How Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Became the Focus of Baseless Political Conspiracy Theories

The budding love story between music superstar Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce took an unexpected turn in the world of political conspiracy theories this week after the team advanced to the Super Bowl .

Countless unfounded rumors have emerged on social media, from claims that Swift has played a role in Pentagon psyops to the idea that she and her two-time Super Bowl champion boyfriend are key assets in a secret plot to help President Joe Biden to be re-elected. in 2024. Another variant: that the Chiefs’ success was manipulated as part of the plan for the February 11 game in Las Vegas.

Right-wing political and media figures, including former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, political activist Laura Loomer and One America News Network host Alison Steinberg, have amplified the allegations.

The claims are ridiculous and may well reflect fear on the right that someone as famous as Swift, whose landmark Eras Tour is the first to cross the billion-dollar mark, could effectively influence the presidential race by urging her legion of fans in one direction.

Pop culture and politics have long been intertwined. The entertainment industry has been a deep well of political contributions. And candidates often try to take advantage of stars’ celebrity to boost their own appeal.

The power of the impact is less clear. In Swift’s case, there is some evidence that, at the very least, she can generate more voter registrations.

In September, Swift posted a short message on her Instagram account encouraging her 272 million followers to register to vote. The post generated more than 35,000 registrations on the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization

Swift’s huge fan base gives her a powerful voice. An SSRS survey conducted in October 2023 found that about 6 in 10 American adults called themselves at least occasional fans of the singer, and 8% said they were big fans. The survey also found that 8 in 10 American adults said they had heard of her relationship with Kelce, and most of those familiar with it considered it a real relationship, rather than a publicity stunt.

“People in pop culture identify with these things, pay attention to them. And that’s what drives politics now. It’s attention and identity,” said Joel Penney, an associate professor at Montclair State University whose research includes the intersection of politics and pop culture. . In fact, Donald Trump’s improbable march to the presidency in 2016 was fueled in part by the celebrity he gained as a reality television star.

But the false claims about Swift are of such an extreme nature that they will test the limits of how powerful a conspiracy theory can be. Penney sees the recent spate of posts directed at Swift as an attempt to preemptively mitigate their impact by discrediting her.

Penney said Swift’s influence could prove to be a difficult force to confront, especially if she publicly endorses Biden, as she did in the 2020 race.

The attacks on Swift could also galvanize young voters who want to support her.

“Young people are fighting their political battles through language drawn from pop culture,” said Henry Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California who also studies politics and pop culture. “That’s what connects them. That’s what they’re committed to.”

Both Swift and Kelce have made public statements on politics and other issues that put them at odds with the far right.

Swift broke her long-standing refusal to discuss her political views in 2018 when she announced in an Instagram post that she would be voting for Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper. She also sharply criticized then-U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican candidate, citing Blackburn’s opposition to certain LGBTQ2S+ rights and her vote against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. Blackburn won the elections. Senate elections.

In 2020, Swift endorsed Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in an interview with V Magazine, noting that “under their leadership, I believe America has the opportunity to begin the healing process it so desperately needs.”

Kelce faced criticism in September for appearing in an ad promoting double doses of the flu and COVID-19 vaccines, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ad was part of a partnership with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company that developed a vaccine in response to the pandemic and has since become a common brand for anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists.

Pop culture figures and the industry around them have been involved in political campaigns long before the duo some fans refer to as Swelce. Former President Bill Clinton first appeared on MTV during his 1992 campaign, when he was still governor of Arkansas. Major stars such as Johnny Cash, Mary Tyler Moore and Willie Nelson endorsed former President Jimmy Carter more than 40 years ago when he ran for the White House for the second time. Ronald Reagan entered politics after a career as an actor.

“That question of does this work in pop culture? It absolutely can,” Penney said. “And so it is. And history has proven it.”

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