Celebrities – singers, actors, models, athletes – are they really just that and nothing more? Or are politics and fame so intertwined that the actions of any celebrity will inevitably be politicized into some powerful message showcasing the individual’s underlying beliefs and interests? As much as we may want to disregard the political opinions of our favorite celebrities, their fame provides an outlet of expression which includes their right to promote values or address concerns. Inevitably, celebrities with substantial fame will have a supportive fan base who will at least hear, if not support, the messages they choose to spread. Singers specifically – with audiences that are often children and teens – have a responsibility that what they convey both in and out of their songs betters the lives of their audiences and the state of the world. Such a task is not easy but can be done, as is demonstrated by how various singers have capitalized on their fame to create social movements that either advance their own political motives or simply spread positive messages to a young and vulnerable generation.
Taylor Swift: Human Rights First
For years, Taylor Swift has seemed to keep her image emphatically apolitical and non-controversial. However, as fans may have noticed, much has changed about her demeanor and motives over the past few years as she has struggled to reinvent herself. During this journey, Swift decided to offer her political opinions to the world for the first time leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. Through a series of Instagram posts leading up to election day, Swift was able to express her thoughts to her millions of followers: “…in the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life…I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country…please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state…happy voting!” In this political debut, she went on to emphasize her passions for LGBTQ equality and the fight against systemic racism as well as express her own opinions about Tennessee Senate candidates. She followed up this first post with a series of small reminders about voting information, thus sparking her political journey.
Since then, Swift’s actions have been getting bigger. In June of this year, she released her single “You Need to Calm Down” which immediately topped the charts around the world. The song addresses themes of homophobia and LGBTQ oppression and is accompanied by a music video starring queer singers, actors, and entertainers. Intentionally released during Pride Month, Swift concludes the music video with a simple message: “Let’s show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally. Please sign my petition for Senate support of the Equality Act on Change.org.” Through using her music and Instagram following as a political force, Swift is slowly and steadily working towards her goal of 1,000,000 signatures on her petition for the Equality Act, a document that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federal protections. Beyond her personal donation of $113,000 to the Tennessee LGBTQ Rights Organization, Swift’s recent actions have turned her into an incredible force in the advancement of human rights.
Shawn Mendes: You Can Do It All
On August 28, 2019, Shawn Mendes took to social media to announce his next big project, The Shawn Mendes Foundation, explaining: “For a long time, I’ve wanted to find a way to amplify the causes that my fans care deeply about and to further make their voices heard. Our generation has the power to change the future of our planet.” His goal was to team up with his fanbase as well as with numerous charities in order to create a platform that would inspire positive change and empower youth. Among the SMF partnerships include SickKicks, a children’s healthcare institution, REVERB, a nonprofit that works with the music industry to promote environmental action, and March for our Lives, a national youth movement fighting for gun control.
Mendes’s very generalized mission successfully caters to a wide audience and represents the interests of many different groups, allowing for widespread support. In fact, the SMF has already raised $1 million in partnerships and donations that will go towards the causes it promotes. They have already made progress on numerous issues including reducing the usage of disposable plastic water bottles, building schools in Africa, and sending positive notes to over 55,000 people online. His political message emphasizes community; together, we can work to accomplish all of our goals and create a better world.
John Lennon: Rock Star Turned Peace Activist
John Lennon is proof that the extraordinary extent to which a public figure can politically influence their community is not a recent phenomenon. A founding member of the Beatles in 1960, Lennon was a guitarist and singer for the band for nearly ten years before choosing to separate in September of 1969 in order to write his own music and expand on his personal identity. This gave Lennon the freedom to delve into the world of political activism, where he took specific interests in peace, human rights, and protests of the Vietnam War. He immediately embraced a radical leftist position that included opposition to the US participation of continued warfare and brutality in Vietnam. His first solo single, “Give Peace a Chance”, was released in 1969 and quickly became a universal anti-war anthem, emphasizing the message of the chorus: all we are saying is give peace a chance. Additionally, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono staged two week-long Bed-Ins for Peace, simple actions during which they would stay in their rooms, that were intended to be non-violent protests of the war. “Give Peace a Chance” was recorded during a Bed-In in Montreal. While this passivity might raise questions as to Lennon’s success, in November of 1969, nearly half a million people at a peace rally in Washington, D.C. joined singer Pete Seeger in singing “Give Peace a Chance”, a song that was now famously recognized and associated with the peace movement.
A self-declared pacifist, Lennon’s legacy after his death in 1980 was simply one of harmony and non-aggression. He recognized the immense global influence that his music granted him and once stated: “What we’re really doing is sending out a message to the world, mainly to the youth…or anybody, really, that’s interested in protesting for peace or protesting against any forms of violence…there’s many ways of protest, and this is one of them.”
Although he started his career as a singer, Lennon accomplished much more than just writing songs. He instigated a global peace movement and inspired the world to look in a new direction and embrace one another. After his death, Yoko Ono in collaboration with the Hard Rock cafe started the “Imagine There’s No Hunger Fund”, where all profits go towards fighting hunger and poverty around the world. Lennon’s political efforts during his lifetime and those that live on in his legacy are clear indications that he did not take his position for granted, but rather was able to recognize the political force attached with fame in all forms.
Along with fame and power comes responsibility; it is crucial to acknowledge the political voice that celebrities have along with their implicit duty to take advantage of that voice and use their powers for good. In today’s highly modernized world, it’s as easy as the click of a button for any celebrity to start a movement or inspire millions. By utilizing their power, celebrities have the chance to act as a model of the type of progress they want to see in the world. It is not just politicians who have a political responsibility – singers do, celebrities do, and all of us do – to take a stand for our values and be the change we wish to see in the world.