Taylor Swift, QAnon, and the Political Weaponization of Fandom

Taylor Swift remains inescapable. Tales of her reign are legion, as are her fans. Next to Beyoncé, her power and influence have reached heights so unbridled it’s almost unfathomable. Her Eras Tour made nearly a billion dollars in 2023, and the concert film of that tour has brought in nearly $250 million worldwide. When rumors started swirling in the fall that she was dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, they upended American football. Still, when Time named her Person of the Year, conspiracy theorists saw only one explanation. They allege Swift is a psyop.

If you’ve lived on the internet long enough, you will have heard this kind of thing before. Back in 2016, when she was largely apolitical in her public life, Swift was a hero of the so-called alt-right who some believed was actually red-pilling America to further a racist, conservative agenda. When she piped up about politics in 2018, some people online (somewhat jokingly) theorized she’d been replaced by an NPC. The latest twist? “The regime has plans to weaponize her just in time for 2024,” the @EndWokeness account posted on X Wednesday, adding that if you didn’t find this plausible “you clearly have not been paying attention.”

@EndWokeness has 1.9 million followers, and, as of Monday morning, the post had more than 788,000 views. On Telegram, a QAnon influencer account posted that “we need to wake the next generation up to the occult forces colluding with their favorite celebrities.” Right-wing commentator Jack Posobiec posted on X that “the Taylor Swift girlboss psyop has been fully activated.”

Last week’s Person of the Year honor was also followed by resurfaced allegations that Swift is performing witchcraft to further her success and that the left is using her to influence the 2024 US presidential election. Stephen Miller, a senior adviser during Donald Trump’s presidency, posted a message on X saying that “what’s happening with Taylor Swift is not organic.”

All of this happened the same week WIRED reporter David Gilbert published an investigation into a pro-Russia campaign that used fake Swift quotes in a series of Facebook and X posts attempting to seed anti-Ukraine sentiment, reinforcing—in a totally different way—that celebrity is a powerful tool for manipulation. A few days later, Microsoft researchers revealed a similar effort by an unknown Russian group to alter Cameo videos by celebs like Elijah Wood and Mike Tyson to make it look like they were being critical of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Swift exists as a unique example of the intersection of celebrity and politics, and how it operates globally, says Jonathan Dean, a professor of politics at the University of Leeds. “An important feature of culture and politics over the past 10 years, certainly in the UK and the US and I think probably more broadly as well, is that there’s been a significant convergence in the grammar and style and mode, if you like, of pop culture fandom and political citizenship,” he says, referencing the similar ways fandoms and political parties can operate. “Taylor Swift is interesting in that sense because I think she’s a real embodiment of those convergences.”