Fellas, is it gay to date a beautiful woman? What about if she’s also arguably the most famous woman in the world, known for being beautiful, and is a billionaire to boot?
This nonsensical line of reasoning is one of many ways in which the US right is absolutely losing its mind over the fact that Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is in a relationship with the singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, who regularly turns up to watch him play.
Right wing influencers have been posting videos asking why any red-blooded American male would want to date a woman as old as 34 (Kelce himself is also 34) when teenagers are available, suggesting that the only possible explanation for Kelce’s apparent interest in Swift is that he’s covering up the fact that he’s gay.
That’s just the shallow end of the crazy, however – it has been suggested by the tinfoil helmet brigade that the relationship is a “deep state op” by a coalition of Nato, the Democratic Party and possibly also the World Economic Forum. Some are claiming that when Kanye West – who famously interrupted a Swift acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards – had his various public breakdowns it was just part of his effort to warn of the plot.
But the lunatic conspiracy theory is not confined to the fringes of social media. Fox News has questioned whether this year’s NFL playoffs were rigged so that Kelce’s team would play at the Super Bowl – suggesting it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t fixed, despite the Chiefs winning the big game as recently as 2020, when Donald Trump was president, and being losing finalists a year later.
So intense is the furore that Fox presenters are turning on American football itself, despite it being far and away the nation’s biggest sporting obsession. “So sad,” concluded one anchor. “Just imagine for a moment if people were as dedicated to Jesus as they are to professional sports.”
What may be driving all this is that Trump himself, according to Rolling Stone, is furious at the combination of Swift’s popularity and the fact she will probably endorse Joe Biden at some time this year, and is said to be contemplating a war between her fans and his own. With typical modesty, claims the magazine, the former president has told his inner circle that he is “more popular” than Swift, that he has more committed fans than she does, and that he, not she, should have been named Time magazine’s 2023 Person of the Year.
Before anything else, we should note that this is at least a refreshing departure from politics-as-usual, in which politicians are usually desperate to try to find pop culture figures willing to associate themselves with them – we need think back no further than the toe-curling “Cool Britannia” era of New Labour to remember quite how awful that can be.
So this is something new, and it’s something particularly strange, as there is almost no imaginable power couple that would be more all-American than Swift and Kelce. NFL is hardly the pursuit of effete coastal elites, and Kelce plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, who are based in the Midwest state of Missouri – classic middle America. He is not even a transplant to the Midwest, either – he was born in Ohio.
Taylor Swift might at first seem an easier target as an out-of-touch elite, but her history doesn’t really gel with that. Yes, she was born in Pennsylvania, which is more-or-less a coastal state, but she moved to Nashville as a child as part of her efforts to make it as a country music singer.
Swift might have transitioned across multiple genres during her career, but she indisputably came to fame through the Nashville country scene – again, about as “real America” as it gets. Beyond that, Swift is arguably the world’s poster girl for capitalism, making no effort to hide her business acumen and her control over her image and her income.
For most of her career, Swift has been almost aggressively apolitical – probably correctly deducing that it could only bring her headaches – until an obvious personal belief about reproductive rights, and concerns about Donald Trump, led her to relatively quietly endorse Joe Biden in 2020. She is hardly a relentless campaigner on liberal causes: the Dixie Chicks she ain’t.
In other words, it is a sign of just how profoundly the US right has imploded that they’re unable to claim the coupling of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce as a triumph for their side, for what real America is about and what real American values look like. Even if they were all that worried about her endorsement going to Biden, the trick would have been to grin and bear it, and say that life for Swift and Kelce (and their fans) would be better under your party.
Instead, Trump and his mad menagerie are declaring war on two of the human embodiments of American pastimes, a couple vastly more popular and probably more trusted than anyone in politics. It will not end well.
The problem for Donald Trump supporters who might start badmouthing Taylor Swift is that they will find opposition much closer to home than they might be used to: lots of Trump supporters are – as they endlessly feel a need to mention – fathers of daughters.
Swift obviously has no shortage of casual supporters, but she also has an army of extremely intense and devoted fans, many of whom live in red states with red families. It is not clear whether some of Trump’s supporters know what they’re letting themselves in for in terms of a war at home.
If left alone, Swift would probably have made at most a minimal impact on this year’s election race. Yes, she may well have endorsed Joe Biden, but despite what the various “deep state” fantasists believed, she wasn’t going to do so through a huge half-time Super Bowl gig, laden with subliminal messages.
Republicans are at risk of positioning themselves as being in opposition to America’s favourite sport and America’s favourite singer, all at the same time. Given that they’re still supposed to be the party of flag and family, one is almost tempted to ask which flag and what kind of families, if they’re now opposed to even heterosexual relationships between Americans of the same race. Is all it takes to cancel a whole sport for a vaguely liberal singer to get into a relationship with one of its star players? If so, baseball and basketball – America’s last two Republican bastions, apparently – are surely counting their remaining days.
The biggest risk of all to the Republicans, of course, is that all of this clamour leads to Taylor Swift herself becoming political – as she’s got almost all the traits America adores in its presidents. She’s attractive, she’s tall (Swift is almost exactly the same height as Joe Biden), she’s rich and she’s a successful businesswoman. America has elected two presidents from the entertainment sector: Trump was a reality TV star above all else, and Ronald Reagan was a successful actor. Perhaps next it could elect a singer?
After all, by the time of the 2028 election Taylor Swift will be old enough to mount a presidential run, should she so wish – the minimum age requirement for the job laid out in the constitution is 35. Her fanbase gives her a potential activist infrastructure that established candidates could only dream of. She’s got plenty of money to put into a run and could easily find more.
Given all that, perhaps the Republicans should have another think about this one and decide whether they really want to turn this election into Donald Trump versus Taylor Swift – as even in his wildest dreams, Trump would not emerge the victor should they have bad blood.