“People are just making it up,” Annika, a visitor from Canada, tells news.com.au in New York’s Times Square.
“People will say anything about her. It’s nonsense”.
Annika is remarking on 2024’s wildest conspiracy theory.
Not that the earth is flat or that elections were stolen. But that pop royalty Taylor Swift – and her football playing beau Travis Kelce – are an “artificial” couple concocted as part of a nefarious US Democratic Party “psyop”.
The aim of the plot, if you go down the rabbit hole, is to dupe both music and sporting fans into voting for Joe Biden at the upcoming US presidential election.
The conspiracy theory has everything: rich, wildly famous people, Covid vaccines, Bud Light – and just a dash of Donald Trump.
“If this is a psyop it’s doing a pretty bad job,” said Dr Jennifer Beckett, who teaches media and communications at Melbourne University.
“Conservatives used to talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome, and now I think we have Taylor Derangement Syndrome,” music critic at Variety magazine Chris Willman told political website The Hill.
“It’s a real thing. People think she is destroying the NFL and the US government at the same time — quite an accomplishment”.
But even if the theory is rubbish, the worst fears of those pushing it could still come to pass, Swift watchers have said.
The furore surrounding Kelce and Tay Tay is now verging on the cray.
That’s due to next week’s Superbowl which will see Kelce’s Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in Las Vegas as Swift, fresh off her jet from the Japan leg of her record breaking Eras tour, looks on adoringly.
To former US Republic presidential nomination candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who has the ear of Mr Trump, it’s clear what is really going on.
“I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl.
“And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple.”
Self-described “Day 1 supporter of President Trump,” broadcaster Mike Crispi said the “rigged” NFL was now merely a “Democrat propaganda” front.
Prominent US TV commentator Jesse Waters opined in January that Swift was “a front for a covert political agenda” and that the “Pentagon psychological operations unit (psyop)” had “floated” turning Swift into an “asset”.
Although he added that he “has no evidence” that Swift was a “front” but he was “curious”.
Middle American dream team
On paper, the pairing of the Shake it Off singer and the Chiefs’ tight end is a Middle American dream: the true blue Country star from Pennsylvania who made it big in Nashville and the sporting hero from Ohio.
Yet both, while incredibly popular, have riled some people.
Swift has been accused of soaking up airtime at Kelce’s games as cameras supposedly fixate on her. Although, as the New York Timespointed out, that was usually no more than 20 seconds per match.
While Kelce hasn’t endeared himself to some on the political fringe by doing ads encouraging the take up of Covid vaccines and becoming an ambassador for Bud Light, a beer brand that has been targeted by anti-trans campaigners.
But these were mere niggles before the grand conspiracy theory began going into overdrive last year. That was when Swift encouraged her 279 million followers to sign up to vote – with 35,000 people doing just that in one day.
Then, in December, the billionaire musician was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
At the time, former Trump adviser Stephen Miller said: “What’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic”.
‘Doesn’t add up’
Her fans, who are packing into stadiums across the globe, disagree.
Crystal Haryanto, who runs the “Artistry and Entrepreneurship: Taylor’s Version,” course at the University of California (UC) Berkeley told news.com.au that the singer had a bond with fans “that perhaps no other artist has achieved” and that “ultimately fans trust here”.
As such, the theory that her relationship with Kelce is a set up for a political party doesn’t add up.
“A fake relationship simply wouldn’t hold under the values Swift has become known for.”
Dr Beckett is one of the organisers of “Swiftposium,” an academic conference about the singer to be held this month at the University of Melbourne.
She said the “odd obsession” with Swift was “steeped in some deep sexism”.
But the claims of a “psyop” plot were perplexing because her politics are hardly secret.
“She’s already openly endorsed Democrats in the past. She’s also spoken about her political leanings – particularly around women and the LGBTQIA+ community – which the majority of Americans have also expressed concerns about.
“If this is a psyop it’s doing a pretty bad job at being clandestine and it’s oddly already aligned with the viewpoints of Middle America.”
Dr Beckett said Swift was an “interesting figure” because she was originally seen as the “embodiment of the good white Republican girl which has to do with both how she looks and her start in the country music scene”.
“So there’s an argument that since endorsing Democratic candidates she’s seen as an existential and now a real threat to the Republican Party given her broad audience appeal”.
Swifties already lean Democrat
But far from being a catalyst for changing votes, many Swifties – young and female – likely already lean Democrat.
A 2023 research analysis by think tank the Survey Centre on American Life found that in the past six years male and female voters aged 18 to 30 had gone from having roughly equal political leanings to women now being 30 percentage points more liberal than men.
While a poll by Quinnipiac University released this week found Mr Biden was now leading Mr Trump nationally and that gap was being “propelled by female voters”.
Celebrity endorsements of politicians is nothing new and there are doubts as to how much that shifts the dial.
But Dr Beckett reckons Swift could be an exception.
“She could have an effect on the election because she’s so incredibly successful in getting young people, who already tend to lean Democrat, to register to vote.”
UC Berkeley’s Ms Haryanto said she may even change some minds – just what the conspiracy theorists fear.
“As much of her fan base are young legal voters that are swing voters, she certainly has impact on how they will lean toward, come election time.”
However, Katherine Jeng, who teaches a course called “Miss Americana: Lyrics and Evolution of Taylor Swift,” at Houston’s Rice University told news.com.au the billionaire songwriter was only “one factor” behind how her fans might vote.
“Young people are becoming increasingly engaging in politics independent of any specific celebrity influence.”
Danger in attacking Swift
The anger at Swift and Kelce has mostly been limited to a very right wing, very pro-Trump wing.
Indeed, there’s also a theory that the meltdown by some around Swift is less to do with her and more to do with its pushers currying favour with Mr Trump and his base should he regain the White House.
Mr Trump himself hasn’t weighed in on Swift during this election cycle.
Many Republicans want it to stay that way. They see no mileage in bad mouthing America’s sweetheart.
“Everyone should embrace the Travis and Tay Tay story,” said Kansas Republican senator Roger Marshall.
“It’s an American love story. So we just wish them the best.
For Swift fan Annika, the wild conspiracies surrounding Swift are a distraction from the real issue – whether she and Kelce last the course.
“I rooting for Taylor, I want her to have a man.
“Because I think her music would change and wouldn’t just be about breakups”.
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