All celebrities and politicians share at least two things in common: they are famous, and they are human.
Because they are famous, they have the collective attention of millions of people, on television screens, in the newspapers, and social media. Because they are human, they will inevitably share an opinion or two.
It is, of course, up for debate whether or not celebrities should have any sway when it comes to politics. Some believe that things like elections, for instance, should be embargoed against the influence of anyone besides the qualified; politicians, journalists and other ‘experts’. However, it is also true that in a true democracy, the opinions of everyone, including the rich and famous, are valid.
In Britain, Labour politician Tony Blair was famously led to the seat of prime minister on a wave dubbed ‘Cool Britannia’, where the success of pop stars of the time made them a source of hope for the nation, and meant that when Britpop legends Oasis expressed their support for Tony Blair – and famously attended a well-publicised party in Downing Street – this was believed to have given Blair’s career a big boost. Oasis co-frontman Noel Gallagher recently told journalists “Still to me he’s the only person when I hear him talking that makes any sense.”
Taylor Swift, whose albums have captured the hearts of millions of young people around the world, had a turbulent relationship with politics. Her involvement, at the beginning of her career, was next to none. This is believed by many to be due to the ramifications that may have been felt across her mammoth fanbase.
When the singer did voice her opinion, endorsing the Democrats in the 2018 US midterm elections, she stated: “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions. I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.” Although Swift’s endorsement of Phil Bredesen saw a surge in voter registration, ultimately he was defeated by Republican rival Marsha Blackburn.
It’s understandable why celebrities hesitate to get involved. After all, it usually goes one of two ways when they share an opinion; either they receive an overall positive swing in popularity, or they receive a negative swing and potentially this can negatively impact their career.
Take Morissey, for instance. The Smiths’ singer, who once performed the soundtrack of melancholy youths in the UK and beyond, now regularly outrages those very same fans by making public outbursts the like of which would make him a perfect spokesman for some kind of far-right party. Who would have thought that the man who wrote the lyrics “Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me / No hope but no harm / Just another false alarm”, would also make racist comments at any given opportunity?
This is also why it is important to remember how these opinions, now matter how heartfelt they may appear when given in an Instagram post or column penned for a national newspaper, can be faked.
Those tasked with generating positive (or simply controversial) coverage for a celebrity, such as PR professionals, are very aware of this fact. An opinion is not just an opinion when it is propelled to millions around the world; at that point it becomes a weapon.
Take the most recent US election, for example. Eminem’s endorsement of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, by allowing the use of his track “Lose Yourself” in a campaign video, may have had more of an impact than appears obvious, considering the record has sold at least 6 million copies in the US alone – making it Slim Shady’s third-best-selling song, just behind “Love the Way You Lie” and “Not Afraid”.
In fact, looking at the opposing candidate, the now departed Donald Trump, provides another fascinating spectacle. In both elections in which the controversial candidate ran, celebrities were roundly criticised when they expressed support, and overall, public support for Trump was rare. The likes of the hugely commercially successful Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lopez were in attendance at Joe Biden’s recent inauguration ceremony, while Lady Gaga performed the national anthem. In contrast, Trump’s 2017 swearing-in featured 3 Doors Down, Toby Keith, Big & Rich, and members of the Rockettes – you’d be forgiven for not having heard of any of them.
In the times we live in, where social media means that people are arguably more connected to celebrities’ lives than ever before, making a political opinion public can be your downfall, or your saving grace.
In the end, it is up to the electorate to decide who they listen to when it concerns their voting decisions, and who to support for the incredibly important jobs of senator, governor, or president. Like many things, the sway that famous people have on the opinions of everyone else depends on how much like everyone else they are perceived to be.