WHEN Taylor Swift announced via Instagram this week that she’d be voting for the Democratic candidate in her home state of Tennessee in upcoming midterm elections, she was in equal parts applauded and criticised for having “broken her political silence”.

Following a 12-year career in which she has tirelessly dodged questions about her political allegiances and remained doggedly neutral, many were quick to point out this shift to a new, political age in her trajectory. “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions,” said Swift herself. “But due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.”

What this framing of a newly politicised Taylor Swift fails to acknowledge, though, is that committed apoliticism is necessarily a political position in itself.

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Whether through commercial savvy, privileged ignorance, or even just sheer exhaustion at the state of the world, the uncomfortable truth is that to count yourself out of politics is to count yourself in to the political status quo.

When I graduated in 2014 I spent a year as vice-president of the students’ association at Edinburgh University, a union known at that time for being overtly political and engaging in wider campaigns around tuition fees, Palestinian solidarity and more alongside the everyday work of operating bars, hosting student societies and putting on club nights. Despite the history of student unions being one of collective activism and speaking truth to power, this campaigning activity took place against a backdrop of much annoyance from many a privately educated white boy who wished we would just stick to tequila shots and careers fairs instead of lobbying on issues of equality and inclusion. Such objections never came from BME, working class or LGBT students, or any others who were acutely aware that their safety, wellbeing and access to this space sat constantly on a political knife-edge which could turn at any moment.

The reason for this is that the world looks different once you’ve switched on the political floodlights and allowed them to bring into view the way in which decisions by those in power shape everything around you. If you’re going to be fine no matter what those decisions are, then maybe you’ll get through life never having to flick that switch. But if your life is one of constant diversions, roadblocks, dead ends and hairpin turns then you have no choice but to keep the lights on.

In Taylor Swift’s case, apoliticism has been a politically savvy choice available to her because both she and the conservative Christian right-leaning audience she initially cultivated were doing just fine by the status quo, and convenient to her because it didn’t alienate them. It’s not as if the issue never came up: Asked on various occasions throughout the first decade of her career about her political roots and voting intentions, Swift would repeatedly emphasise that her job was to play music and not politics, and that she didn’t want to influence anyone with her own opinions.

These are perfectly fair defences from a young woman who may very well still have been figuring out her own feelings and who never signed up to be a political ambassador – but they’d be easier to swallow if they weren’t accompanied by lyrics which drew explicitly on conservative “family values” (much of Swift’s early work is explicitly religious and her 2008 hit Love Story includes an entire bridge about a boyfriend asking her father for permission to marry her) and an image which seemed at times purposely designed to lead to the assumption, made by many in 2016, that Swift was a Republican and potentially a Trump voter.

Fast forward 10 years and Swift has undergone something of a transformation, shapeshifting from a doe-eyed, bible-quoting country singer to a fully fledged popstar. With it comes a new, potentially more progressive and diverse pop audience who have grown up with other icons such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Little Mix singing explicitly about progressive values, diversity and inclusion, and nailing their colours to the mast politically.

Even those who have taken a different political route have made their stance known loud and clear, as illustrated most viscerally by Kanye West’s remarkable press conference in the Oval office this week, during which he donned a “Make America Great Again” hat as he addressed Trump directly with praise and gratitude. Kanye’s political journey has been jarring for many who remember early work which referenced slavery and enduring racial inequality, and his calling out of George W Bush after Hurricane Katrina – but perhaps the biggest difference between him and Swift is that he never had the privilege to be all things to all people.

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Of course, Swift is right to point out that “events in… the world in the last two years” have been unprecedented. A lurch towards extremism has left those who have traditionally sat serenely on the fence or played both sides with few places left to hide. While political neutrality has always been flagrantly political, it now feels flagrantly cruel to boot.

Celebrities have no duty to be political flagbearers, and in many cases – hello again, Kanye – we’d probably be grateful if they weren’t. But they also have immense power over their often impressionable audiences: Official figures, for example, showed a spike in voter registration following Swift’s Instagram post. It’s fortunate for Swift that her undoubtedly sincerely held views also operate as a viable commercial decision, and it’s fortunate for us that she’s come down on the side which most of us would consider to be the correct one.

But whether or not you have a multi-million dollar brand to contend with, saying nothing still says a lot. In these fractured political times,

apoliticism is a more brazenly political stance than ever. Whether out of conscience or commercialism – or, as I suspect, a combination of both – Swift has taught her audience that implicitly supporting the status quo with your silence simply won’t cut it anymore. It’s a lesson that deserves to resonate far beyond her own fanbase.