Pakistani Swifties want Taylor Swift to speak for Palestine but is it too much to ask?

Singer’s dedicated fanbase is divided over her silence on Israel’s apartheid regime

Manahil Tahira June 21, 2024

There is no denying that Taylor Swift has all the trappings of a successful musician. Subscribing to the 2024 criterion of success, she has to her credit impressive album sales, distinguished accolades, record-breaking streaming figures and an inviting cloak of rawness.

For too long, men have flaunted their (numerous) sex and love escapades as a badge of honour. But with Taylor, it is not about righting the balance of entitled debauchery. It is about embracing vulnerability.

“I first listened to Taylor Swift in 2009,” Naveen Shariff tells The Express Tribune. “I was 11 years old. I've basically grown up with her music, from playing Teardrops on my Guitar in my room in Quetta to following her easter eggs leading up to her latest album releases.”

Like many Swifties, the Red singer always meant more to Naveen than a successful musician. “She was someone to look up to, who could use words much better than I could. Someone who help me make sense of things like growing up, self-discovery, and boys.” Like many Swifties, the 26-year-old fan based in Karachi is also more than just a fan.

“I am highly disappointed in her silence as thousands of Palestinians are dying. I don't think it surprised me though.” Emotions run high in all online fan communities but Taylor’s admirers have long cultivated a reputation for being serious and too many. With the onset of Israel’s ruthless military operation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since October 7, many identities are experiencing a turnover.

“It feels so weird to consume art by a person who is so aggressively ignoring a genocide,” says Rabiya Raza, another Karachiite who brands herself a Swiftie. A dedicated fan since she was 12, Rabiya has been there to witness Taylor’s various eras and their corresponding politics evolve. “She has been a large part of my upbringing and the way that I am. She’s my number 1 artist on Spotify.”

The confessional singer

Taylor’s music embraces her love affairs, her guilt, her grievances - a genre of writing that has often been classed as confessional poetry. Confession was formally linked to poetry first in 1959 by ML Rosenthal. While the American poet and literary critic was thinking more about the intimate liberties taken by Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and John Berryman, Taylor is only one more woman to become the modern-day ultra-feminine ‘confessional singer’.

Thanks to patriarchy and market forces, confessions have been rescued from religious hysteria and rebranded as feminine hysteria - only more lucrative. The vacuous label notwithstanding, Taylor is undoubtedly the face of vulnerable artmaking today, similar to Joni Mitchell (as well as Leonard Cohen and Frank Ocean).

Yet unlike these other women and men, the Midnights singer has the benefit of a massive clout. The odds of crossing paths with disgruntled Swifties on X/Twitter are aplenty. From ‘hexing’ haters to excommunicating associates, these fandoms create meaning as much as they consume. So when well-intentioned critics or salty incels point fingers at Taylor’s alleged mediocrity or her ritualistic airing of dirty laundry, Swifties are quick to rise.

Then there is the politics. The singer-songwriter’s legal dispute with Scooter Braun in 2019, owner of her former record label, Big Machine Records, transformed both her public persona and her fandom(s). A woman protecting her first six studio albums from the invisible grab of the market is a welcome sight. From 2021 through 2023, Taylor’s decision to own what she made soon found her re-recording her early albums to phenomenal reception.

Cue 2020 and a musical docufilm on the pop star finds a home on Netflix. Among its many soundbites, Taylor as Miss Americana announces that she wants to “wear pink” and tell you how she “feels about politics”. But is the Fearless singer only fearless within the ambit of white neoliberalism?


In March, UN expert Francesca Albanese put out a statement, arguing that Israel has violated three of the five acts listed under the Genocide Convention. As the death toll crosses 37,000, the pressure against the apartheid regime too is mounting globally. #SwiftiesForPalestine and #SpeakNowTaylorSwift are some hashtags to have cropped up in solidarity with Palestinian resistance against Israel’s long-standing settler colonialism.

Remarking on the digital activism, Rabiya says, “I think the pressure by fandoms on artists is warranted to an extent because there is no way anyone has no thoughts on the matter.” Naveen echoes a similar frustration, “From what I know of the company Taylor keeps, her silence is rather confusing. Her best friend, Gigi Hadid, is a Palestinian.”

“Some of her tour staff (dancers and performers) posted in favour of Palestine which makes it even more obnoxious as to why she refuses to speak up,” she adds. Like the rest of the boycott calls in support of Palestine, consumption is a question of both ethical upkeep and defunding a genocide.

Even then, for many principled pro-Palestine Swifties, doing the ‘right thing’ is hard. “Before the situation escalated, I would only listen to Taylor Swift for months and months. But since her silence has become such an issue, I have cut it down a lot,” Rabiya explains. “Hopefully, I will cut it down a lot more. It’s not right to support someone who is not using their platform to speak up.”

Do the right thing

Perhaps, the right thing to do is to do something. Anything. Back when X was the old, familiar Twitter in 2019, a stan account with the handle @LegitTayUpdates ended up in prison for months for refusing to join the Israel Defence Forces. With a bit of stealth, the 19-year-old Swiftie was able to dispense hot updates about her favourite celebrity despite being locked up for evading the draft.

It is quite possible that the young fan’s views differ now that the fandom - and the world - must be more radically divided about Palestine. For millions of other fans, the ethical way forward is all attempts to resist their consumption of commodities - music and otherwise. To anyone who wishes to hold their once-beloved icons in this wavering, paradoxical light, one may afford the position of being a homo duplex.

Promulgated by the sociologist Émile Durkheim, the homo duplex is a “double man” with two opposing states of consciousness - one drawn to passion, the other to society. The homo duplex, the gray characters of life as we know them have long populated the best of art and literature.

But moral ambiguity is also a privilege most celebrities are disqualified to claim. With the state of liberal discourse, Taylor is possibly a “closeted” supporter of Palestine in some passionate Reddit thread. In more grounded terms, there is no being a double (wo)man for the Speak Now singer. After years of modeling herself as political, it seems that Taylor Swift has just one state of consciousness - one that seeks to protect her music at all costs. Be it from Scooter Braun or the ramifications of having a spine.

Have something to add to the story? Share it in the comments below.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ