A Complete Timeline of the Far Right’s Tumultuous Relationship With Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift performs during the Eras Tour. - Credit: Emma McIntyre/TAS23/Getty Images/TAS Rights Management
Taylor Swift performs during the Eras Tour. - Credit: Emma McIntyre/TAS23/Getty Images/TAS Rights Management

You can’t please all the people all of the time — even if you’re as popular as Taylor Swift. Having attained a somehow higher level of mega-celebrity with her record-breaking Eras Tour and a closely followed romance with Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs (who are headed back to the Super Bowl as the defending NFL champs), the singer now faces the perplexing wrath of MAGA conspiracy theorists who have decided the league and the relationship are rigged to help Joe Biden’s chances in the 2024 presidential election.

The premise is as disconnected from reality as it sounds, but it’s all the stranger given that this courtship between a pop icon and football star — both white, Christian, good-looking, wholesome public figures — should fit the all-American conservative ideal. And Swift herself long retained her mass appeal with a mostly apolitical presence on the world stage, only voicing liberal positions and endorsing a select few Democrats from 2018 onward. But it was, in part, this late entry into civic discourse that allowed right-wingers to sell themselves a narrative of Swift as a propaganda puppet, after years in which some ardently worshiped her as a blonde, blue-eyed avatar for white supremacy.

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Here’s the complete timeline of how the far right fell in, and out of, love with Taylor Swift.

Pre-2016: Country Roots

Swift came up in the Nashville scene, from the age of 14, as a country singer-songwriter inspired by the likes of Dolly Parton and Shania Twain. Her debut single, “Tim McGraw,” alluded to her love of another country legend — and her early hits climbed the genre’s charts along with heartland tunes full of cowboy twang and pickup trucks. Whatever the identities of individual performers, this music has always been conservative-coded, and its biggest names have rarely shied away from an aggressive style of red-meat patriotism.

Swift, of course, was a teenager singing about innocent young love: She only happened to suit the fantasy of a small-town girl next door that informs so much Americana. (And she certainly didn’t have Parental Advisory stickers on her CDs.) It was when she started to drift from these roots on Red (2012), and fully embraced electronic pop with 1989 (2014), that fans could begin to think of her as totally distinct from the traditionalist milieu of her early career. The latter’s “Welcome to New York” signaled a new, cosmopolitan life far from the backroads of country radio. In fact, a civilian Donald Trump was blasting the album’s second single, “Blank Space,” while driving around with wife Melania and son Barron, as seen in a 2014 video Melania shared on her Facebook page.

2015-2016: Alt-Right Appropriation

Trump’s rise as a political powerhouse in the 2016 Republican presidential primary coincided with the arrival of what was soon labeled the “alt-right”: a younger, more online, and increasingly extreme faction of the conservative movement that rejected the usual Republicans in favor of explicit white nationalism. Trump was their man. Swift, meanwhile, was between albums — and much discussion of her focused on a feud with Kanye West over the lyric “I made that bitch famous” in his song “Famous,” referring to when he interrupted her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, a moment that had become an indelible meme.

The ascendant alt-right, shitposters by nature, saw a chance to disingenuously claim Swift for their own, as both a secret Trump supporter and neo-Nazi. (It didn’t seem to matter that she had previously expressed her happiness at Barack Obama taking the White House in 2008, her first election.) The attempt to rebrand her had older, murky origins, including 4chan in-jokes and a Pinterest user who in 2013 went viral for images falsely attributing Hitler quotes to Swift, but picked up steam as Trump did. Andrew Anglin, founder of the white supremacist website the Daily Stormer, declared her an “aryan goddess,” while Milo Yiannopoulis, in a column for Breitbart, explained why she was an “alt-right pop icon,” noting her whiteness, blondeness, unrevealing clothes, lack of piercings, and occasional mini-scandals over music videos accused of racist undertones. It probably didn’t help that Swift endorsed neither Hillary Clinton nor Trump, leaving room for misinformation about how she secretly voted for the GOP candidate. Following Trump’s victory, some Democrats vented their frustration at Swift’s silence during the campaign, believing she could have moved the needle for Clinton.

And to this day, it’s alarmingly easy to find crude images of Swift in Nazi regalia or juxtaposed with fascist slogans. It appears that no matter what she says, a subset of trolls are devoted to the vision.

2017-2018: Taking a Stand

With 2017’s Reputation, Swift further developed her feminist themes and cred, and she faced additional pressure to use her voice to political ends. After the deadly “Unite the Right” rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, some called for her to disavow her neo-Nazi fans once and for all. First, however, Swift appeared in court to testify against a former DJ who was fired from his Denver radio station after groping her at a 2013 event and later sued her for defamation, claiming he’d done no such thing. Swift had countersued for assault and battery, seeking a symbolic $1 in damages. When a jury trial commenced in August 2017, Swift’s lawyer proclaimed that she was “taking a stand for all women.” She won the case.

In the following months, the #MeToo movement shed light on how often sexual misconduct is dismissed or covered up to the perpetrator’s benefit, and Swift became one of the founding signatories of Time’s Up, an advocacy group for survivors, and donated to its legal defense fund.

None of this was likely to endear Swift to conservatives who had already begun to argue that #MeToo had “gone too far,” yet she continued to press the issue, gracing the cover of Time’s Person of the Year issue along with fellow “silence breakers.” And the next year, she finally waded into electoral politics, sharing on Instagram that she would be backing Democratic congressional candidates in Tennessee for the 2018 midterms. “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 before excoriating Republican senate hopeful Marsha Blackburn as an enemy of gender equality and LGBTQ rights based on her legislative record (and encouraging her followers to register to vote). Blackburn would clinch the seat anyway, but Swift’s influence was not lost on her — now up for reelection, the senator sounds more than a little worried about what Swift could say this time around.

2019-2020: The Activist

By 2019, Swift’s politics were no mystery. She was openly in favor of gun-control reform, took a pro-choice stance against government attempts to crack down on abortion, gave a surprise performance at New York’s Stonewall Inn for that year’s Pride celebration, and urged the senate to pass anti-discrimination laws. Any far-right fan clinging to the notion that she harbored extremist views would’ve been in clinical denial. For the most part, conservative commentators got in the habit of attacking her as they would any other liberal entertainer with a massive platform. Ben Shapiro, for one, complained of her “abrupt and obviously pandering shift into a political wokescold.”

At last, Swift also formally denounced any admiration from the racist far right in a cover story interview with Rolling Stone. “There’s literally nothing worse than white supremacy,” she said. “It’s repulsive. There should be no place for it.” She explained that she feared a 2016 endorsement of Hillary Clinton could have backfired, since Clinton’s celebrity support was “used against her in a lot of ways.” As for conservatives who had once assumed she was on their side, she quipped, “I don’t think they do anymore.”

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Swift came out strongly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Racial injustice has been ingrained deeply into local and state governments, and changes MUST be made there,” she tweeted that June, and donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, encouraging her fans to do likewise. Around the same time, she called for the removal of Confederate monuments that “celebrate racist historical figures who did evil things.” During the presidential election, she criticized Trump and officially endorsed the Biden-Harris ticket, saying the Democratic nominees would begin a “healing process.” Fair to say that whatever remaining allure she had for reactionaries and Trump voters had completely dried up.   

2021-2024: Taylor Derangement Syndrome

The “aryan goddess” interpretation of Swift had been more or less put to bed by the time Biden assumed office. But the reorganizing MAGA right had little reason to single her out among the legions of professional entertainers who express their distaste for Trump here and there. She didn’t endorse candidates in the 2022 midterms, either, though she did communicate her dismay at the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Conservatives who bothered to take a swipe at her tended toward lazy outrage bait: calling her boring, overrated, or a lonely cat lady (mind you, she was in a long-term relationship with actor Joe Alwyn that was heavily covered by the tabloids). In 2021, Swift embarked on the formidable project of rerecording her first six studio albums after the rights to that catalog were sold to a company run by controversial music mogul Scooter Braun, and released the hit record Midnights in 2022.

It was in 2023 that American conservatism launched into an enduring freakout about Swift, her cultural dominance, and her potential influence on voters. Anyone dimly aware of the Eras Tour — an unprecedented run of sold-out stadium shows — could see she had reached another pinnacle of success, and amassed a near-cultish audience of millions who hung on her every utterance. We got plenty of think pieces on whether this was a good or bad phenomenon, with varied musings on how Swift had created her own monoculture. The sheer saturation of Taylor content was enough to irk those less disposed to her vibe — and there were gripes about that, too.

In the fall, confirmation of a budding romance between Swift, who had broken up with Alwyn earlier in the year, with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce sent right-wingers over the edge. Was it not enough that Swift should have a chokehold on the music industry, these detractors asked. Did she have to conquer their sacred sport of football as well, shown every few minutes in cutaway reaction shots as she cheered Kelce on from his private stadium suite, with NFL announcers shoehorning the titles of her songs into play calls? Her cheerleader energy was distinctly unwelcome in the game; berserk haters told her she was “ruining football” and tried to manifest a Taylor “curse” for the Chiefs, who nonetheless won the AFC championship and will return to the Super Bowl after winning it last year.

Along the way, crusty conservative publications disgorged a slew of anti-Swiftie polemics. The National Review hardly paused their parade of takes, railing against both “The Incoherence of Taylor Swift” and “The Averageness of Taylor Swift” when they weren’t warning that “Taylor Swift Is Coming for Your Daughters.” The Federalist swung for the fences with a column headlined “Taylor Swift’s Popularity Is a Sign of Societal Decline.” The tantrum grew louder still when Swift was announced as Time’s Person of the Year for 2023, triggering feverish accusations of conspiracy. “What’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic,” seethed notorious former Trump adviser Stephen Miller. The far-right X (formerly known as Twitter) account “End Wokeness” warned that “the regime has plans to weaponize her just in time for 2024.” One-time Pizzagate promoter Jack Posobiec tweeted that the “Taylor Swift girlboss psyop has been fully activated.”

This roiling paranoia about Swift’s omnipresence, combined with the Chiefs’ playoff run and Kelce’s turn as a spokesman for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, culminated in unhinged speculation about the NFL being “rigged” to carry the Swift/Kelce relationship storyline into the most-watched broadcast event of the year. This, said many extremely online conservatives — including failed presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy — would set the stage for Swift to endorse Biden for 2024, and perhaps worse calamities. Right-wing influencer Rogan O’Handley, for example, begged the San Francisco 49ers to defeat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. “If you don’t, Mr. Pfizer and his girlfriend are going to tour the country as ‘world champions’ helping elect Joe Biden,” he tweeted, adding that World War III “will likely follow” in a second Biden term, “and millions will die.”

These kinds of comments were so outlandish, so utterly divorced from a material understanding of what could possibly hang in the balance of a football game, that some organs of conservative media tried to quell the mania. “Demonizing Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce paints the right as deranged,” wrote sports columnist Jason Whitlock for the Blaze, while the National Review, evidently unaware of their role in promoting the Swift panic, sounded a note of desperation with a piece titled “For the Love of God, Taylor Swift Is Not a Joe Biden ‘Psyop.’” Those pleas appear to have had little effect; 11 days out from the Super Bowl, far-right YouTuber Benny Johnson shared an AI-generated deepfake on X that appeared to show one local news anchor after another saying “Taylor Swift is not a psyop,” presenting the bogus clip as evidence of a nefarious plot behind the pop star’s almost universal recognition. The post was viewed more than 1 million times in nine hours.

The release of The Tortured Poets Department last Friday, April 19, inevitably (and unfortunately) brought a new round of grousing. Sean Feucht,  the far-right “MAGA Pastor,” raised the alarm on social media, saying “half the songs” on the album “contain explicit lyrics (E), make fun of Christians, and straight up blaspheme God.” And lest you think he’s “just being religious & overreacting,” Feucht shared several apparently offending lyrics that certainly dabble in classic religious imagery, but in the most basic, writerly way imaginable.

Among the most harrowing lines, to Feucht: “I would’ve died for your sins, instead I just died inside” (from “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”); “What If I roll the stone away/They’re gonna crucify me anyway” (“Guilty as Sin”); and “God save the most judgmental creeps/Who say they want what’s best for me/Sanctimoniously performing soliloquies I’ll never see,” from “But Daddy I Love Him,” which definitely seems more critical of Swift’s own fans than an entire religion.

And, of course, Shapiro got back in on the action as well with a YouTube video dubbed, “Taylor Swift’s New Album Is GARBAGE” and nuanced opinions like, “Can we stop pretending she’s high art?” and, “She’s so tortured that she’s worth billions of dollars for singing songs that are most appropriately sung by 16 and 17 year old girls.”

Swift has yet to indicate whether she’ll endorse Biden again this time around, and it’s far from clear what kind of impact that would have in any case — though she did cause a surge in voter registration last fall when she urged her Instagram followers to register to vote. And the conservative media’s old guard, while not going so far as to embrace the “scripted” NFL theory, are definitely taking the prospect seriously: Tuesday night, Fox News host Sean Hannity cautioned Swift to “think twice” about throwing in with Biden’s reelection campaign. Key players in MAGA world are preparing for a “holy war” against Swift should she come out in favor of Biden, as Rolling Stone has reported. Trump himself, associates say, privately grumbles that he is “more popular” than her, apparently unwavering in his belief that no celebrity, however huge, can help his incumbent rival.

And when the former president holds you in this special contempt, well, there’s no denying that you’ve made it as an arch-nemesis of the American far right. It’s been a long, dramatic evolution for Swift’s political identity — not unlike the trajectory of her music career. Here, in a mature phase, she seems more poised, comfortable, and confident than ever, perfectly willing to use her platform as she likes. It may not make the difference in a Trump-Biden rematch, but for the many people who feel a close connection to Swift, her words will resonate regardless.

This story was updated 4/22/24 @ 12:17 p.m. ET with some reactions to The Tortured Poets Department.

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