go to New York Fashion Week, record and/or flirt with Drake, cuddle koalas with your BFF Serena van der Woodsen, and shoot down water slides while clutching an American flag.
That has been Taylor Swift’s public life throughout this long, grueling, contentious election cycle. While many other celebrities, including her close friend Lena Dunham, came out in support of one candidate or another — though mostly Hillary Clinton — Swift remained decidedly neutral. She never once acknowledged the election, or even so much as reminded her almost 82 million Twitter followers, 93 million Instagram followers, or 75 million Facebook fans to vote.
Until today — Election Day.
After months of silence, Swift posted a picture of her standing in line to vote with a simple message: “Today is the day. Go out and VOTE.”
With all due respect to my Vox Media colleagues at Racked, the idea that this picture is an endorsement of Hillary Clinton because Swift is wearing a shoulderless sweater like Clinton did once is about as thin as the sweater itself. This is, as with most things Taylor Swift, a carefully crafted image of neutrality.
This is not the Hillary Clinton endorsement nor the damning Trump critique that some wanted from her — or even expected, given the fact that many of her celebrity lady squad members, like Dunham, have been vocally supporting Clinton for months. The only thing it tells us is that Swift is indeed aware that the election is happening, after avoiding expressing any and all political inclinations in 2016.
To be clear: Swift has every right to keep whom she’s voting for to herself. That’s kind of how voting in America works.
But her absolute silence on anything politics-related, in an election that saw a higher than usual number of celebrities, public figures, magazines, and even TV shows endorsing — or at the very least discussing — the candidates, is extraordinary.
It is not, however, surprising.
The most overtly political action Swift has made was when she declared herself a feminist in 2014 and vaguely expressed support for President Obama in 2008 — though Rolling Stone wrote at the time that getting the latter answer from her was like pulling teeth, since she’s “constantly worried about saying something that could be construed as offensive to her fans.”
All this in mind, it seems like Swift’s most telling action might have come in 2012, when she told Time that she doesn’t talk about politics as a rule, because “it might influence other people. And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for.”
Which, fair enough.
Then again, Swift shying away from conflict isn’t at all surprising, whether or not she actually believes she doesn’t know enough to express her opinion.
Again, she is meticulous about managing her public persona in a way that makes her both nonthreatening and appealing to as wide a cross-section of fans as possible. Though she was born in Pennsylvania, she found her footing in Nashville and country music 10 years ago, and has since crossed over to straight pop — and exponentially multiplied her empire without isolating her original fan base.
That didn’t happen by accident; it happened because Swift made sure not to piss off fans by expressing anything resembling a radical opinion. Neutrality is her safest option; some people who find her silence disappointing might be fans, but more will be people who never counted themselves as such.
If Swift can stay out of the political fray — which got especially ugly in 2016 — she can squeak through unscathed, letting those who love her project whatever they want onto her. If you don’t believe me, check out the comments section below that Instagram of her voting; it’s jam-packed with people assuming, or maybe hoping, that she’s voting for Clinton.
Sorry, fans. Taylor Swift is never, ever, ever going to tell you whom she’s voting for, because speaking up is never, ever, ever going to benefit Taylor Swift.