49°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Celebrity worship, politics and the power of the consumer

If you have had even a shred of internet access and follow pop culture in the slightest, you’ve probably noticed that just this past week, Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” tour premiered in theaters across the world. Dozens of iconic celebrities, including the likes of Janelle Monáe, Lupita Nyong’o, Issa Rae and—most importantly to this piece—Taylor Swift, walked the silver carpet all in support of Beyoncé and the film in London.

In addition to the premiere, the movie also began its rollout into AMC theaters across the globe. Though American fans are flocking to their local AMC theaters in their own hometowns, hoping to catch a break between holiday stress and finals, fans of Beyoncé in other regions of the world also find themselves trekking to the theater. These fans include theatergoers in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Recently, a video on TikTok has circulated of theatergoers singing along to “Break My Soul” in a theater in Tel Aviv, all the while waving around Israeli flags. (1) Tone deaf on the part of attendees, yes, but a painfully loud stance on behalf of Beyoncé, who authorized the release of the film in Israel, and its continued premiere, following the events of the past two months.

But back to Taylor. If you know me well enough, or even look back on my profile here at The Mass Media, you know that I have been an avid listener to Taylor Swift’s music. I grew up listening to her country albums, with “Speak Now” being one of my favorite albums ever, and though I fell off for a while due to a deep interest in musical theater, I found myself coming back with the release of “folklore.” She’s been my top artist on Spotify for several years with staggering amounts of minutes; I’ve bought merch from several collections—including two cardigans—and I saw her at the Eras Tour twice just this past May.

However, this does not come without the ability to critique her. For one, her carbon emissions are ridiculous, “carbon credits” or not, and she is very particular in her political involvement. In fact, prior to the release of her “Lover” album, she was relatively radio silent on her stance on politics, beyond the occasional encouragement to her audience to go vote. Though “Lover” marked an era for Swift that was pro-Democrat and incredibly anti-Trump, some may argue that all the fanfare may have been just marketing. More and more, Swift has become quieter and quieter on politics, with her current activity reverting back to the occasional retweet of a stance that impacts her and Instagram stories telling her fans to go vote.

Why do I bring this up, you may ask? Beyond the fact that both Swift and Beyoncé have been seen at each other’s movie premieres over the past few months, the two share another thing in common: Their current devotion to capitalism and corporate gain over the people behind the cash.

Now, before the Swifties or the Beyhive come at me, I respect both of them as artists and understand they’ve written political pieces in the past. I enjoy their music, trust me. However, my issue comes not with their music, or their talents, but with the platform they have. Like Beyoncé, Swift has also continued to show her film in Israel despite the deaths and atrocities, the Israeli news presenting the showing as something of a “relief” for fans, as told by the Jerusalem Post. (2)

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to Taylor Swift or Beyoncé. Truthfully, I really only picked them because they have net worths I couldn’t even begin to comprehend, and my voice here as a student journalist won’t even begin to enter their stratosphere. I could have just as easily talked about “Stranger Things” and Noah Schnapp claiming “Zionism is Sexy,” or the thousands of other celebrities that remain silent or steadfast in their stance (looking at you, Amy Schumer).

But why should celebrities care about these sorts of things? After all, they usually aren’t the ones on the ground protesting, nor are they the ones impacted. They aren’t activists, they’re performers. Their lives, more often than not, are incredibly far removed from the ones we live, so why should we expect them to care about what’s happening in Palestine or Congo or Sudan or anywhere else in the world?

That can be an easy excuse to blindly keep following a musician, but it’s impractical. As I said, I like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift’s music, but turning on my blinders does me no good. In the age of social media—especially one where celebrities like Melissa Barrera are being fired for speaking up in support of Palestine on their personal social media accounts—blindly supporting celebrities who remain silent or continue to support the death of over 15,000 people is asinine.

Likewise, if celebrities want to build a brand—even temporarily—on politics and human rights issues, they should uphold that brand to the best of their capability. Human rights issues don’t stop just because the next movie or album is released. Just because their world keeps moving, doesn’t mean everyone else’s does.

Like it or not, one post from a celebrity with as much power as Taylor Swift or Beyoncé can shift things beyond human comprehension. If a simple post can drive up voter registration—such as the impact of Swift’s post on Sept. 19 encouraging her followers to go out and register to vote, which sparked an increase in over 35,000 new voters, as explained by NPR (3)—one commenting on the current situation could turn the tides entirely.

But to expect this would be incredibly hopeful, especially from celebrities like Swift or Beyoncé. At the end of the day, despite what they claim, they are too far removed to be aware of the concerns of the common person, even if those common people are being bombed for weeks on end. However, we as consumers hold a power greater than we know. Being conscious about where our money is going is the best choice we can make in a consumer economy. Whether that be merch for celebrities, brands with morals that don’t align with ours or anything else that may arise.

There is a common saying around young people that there is “no ethical consumption under capitalism.” And while that is true to an extent, there can be ethical consumption. There have been over 300 celebrities—344, to be exact—that have signed the Artists4Ceasefire list, ranging from actors to musicians to writers. (4) However, though this list is a good starting place, it’s not to be taken as the gospel truth, as many people on this list have either switched sides from the letter in support of President Biden’s stance in Israel or made lukewarm statements.

That said, there are still some great artists on the list, and some that aren’t on the list but have been advocating on their pages. My second-highest streamed Spotify artist, Lucy Dacus, has been posting information on her story regularly, as well as having a link in her Instagram bio to provide humanitarian aid. Though this isn’t perfect, the Artists4Ceasefire list has given me some new artists to check out too!

Celebrities are not gods, and at the end of the day, they only have their platforms because we as consumers gave them to them. We can’t change their minds, but we can change how we spend our money. Rather than buy another version of “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” (because seriously, who needs five copies of the same album?) or a sweatshirt from a merch store that’ll disintegrate in three washes, we could put our money and mental energy into artists that display morals that align with ours.

  1. https://www.tiktok.com/@adifridland/video/7307774277686807810
  2. https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/culture/article-771845
  3. https://www.npr.org/2023/09/22/1201183160/taylor-swift-instagram-voter-registration
About the Contributor
Katrina Sanville, Editor-In-Chief