GOOD

Welcome to Swiftopia

If real change requires critical mass, pop star Taylor Swift has that on lockdown.

The youth of America has always been, in part, raised by its idols. We mark the passage of time with songs and films. In our restless years we’re more inclined to heed the words of our favorite artists than those of our parents. Today, there is no one more influential in shaping the collective social consciousness than the biggest star in the world: Taylor Swift.

Dismiss her at your own peril because, over the course of her career, Swift has redefined the job description of pop star into committed philanthropist with a progressive social agenda. She represents not only the most effective and sustainable business model in music, but the new archetype of superstardom, one in which speaking out and giving back will become the expectation instead of the exception.


You’d be forgiven for not taking Swift’s ascent to power seriously because we’re only just now being trained to see its effects. It used to be that our most galvanizing activist entertainers whipped up the masses through protest songs, massively organized demonstrations, and divisive public acts. We identify our demi-saints and firebrands by the grandeur of their activism or the number of powerful people they manage to piss off. Nina Simone sang out about racial inequality. Bob Dylan was the poet of the anti-war movement. Madonna sexually liberated popular culture. And Bono—well, Bono has been trying, almost single-handedly, to save the world for years.

But rather than sponsor a Live Aid concert or spearhead a charity anthem featuring a cohort of British musical legends, the 26-year-old Swift has executed a slow-burn campaign of social awakening, a kind of conscientiousness by inception, defined by almost compulsive beneficence and a narrative of female empowerment embedded in everything she does and says. And while her music is apolitical and often desexualized, her entire ethos is an inherently political act. She doesn’t just take the stage, she strides forward, owning her art and enjoying her success every single time she accepts a new award—which is often. That behavior has the potential for lasting impact on her young female fans. She may not have her own version of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan or an incendiary “Like a Virgin” MTV moment, but Swift celebrates all that she has amassed for herself by sharing that success with others.

She has been DoSomething.org’s most charitable celebrity in the world for four straight years. In 2013, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened its Taylor Swift Education Center after she signed over a $4 million endowment. In addition to supporting many organized causes like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Swift also writes a lot of personal checks, like the $50,000 she gave to a leukemia patient’s GoFundMe page or the $250,000 she delivered to industry colleague Kesha to help with legal bills. And then there’s Swiftmas, when she roots out superfans on social media so she can send them elaborate, personalized Christmas packages.

The way Swift utilizes Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram to affect change is a compelling indicator that good-doing is shifting away from the old, Bono-style version of extravaganza activism. With a cross-platform social media following in the hundreds of millions, Swift can infiltrate the conversations of her fans on a one-to-one level while exerting the kind of power that extends into the real world. She used her Tumblr account, for instance, to censure Apple for shortchanging artists on its music streaming service, spurring the company to publicly apologize and change its operating policy. And now, one year after Swift issued her Tumblr spanking, she’s become a promotional centerpiece for Apple Music—the very platform she threatened to boycott if Cupertino didn’t pay songwriters their fair share. Yes-please-thank-you, Ms. Swift.

But here’s the really good news: This tactic of living the message is becoming standard practice beyond Swift. Real change requires critical mass, and the community of high-profile models, writers, and performers that have sprung up around Swift reinforces the fact that to be relevant and responsible in the social media-fueled ouroboros of fans and idols, you must also stand for something bigger than yourself. As Swift’s fanbase grows with her, they will mature into the next set of power brokers in business, politics, human rights activism, environmental policy, and so on, and they will have done so with a sorority of cultural tastemakers telling them that standing for something isn’t just what’s right. It’s what’s expected.

Articles

The global climate change strikes on Friday are said to have been the largest protest for climate change in history. An estimated four million people participated in 2,500 events across 163 countries on all seven continents. That included an estimated 300,000 Australians, but a total of zero were in Hyde Park in Sydney, despite a viral photo that claims otherwise.

Australian Youth Coal Coalition, a pro-coal Facebook page, posted a photo showing trash strewn across a park after what appears to have been a large event. "Look at the mess today's climate protesters left behind in beautiful Hyde Park," the photo was captioned. "So much plastic. So much landfill. So sad." The only problem is, the photo wasn't taken after a climate change protest. It wasn't even taken in Australia.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via GOOD / YouTube

Last Friday, millions of people in 150 countries across the globe took to the streets to urge world leaders to enact dramatic solutions to combat climate change.

The Climate Strike was inspired, in part, by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who has captured worldwide attention for her tireless work to hold lawmakers responsible for the climate crisis.

The strike gave people across the planet the opportunity to make their voices heard before the U.N. General Assembly Climate Summit in New York City on Monday.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

As world leaders meet to discuss new ways to tackle climate change at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, they might miss one very big part of healing nature – nature. In a new short film, youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian, talked about how we need to use nature as a solution to climate change.

There's a huge push to curb emissions, but it's not the be all end all of handling climate change; we also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While we don't have technology to do that for us, there is another solution. "There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It's called a tree," Monboit says in the film. Researchers found that we could get rid of two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that we've emitted during the industrial era just by growing trees. That amounts to 205 billion tons of carbon. Right now, deforestation of tropical forests is responsible for 20% of current greenhouse emissions.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Climate Action Tracker

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change by taking action to curb the increase in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and what steps they're taking to implement those plans. Now that the countries are coming together again for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, it's worth taking a look at what kind of progress they've made.

The Climate Action Trackerkeeps tabs on what each country is doing to limit warming, and if they're meeting their self-set goals. Countries are graded based on whether or not their actions would help limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

According to a recent article from National Geographic, The Gambia, Morocco, and India are at the head of the class. "Even though carbon emissions in The Gambia, Morocco, and India are expected to rise, they'll fall short of exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius limit," the article reads. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, on the other hand, get a big fat F. "Projected emissions in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States are far greater than what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Screenshot via Sweden.se/Twitter (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet