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Pop stars and politicians – and Mega and Maga lessons in strange dynamics

Pop stars and politicians – and Mega and Maga lessons in strange dynamics
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (L) embraces US singer Taylor Swift following the Chiefs victory over the 49ers in the overtime of Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Fransisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 11 February 2024. The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the NFL between the AFC Champion and the NFC Champion and has been held every year since 1967. EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO

It’s a strange dynamic; politicians love to be associated with pop stars, but pop stars are generally not crazy about being associated with politicians.

Somewhere towards the end of the Super Bowl this past Sunday, one of the US sports commentators tweeted, “If Mahomes finds Kelce and he scores, I WILL believe the game was scripted.” Joke. Obvs.

What the commentator was talking about was, of course, the crazy, deep-staters and Trump supporters who developed a theory that the match had been rigged. The idea was that the Kansas City Chiefs would win the Super Bowl, then Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce would score the winning points, be named MVP (most valuable player), propose to his pop star girlfriend Taylor Swift, and the couple would endorse Joe Biden, who would then go on to win the election beating their hero Donald Trump in the process. Psyops! Deep state! Stop the Steal!

At a point in the game, this all weirdly did seem possible because the Chiefs’ opponents, the San Francisco 49ers, were leading, but the Chiefs were on a strong drive up the field and all that was required to win the game was a single touchdown. Hence, the tweet. But as it happened, the game didn’t turn out this way. The drive fizzled, the Chiefs punted and the score was tied, so it went into overtime — only the second Super Bowl game to do so. 

In overtime, however, the fairytale ending did transpire — in a sense. The 49ers drove upfield but were forced to punt (kick a field goal). The Chiefs then drove down the field and in the last seconds of the game scored — not because of Kelce, for the record, but through a different player, Mecole Hardman. The move was fabulous: Hardman changed direction on a dime, received the final throw of the game, and the Chiefs won 25-22. It was massively exciting. 

But Kelce was not named MVP (quarterback Patrick Mahomes was, deservedly) and neither did he propose to Swift, nor did the couple endorse Biden. However, Biden did play into the fun by tweeting a picture of himself with red lights shining out of his eyes, with the caption “just like we drew it up”. Very funny. 

But in the dim outlines of what passes for public discussion these days, it is possible to see how the whole conspiracy theory transpired and why the Maga crowd would be so worried. The first problem for the Maga crowd is that Swift did endorse Democrats for the last election — sort of

There is an interesting part in the documentary on Swift, Miss Americana, in which her father frets about adopting an overtly political position, but Swift herself, in tears, explains her position. The argument concerned the Republican Senate incumbent at the time, Marsha Blackburn, who was then running on a platform of “Tennessee Christian values”. 

Swift, a Tennessee resident, said she could not sit silently and let Blackburn spew hate. She was particularly offended that Blackburn had voted against reauthorising the Violence Against Women Act, which, among other things, imposed legal restrictions on stalking, something Swift presumably knows a lot about. 

Later, Swift explicitly endorsed Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, who was running against Blackburn. Blackburn won: Tennessee is the US equivalent of the Free State lots of farms, even more guns.

But this was just the start for Swift. She likes to get even, as her former record label knows. She did say in 2020 she would be voting for the Biden/Harris ticket, on the basis that he was “all about healing”. It’s no secret that Biden would relish her endorsement for 2024. 

Trump, meanwhile, has said there is “no way” she will endorse Biden and it would be disloyal to do so because he made her lots of money by supporting something called the Music Modernization Act. It’s all about him, you understand. The act, which regularised payment for music streaming, anyway had bipartisan support. 

But the question remains: how influential are political endorsements from musicians? In general, I think they are pretty arbitrary, but they do add to the mood music around a campaign. There is a reason President Cyril Ramaphosa called Tyla to congratulate her on her Grammy win and put out a TikTok of himself making the call. That was not really a congratulatory call; it was politics.

It’s a strange dynamic; politicians love to be associated with pop stars, but pop stars are generally not crazy about being associated with politicians. For politicians, the advantage is obvious: reaching the youth vote and trying to appropriate some of the stars’ adoration. For pop stars, the repulsion is almost exactly for the same reasons. What could be more uncool than being seen hanging out with people your parents’ (or grandparents’) age, especially those who are part of the system?

In addition, pop stars generally don’t want to alienate portions of their listenership, unless their listenership is divided already, in which case, there is no harm in going the whole hog. Hello Kanye. There is also the question of whether music consumers will respond to a call to support a politician; it’s not like musicians have any special knowledge.

Indeed, the problem for politicians is more or less the opposite; it’s not that they want pop stars to endorse them — they know that’s unlikely — but what they don’t want is pop stars to encourage people to vote against them. 

For the Maga crowd, the danger here is pretty big because what Swift could do is just encourage voters to go to the polls. That simple act on its own could add, political pundits estimate, about 100,000 votes in the six swing states that matter, which would tip the election.

It also makes a difference that it’s Swift we are talking about; this is not just some random pop star. It’s seldom that a single artist has so dominated the charts in a single year. Just to mention a few of her records, Swift had four of the top-10 most consumed albums in the US this past year, the first global tour to net more than $1-billion, and 26.1 billion global streams on Spotify, the most Spotify has reported for a year-end. 

They might be Maga. But she is mega. DM

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