BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone. Taylor Swift is a star of many faces.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The darling of country music, Taylor Swift.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The newly-crowned princess of pop, Taylor Swift.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: -- helped Swift create the most powerful female social network of all time.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: You could make an argument that Taylor is the anti-Miley.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She’s also the forlorn damsel, betrayed by former friend, Katy Perry, victim of the scheming Kim and Kanye, the powerful leader of her Girl Squad and, as her latest hit, “Look What You Made Me Do” would have you believe --
I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me
I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams
[SINGING UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But not white supremacist dreams.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: They think that, hey, you know, she’s blonde, she’s white and she secretly hates the Jews.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or, as Andrew Anglin, the founder of the now underground white supremacist blog The Daily Stormer more elegantly put it, quote, "The entire alt-right patiently awaits the day when we can lay down our swords and kneel before her throne[…]as she commands us to go forth and slaughter the subhuman enemies of the Aryan race." Last year, he wrote that, quote, “It’s established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi and is simply waiting for the time when Donald Trump makes it safe for her to come out and announce her Aryan agenda to the world.”
Mitchell Sunderland is a senior staff writer at VICE. He first broke the story of Taylor Swift’s fascist following in 2016, after learning about it while interviewing alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos at the Grove Mall in Los Angeles.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: It’s a very kind of pop-y, LA high-end mall. So we were in Neiman’s and he ran into a girl who is now a prominent alt-right figure in Canada, and Taylor Swift came on. And she started singing along.
[CLIP, “SHAKE IT OFF”]
TAYLOR SWIFT SINGING:
I stay out too late
Got nothing in my brain
That's what people say, mmm-mmm
That's what people say, mmm-mmm.
I go on too many dates [CHUCKLES]
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: And I looked into it and there were kind of two things going on. Last year, I covered CPAC and the Republican National Convention, and I noticed that you had all these young female Republicans in beige shoes dancing and singing to Taylor Swift. That was like what I heard everywhere.
I also noticed that these neo-Nazi websites had become obsessed with her as kind of like their ideal woman because she's blonde, she's blue-eyed, she's skinny.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And she conveys a sense of innocence? Just before this interview, I watched my first Taylor Swift videos and I thought she was cute as a button.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: And I think that's part of the reason she appealed to them, because they do talk about virgins all the time on those sites.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The political climate has really intensified since you first reported this Taylor Swift white supremacist conjunction. First, there was the Pulse nightclub shooting and then the election of Donald Trump and the rise of the alt-right and Charlottesville.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: Around Pulse, I thought it was strange that Taylor Swift wasn’t saying anything because all these other celebrities were. And so, I emailed her representative and I said, we’re writing an article about this, do you have comment? And then right before our article went up, she finally said something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The handwritten note she wrote a couple of days after the Pulse nightclub shooting read, “As you bury your loved ones this week, please know that there are millions of us sending you love and our deepest sympathy in the face of this unthinkable and devastating tragedy.” Some people wouldn't cut her slack for the delay, I guess.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: I think it was because since Lady Gaga did The Fame Monster, which was her second album in 2009, she started calling her fans Little Monsters. And since then, there’s Rihanna’s Navy, which Rihanna calls her fans The Navy. The BeyHive is Beyoncé’s and then Taylor Swift has her Swifties. Now, when something happens like this, these fan groups mobilize and demand public statements. You did not see this before Twitter. And since Charlottesville, people have asked her two things. One, they’ve asked her to denounce Nazis.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It wouldn't be controversial to denounce Nazis.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: And then the other thing is to denounce Trump.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She did start as a country/western singer and she may be concerned about alienating a substantial part of her fan base.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: Yes, and although her music has sonically changed because “Look What You Made Me Do” does not sound anything like the songs on Fearless, like “Love Story.”
We were both young when I first saw you
I close my eyes and the flashback starts
I'm standing there…
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: But the lyrics have similar subject matter, so I think she, she has carried her original audience with her. If she comes out and says, I denounce these Nazis, even most mainstream conservatives want nothing to do with do with Nazis. If she comes out and denounces Trump, to take you back to CPAC and the Republican National Convention where I heard “Shake It Off” everywhere, she would have that audience upset. And if you looked at where the 1989 tour played, it mostly played in big arenas in the South and in suburbs, which are areas that Trump won. So I think those numbers would play into it. There’s also the history of what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they denounced George W. Bush.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: It was London, 2003 when Natalie decided to speak her mind about the impending invasion of Iraq.
NATALIE MAINES: We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Bush lovers steamrolled piles of CDs. Remember that? And their music was banned from the airwaves. Right-wing talkers called them “Dixie Sluts” and “Saddam’s Angels.”
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: A lot of journalists and music critics have said she’s had a lot of bad PR lately.
[CLIP/TAYLOR SWIFT SINGING]:
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me do
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: However, this song is doing fantastic on the Billboard charts and then also 1989 sold more than Lemonade. So I think she’s a savvy marketer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:: What’s Swift’s response been to the attention that she's gotten from the alt-right, anything at all?
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: Silence. On Nazi sites, they view any silence as approval.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: To be fair, it’s not just neo-Nazis who seem to find much to comment on in Taylor Swift. She's also been accused of evincing a nostalgia for a time of explicit white dominance, you know, the colonial period in Africa.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: Buzzfeed and Jezebel, with one of the 1989 music videos that came out, it looks like it was set in Africa and so she got critiques from them for that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Her music videos have been cited as appropriating black culture, the video for “Shake It Off.” She seems to borrow from everyone and anyone, which creates an opportunity for would-be cultural critics to pull a strand from here and there and weave whatever fabric they choose from it. MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: It’s impossible to know why she's making those choices. However, she has a history of being accused for this and not commenting and making everyone then obsess over what is going on and why is she doing it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: People can take whatever they like from her silence, and she's giving them the power to do that.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: So I have spoken to Republican sources who are mainstream Republicans, the kind of people who would have voted for Rubio in the primary, and they have said that they think she's a Republican because of her silence. Critical pieces that were written in BuzzFeed or even The New Yorker, they have taken her silence as saying that she's not supporting women and she's approving Trump. If you look at a lot of the pieces that are being written about pop culture, I think things have gotten really heated lately, so I think people want her to take a side.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mitchell, thank you very much.
MITCHELL SUNDERLAND: Thank you so much for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mitchell Sunderland is a senior staff writer at VICE.