Taylor Swift draws ire of conservatives

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Taylor Swift is headed to the Super Bowl — and triggering conservative pundits along the way.

Swift’s appearance on the field following last night’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens sparked a fresh wave of social media vitriol and the resurgence of some conspiring that her near-dominant place in U.S. pop culture must be the result of some sort of psychological manipulation effort — known more colloquially in fringe circles as a “psy-op.”

One of the most viewed posts came from the right-wing X account End Wokeness, which describes itself as “fighting, exposing, and mocking wokeness.” The account shared a post Sunday suggesting that Swift’s overwhelming popularity over the past year was due to malign forces.

“What’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic and natural. It’s an op,” the account posted. “We all feel it. We all know it.”

Swift had already been experiencing increased scrutiny from some football fans annoyed at her media exposure during NFL games, as cameras seem to pan to her every reaction. She told Time magazine in her Person of the Year interview that she has “no awareness of if I’m being shown too much and pissing off a few dads, Brads, and Chads.”

But more recently, some right-wing pundits have suggested without evidence that all the hype around Swift could be part of an orchestrated plot to drum up hype for the Democratic Party in a presidential election year.

Vivek Ramaswamy, who dropped out of the Republican primary race this month, shared his own conspiracy theory on X Monday, suggesting that the Super Bowl will be rigged to favor “an artificially culturally propped-up couple” whom he believes will reveal a “major presidential endorsement” this fall.

“Just some wild speculation over here, let’s see how it ages over the next 8 months,” wrote Ramaswamy, who after dropping out of the race has endorsed former President Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.

The Pentagon shut down similar right-wing accusations earlier this month after conservative commentator Jesse Watters claimed that Swift was a potential “front for a covert political agenda.”

“It’s real. The Pentagon psy-op unit pitched NATO on turning Taylor Swift into an asset for combating misinformation online,” Watters said, referring to a clip from a 2019 NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence conference that appeared to show a presenter naming Swift as an example of a powerful influencer.

At the end of the segment, which aired during his Fox News show, Watters said he had “no evidence” of the conspiracy. 

The speaker in the clip, Alicia Marie Bargar, later told Business Insider that her comment was taken out of context and that she has no connection to the Pentagon or to NATO.

Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh described Watters’ commentary as a “conspiracy theory.”

“We are going to shake it off,” she told Politico, referencing a popular Swift song. 

A spokesperson for Swift declined to comment.

Swift was almost entirely apolitical until 2018, when she endorsed two Democrats in Tennessee, where she lived as a teenager. 

“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,” Swift wrote in her Instagram post endorsing Phil Bredesen for the U.S. Senate and Jim Cooper for the House of Representatives.

The post came after the pop superstar had faced scrutiny from fans on the left for her silence on various political issues. In her Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” which debuted in 2020, she expressed regret over not speaking up against Trump during the 2016 election. 

But her gentle embrace of Democratic politicians over the years has also contributed to her emergence on the right as a target of criticism. 

In 2019, she shared an open letter urging Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, to support the federal Equality Act, which would enshrine protections for LGBTQ+ people. In 2020, Swift endorsed Joe Biden for president and criticized Trump on social media.

She has also continued to encourage her massive fanbase to vote — she formed an ongoing partnership with Vote.org, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on increasing voter registration and participation. 

In September 2023, the organization said that more than 35,000 people registered to vote after Swift posted on social media about National Voter Registration Day. In 2018, Vote.org also reported a surge in registrations, especially among young people, within a couple days of an Instagram post from Swift directing her fans to the site.

The singer netted the highest favorability rating of any public figure tested in NBC News’ November 2023 national poll — with 40% of registered voters saying they have a positive opinion of Swift and only 16% saying they hold a negative one.

Some online, including those in the football world, have wondered why right-wing pundits seem to concern themselves with Swift’s relationship with Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce.

“The most successful woman on earth right now happens to be dating the greatest tight end of all time,” ESPN’s Pat McAfee said in a recent segment. “Why is everybody so mad about it? I’m sick of people being mad about it. What are we even talking about? … Taylor (Swift) is a part of the football world now. This is good news, not bad news.”

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