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Barbershop: Celebrities Choosing To Publicly Share Their Political Views


Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we talk to interesting people about what's in the news and what's on their minds. And today, we're going to talk about a couple of celebrities who got political this week.


KANYE WEST: You know, I love Hillary. I love everyone, right? But the campaign - I'm with her - just didn't make me feel, as a guy that didn't get to see my dad all the time, like a guy that could play catch with his son. It was something about, when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman.

MERAJI: You probably heard those comments from Kanye West in the Oval Office and the firestorm of reaction after. But Kanye wasn't the only celebrity catching heat this week. Taylor Swift was, too, for her Instagram endorsement of two Democrats running for office in Tennessee, her home state. And we've got a few people joining us to talk all about this. Tessa Stuart is a politics reporter at Rolling Stone. She's in Hudson, N.Y. Julia Craven of the HuffPost is on the line from Washington, D.C. And, last but not least, Rodney Carmichael from NPR Music is joining us via Skype from Atlanta.

Hey, everybody.



TESSA STUART: Hey, how's it going?

MERAJI: Rodney, I'm going to start with you...


MERAJI: Because I know, at some point, you were a big Kanye fan. Maybe you still are. And we know he's always been provocative. He's always been unpredictable. But this was on another level. And it was in the Oval Office. What was your reaction to what went down on Thursday?

CARMICHAEL: It was so surreal. It's like a taken out scene from "Get Out" or something. I don't know.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

CARMICHAEL: But I was a fan once upon a time. You know, this downward spiral with Kanye has been happening for a couple of years, so what happened this week, especially after the past year, was not that much of a surprise. But, as easy as it is to kind of laugh about it and imagine it as some kind of entertaining thing, I think we've got to take this seriously. I think it's really dangerous, the kind of rhetoric that he is spitting out. And I feel like, in a lot of ways, he's a reflection of Trump as a candidate in 2016. And it was really easy to laugh about him until election night, you know?

MERAJI: Julia, what do you think? I mean, is now the time to be taking Kanye seriously?

CRAVEN: Yes. If you haven't been taking Kanye seriously, you should start taking him seriously now. I agree with everything Rodney just said. This is not performance art. He's not doing this to be provocative. He's not doing this to sell albums. It's very clear - at least to me - that this is how he feels. He even said that racism wasn't a deal-breaker for him. And, as a former Kanye fan myself, that's really sad coming from the guy who said that George Bush doesn't care about black people after the fallout from Hurricane Katrina.

So I completely agree with Rodney. We need to take this seriously. This is a man who has reach. He has fans. His fans follow him. They're influenced by him. And he is supporting a president that is, arguably, just blatantly racist.

MERAJI: Tessa, I'm going to throw this next question to you. Taylor Swift also got some heated reaction to her backing two Democrats in Tennessee. For people who haven't heard, Tessa, can you tell us what happened - what she did?

STUART: On Sunday night, she posted a photograph of herself to Instagram, and in the caption, she talked about the fact that she was coming out for the first time and vocalizing her political beliefs. She endorsed two candidates in Tennessee - Phil Bredesen, who is a candidate for the Senate. He's the former governor of Tennessee. And Jim Cooper, who's sitting congressman up for re-election in November.

But the main thrust of her Instagram post was about why she's not voting for Marsha Blackburn, who's a female candidate in the race. She said she likes to support women who are running for office, but she couldn't support Marsha Blackburn because a lot of the policies that Blackburn has supported in Congress - she said they're not her Tennessee values.

MERAJI: And high-profile Republicans were not happy with her, right? Mike Huckabee tweeted something about her fans being too young to vote, so oh, well. So what? But, I mean, there was a lot of like negative reaction from high-profile Republicans.

STUART: There was a negative reaction, but it wasn't as strong as, for instance, Trump has been to criticism in the past. He said, I like Taylor's music 25 percent less now...


STUART: ...Which is really, like, not that damning of a condemnation. And Mike Huckabee said, you know, she's entitled to her political beliefs, but it's not going to matter unless 13-year-old girls are voting at Tennessee, which was very dismissive of Taylor's reach, which is a lot broader than just 13-year-old girls at this point.

MERAJI: But what about her fans who are Republicans - just regular fans, not high-profile?

STUART: Yeah. It's hard to say because the timing of this announcement was right after her "Reputation" tour ended, so we don't have a sense of whether this would impact ticket sales at this point or sales of the album. But the fans that have really been upset about this are users of the internet site 4chan, where her political silence had been viewed as an indication that she was - secretly harbored these racist views that they share. And so they had dubbed her their Aryan queen, and she kind of had become a mascot for white nationalists because she hadn't said publicly what her political views were.

MERAJI: Huh. I'm just wondering if this is a sort of celebrity scale example of how divided we are in this country right now - Democrats mad at Kanye for supporting Trump, white nationalists mad at Taylor for supporting Democrats.

CARMICHAEL: I honestly - I feel like - well, let me preface it with this. First off, as it's been said and will continue to be said, we should not be taking our political advice from entertainers. But the reality is that we do. These people are very influential. They hold huge sway over their fan base. And, a lot of times, their fan base is not as politically astute as they should be, as we should be.

But I think the only problem with this whole scenario and this dichotomy between Kanye and Taylor is that there aren't more high-profile celebrities who are engaging in the political process or willing to voice their opinion on political issues. You know, and it's interesting how, despite this being a country where we talk about how much it matters to be involved in the political process, we deem that it's bad for business to be vocal about it. And so here we are in this room where these two loud voices seem to be diametrically opposed. But I bet that it wouldn't look so split down the middle if we heard from more voices that were as high-profile as they were.

MERAJI: Julia, do you agree with that - that we need to get more celebrities talking about politics? I could hear a lot of people saying, no, no, no, no, that's exactly what we don't need.

CRAVEN: Well, obviously, like the rest of you all, as a journalist, I think anyone should be able to say anything that they want to within reason.

STUART: (Laughter).

CRAVEN: Personally, I don't care if more celebrities talk about politics or not. But I do think that with the Taylor Swift-Kanye West thing that's shockingly not a feud between the two of them this time...

STUART: Right.

CRAVEN: I think that what it shows us is just how deeply people's political views are linked to race. Because right now, Democrats - particularly black ones - are mad at Kanye because he's supporting someone who has a history of saying racist things, has a history of doing racist things. And, with Taylor Swift, people are upset with her because they thought that she was their Aryan queen or whatever that is (laughter) supposed to mean. So yeah, I think that this whole situation really shows us that we can't separate race from politics because so many voters don't do that.

MERAJI: And, Tessa, I'm wondering if people are really going to stop being fans of these musicians' work, stop being fans of their music just because they decide they're going to get into politics and because they, you know, have controversial views or if they're just going to be, like, whatever. Kanye's new album is going to be amazing. I'm going still listen to it anyway. Taylor Swift - she's poppy and great, and I love to listen to her on road trips. I don't really care if they get into politics.

STUART: What I will say about Taylor is that, for a long time, she didn't speak about her political views. And she said back in 2012 that the reason she didn't speak about her political views was because she didn't feel like she had enough life experience to - for anyone to really, like, take her advice. And she didn't want people to vote based on what she said because she didn't feel like she knew enough about it.

So I think that there is something really powerful about the fact that she is speaking up now, that she's speaking up after, you know, playing this important role in a sexual harassment lawsuit that she won last year. I think that she really has come out with her political views in a way that is powerful and is thoughtful. And I think that you have to take a holistic view when you're looking at this.

MERAJI: That was Rolling Stone reporter Tessa Stuart, Julia Craven of the HuffPost and NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael.

Thank you all for doing this.

CRAVEN: Thank you.

CARMICHAEL: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

STUART: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.