Viewers of Rep. Eric Swalwell’s (D-Calif.) latest campaign video might be greeted with a familiar tune. Scored by Taylor Swift’s “Only the Young,” Swalwell’s advertisement marks the first time the pop music icon has lent one of her songs to a political promotion.
In the final days of the election, the two-minute video urges Generation Z and Millennial voters to hit the polls, reiterating Swift’s lyrics, “Only one thing can save us. Only the young.” Ultimately campaigning for former Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, the advertisement features footage of protests from the Black Lives Matter movement, the #MeToo movement and Pride parades.
The video follows closely with the narrative presented in Swift’s lyrics, which she wrote following the 2018 midterm elections. As photos of President Donald Trump and his administration flash across the screen, Swift sings, “The big bad man and his big bad clan… They aren’t going to help us... They aren’t gonna to change this. We gotta do it ourselves.” The mood then shifts as Swift sings the refrain, juxtaposing images of Biden, Harris, protestors and young voters to drive home that “only the young” can bring change. The advertisement closes with a stream of hashtags such as #EndGunViolence, #ClimateChangeIsReal, and #BlueWave2020, ending with a fullscreen #VOTE.
The advertisement has since garnered support on Twitter from many politicians and celebrities including Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mark Ruffalo and even Kamala Harris herself, who wrote, “Thank you @TaylorSwift13 and my friend @EricSwalwell for showing young people what’s at stake in this election.” The original post has amassed 47,200 retweets and 124,600 likes since its publication on Oct. 30.
Swift’s participation in Swalwell’s advertisement followed a long season of her own political activism. In recent months, she’s taken to various social media sites to share her beliefs and encourage her fans to vote. In an Oct. 7 Instagram post, Swift directed her 140 million followers to an interview she did with V Magazine in which she talked about “why I’ll be voting for Joe Biden for president,” and also showed off her custom Biden-Harris 2020 cookies.
Political advocacy was not always part of Swift’s public image. Until fairly recently, Swift chose to keep her political views private, but she broke her silence in 2018 in response to the March for our Lives campaign. Later that year, she took to Instagram to endorse political candidates for the first time. As a resident of Tennessee, Swift shared her support for two Democratic candidates running for Senate and for the House of Representatives.
“In the past, I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” Swift wrote, explaining her endorsement. “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”
“Only the Young” made its debut in Swift’s “Miss Americana” documentary, which premiered on Netflix in January 2020. In the film, Swift discusses her previous apoliticism and explains why she is now so vocal. After unpacking the backlash she received for staying silent during the 2016 presidential election, Swift opened up tough talks she’s had with her management team and her ultimate decision to speak out.
“I need to be on the right side of history,” Swift said.
Since then, Swift has actively supported LGBTQ+ rights. In 2019, she created a petition in support of the Equality Act and shared it on social media. It now boasts over 800,000 signatures. In conjunction with the petition, Swift shared a letter she wrote to her senator urging him to support the act, and she encouraged her followers to do the same. Later that year, Swift also released her single “You Need to Calm Down” in celebration of Pride Month, writing lyrics that supported the LGBTQ+ community and promoted GLAAD.
In the past, Swift’s public political declarations have had a significant influence. In 2018, after she encouraged her Instagram followers to register to vote via vote.org, the website recorded 166,000 new voters -- 42% of them being between the ages of 18 to 24.
Swift’s growing participation in politics has not gone unnoticed by her many fans. Annie Nguyen, a junior majoring in journalism and long-time Swiftie, was “very excited” by Swift’s increasing political engagement.
“I definitely respect her more since she’s got more politically active because I think her fan base is… a lot more diverse than people would think,” Ngyuen said. “Growing up, my perception of was ‘Oh, upper middle class white girls listen to her.’”
Nguyen also supported Swift’s blatantly political lyrics, saying that songs like “You Need to Calm Down” serve as validation for many of her fans.
“As a fan, I just felt more seen because it was an explicit, ‘If you’re queer, you’re okay,’” Nguyen said.
Another example of this musical advocacy, “Only the Young” allowed Swift to combine her musical talents and her political passions. By allowing the song to be featured in Swalwell’s advertisement, Swift continued her journey as a political activist and encouraged her fans to stay educated, engaged and vocal.
“You’ve marched for four years,” the advertisement said in its final clips. “Now it’s time to run.”