Taylor Swift, you may have noticed, is everywhere: packing arenas on the Eras Tour; filling theaters with her concert film; popping onto your TV screen from a luxury suite at Kansas City Chiefs games, cheering on her boyfriend, Travis Kelce.
And now she’s living rent-free in Fox News hosts’ heads.
After reports that the Biden re-election campaign was angling for an endorsement from the superstar (who backed President Biden in 2020), commentators on the network strapped on their culture-war helmets. “Don’t get involved in politics!” Jeanine Pirro urged her. “We don’t want to see you there!” Another commentator, Charly Arnolt, pleaded, “Please don’t believe everything Taylor Swift says.” Sean Hannity addressed the issue in prime time: “Maybe she wants to think twice.”
Fox’s anxiety attack follows months in which MAGA opinionators have spun baroque conspiracy theories about the power couple: that Ms. Swift and Mr. Kelce’s romance was staged; that the N.F.L. was rigging the Super Bowl for the Chiefs; and that it was all an unholy plot to supercharge an eventual Biden endorsement. The Fox host Jesse Watters even flirted with the speculation, floating the idea that Swift’s success was a psyop masterminded by the Defense Department.
In retrospect, “Paul is dead” lacked imagination.
Of course, people are entitled to their opinions on celebrity political speech or the possible existence of a secret Pentagon diva lab. But if Fox News’s hosts truly believe that it’s irresponsible and dangerous to invite celebrities to weigh in on politics, they might want to turn their attention to … Fox News.
Over the years, Fox has invited Gene Simmons, the bassist of Kiss, to talk about the handling of an Ebola outbreak. It had the fashion model Fabio on to blame crime in California on liberalism. It gave us Kid Rock on cancel culture. Last year, the actor Jim Caviezel declared Donald J. Trump “the new Moses” on “Fox & Friends.”
And let’s not forget that Fox was instrumental in the entry into politics of a certain TV celebrity, whom you might know better as the candidate Mr. Biden will likely be running against.
In March 2011, the network announced a new weekly segment on “Fox & Friends”: “Mondays With Trump.” Every week, the host of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” a frequent network guest for years, would deplore Obama Administration policies and fill in the hosts on why he’d fired the likes of Gary Busey and LaToya Jackson on that week’s episode.
Through his birtherism crusade, through his tweeting that Mr. Obama’s 2012 victory over Mitt Romney was “a total sham and a travesty,” Mr. Trump’s attachment with Fox and its audience only grew deeper.
Mr. Trump did not appeal to the Fox viewership in spite of his celebrity; he appealed, at least in part, because of his celebrity. For years, they had heard liberal speeches at the Oscars; they had been told, not least by Fox, that Hollywood celebrities disdained their beliefs. Now, here was a genuine prime-time network celebrity who spoke their language and was on their side.
It’s not simply that Fox has welcomed celebrities that aligned with its politics. (Its hosts also tend to speak well of Ronald Reagan, who knew his way around a movie set.) It has done as much as any force to celebritize conservative politics and infuse them with entertainment values.
Fox, from its earliest days under the talk-show producer turned political operative Roger Ailes, cultivated a sense of razzle-dazzle. A Fox executive once described “Fox & Friends” as “an entertainment show that does some news”; Glenn Beck, its star of the early Obama era, called his show “the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment.”
More broadly, Fox has long embraced a kind of pop-politics cultural warfare that made a martyr of Roseanne Barr and a demon of Kathy Griffin, and that encouraged its viewers to question whether their beer was too liberal. Like the right-wing publisher Andrew Breitbart (adapting an idea from the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci), it believed that politics is downstream from culture.
But it has been selective about which celebrities should stay in their lane, and which get to merge. After LeBron James criticized then-President Trump in a 2018 interview, Fox’s Laura Ingraham told him to “shut up and dribble.” The endorsements of Mr. Trump by the former quarterback Brett Favre and the golf champion Jack Nicklaus, for some reason, were unobjectionable.
Much of the criticism of Ms. Swift, meanwhile, seems tinged with condescension, suggesting that a 34-year-old female pop star is a gullible naïf, ripe for bamboozling by political operators. “Does Taylor realize the guy that they want her to endorse is a kind of stumbling, bumbling mess?” asked Mr. Hannity, raising a concern he has not voiced when interviewing, say, the right-wing rocker Ted Nugent (“never shy about sharing his opinions!”).
Do Fox’s conservatives really have anything to worry about? There’s a good argument that celebrity political endorsements are rarely meaningful. Academic researchers have postulated that Oprah’s blessing was good for a million Obama votes in 2008; then again, in 2018 Ms. Swift endorsed a Democrat in a Tennessee Senate race who lost handily. Since 2020, it’s true that her fame level has risen from “star” to “molten cosmic supercluster from which galaxies are born.” Still, it’s only a guess that her clout might translate into votes.
Another celebrity principle may apply here, however: The Streisand Effect. Just as Barbra Streisand’s attempt to suppress photos of her home only drew more attention to them, Fox’s opposition could magnify any Swift endorsement. It could even create blowback if it manages to turn the perception of the story into the G.O.P. vs. the Swifties, conservative scolds against a wildly popular millennial woman, Red America vs. “Red (Taylor’s Version)” America.
But bashing celebrities, warring over culture and playing into the fear of cultural marginalization may be too deeply wired into Fox’s sensibility for the network to do otherwise. As Ms. Swift might sing: Look what they made themselves do.