These 5 Pop Stars Have Mastered the Art of Talking About Politics—By Saying Absolutely Nothing
Harry Styles and Lana Del Rey gave us some dizzying political word salad last week.
We've gotten so used to our biggest pop stars making political statements that when they don't speak out, something seems off. Unless someone really steps into polarizing territory, the blowback won't be enough to sink them. Remember when Beyoncé's incendiary halftime performance was going to inspire a legitimate boycott and harm her ticket sales? Of course not—instead, she turned the whole gambit into some awesome merch and notched the second-highest grossing tour of 2016.
But even after one of the most unpopular openings to an American presidency, some of the most visible faces in music are still hesitant to fully plant their flag. Sure, no artist is obligated to publicly state their views—and if they aren't well-studied on the issues, speaking out can sometimes do more harm than good. But when even The Chainsmokers know something's up with this Donald Trump guy ... we can take an artist's silence and run with it.
Last week, two pop stars dodged political questions with dizzying word salad about "several different things" going on in the world and "what a lot of different people are saying" about them (from Harry Styles and Lana Del Rey, respectively). Translation: "I really, really, really don't want to alienate any fans, please don't leave me." In honor of their profound commentary, we looked for other big stars who've decided to keep mum on all of those things going on that people are talking about.
In an interview last week with the New York Times, our favorite boy band expat / rock and roll savior was asked how, if at all, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, and the rise of Donald Trump factored into his new album. This was his response:
We’re in a difficult time, and I think we’ve been in many difficult times before. But we happen to be in a time where things happening around the world are absolutely impossible to ignore. I think it would’ve been strange to not acknowledge what was going on at all. For example, “Sign of the Times,” for me, it’s looking at several different things. That’s me commenting on different things.
What kinds of things?
Everything you were talking about — just the state of the world at the moment. It’s very much me looking at that. It’s a time when it’s very easy to feel incredibly sad about a lot of things. It’s also nice sometimes to remember that while there’s a lot of bad stuff, there’s also a lot of amazing people doing amazing things in the world.
Ah yes, all the difficult times, different things, bad stuff, but also amazing things. Thanks, Harry! To be fair, he recently had some worthwhile and assured things to say about his young, female fanbase.
Lana Del Rey
Earlier that same day, Elle U.K. published excerpts from a new cover story with Lana Del Rey. Instead of just acknowledging the different things, she at least seems to sympathize and align herself with people who are saying the different things:
“I think it would be weird to be making a record during the past 18 months and not comment on how [the political landscape] was making me or the people I know feel, which is not good. It would be really difficult if my views didn’t line up with what a lot of what people are saying.”
After SPIN recapped the interview about nothing, Lana delivered the best interview of her career by sliding in their DMs with a nice "go fuck yourself." Now that's our idea of candid. Yesterday, she released a solid new song about grappling with what a lot of people are saying and nuclear war while dancing around at Coachella.
Ah Taylor, the queen of offending no one and everyone simultaneously. She had something of a rough summer last year, after Kim Kardashian-West brought the receipts and revealed that Taylor was in fact cool with the "Famous" verse. So maybe keeping quiet about the election was a calculated effort—not to frustrate any more fans once her squeaky-clean reputation started to take some hits. It was consistent with her past apolitical tendencies. In a 2012 interview, she explained her hesitance to open up on the big issues: "I don’t talk about politics because it might influence other people. And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for."
But as Kelsey McKinney pointed out on our sister site Fusion last year, Swift's refusal to condemn a candidate who bragged on tape about groping and harassing women was concerning. "Her reticence should be controversial. To remain silent is to remain complicit in every hateful statement, every reminder that a man with power and fame can—as Trump said this weekend—'do whatever he wants,'" she wrote. Swift's silence clashed strongly with her ongoing brand of big-tent squad feminism, and this vague "go out and VOTE" Election Day post certainly didn't clarify matters.
In his quest to become every suburban mom's favorite artist, Bruno will accept every award show invite, and keeps deliberately quiet on all political issues. New York magazine points to a website called "Hollowverse" that attempts to take down the apolitical Mars: "The total lack of information regarding Bruno Mars’ religion and political beliefs is so staggering, that one speculates that Mars completely lacks depth and maybe even intelligence." But I say it's a savvy approach: By not even dipping his toes into vague message-making, he deflects any responsibility that we might assign to someone like Swift for going halfway. And hey, he knew to stay away from the Inauguration.
A ripe, young 17-year-old Biebs once ventured into politics during a Rolling Stone interview and ended up ... a bit over his head:
He isn't sure what political party he'd support if he was old enough to vote. "I'm not sure about the parties," Bieber says. "But whatever they have in Korea, that's bad." He does have a solid opinion on abortion. "I really don't believe in abortion," Bieber says. "It's like killing a baby." How about in cases of rape? "Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don't know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that."
EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON? Dude, that's what you say when your middle school sweetheart breaks your heart—not when you're talking about restricting sexual assault survivors' right to choose. Luckily, Bieber has mostly kept quiet in the years since this misfire, letting subtle choices speak for themselves.