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Artillery Row

Vibe supremacy

The right has a coolness problem, and Ben Shapiro rapping is not going to help

The online Right is insistent that Taylor Swift’s popularity is a psychological warfare operation trying to influence the 2024 Presidential election. MAGA influencers insist that Swift is being pushed to increase voter turnout among left-leaning young women. But their inability to comprehend Swift’s popularity as an organic phenomena exposes why conservatives continue to lose the culture war. Conservative Inc. are trying in vain to confront feelings with facts in the age of vibe-based politics, and are failing to organically make appealing culture of their own.

This dictates whether or not someone will be persuaded to follow a movement, or belong to a political tribe

By vibe-based politics, I mean that, to most people, aesthetics and moods take precedence over abstract ideas and study citations. This dictates whether or not someone will be persuaded to follow a movement, or belong to a political tribe. This is driven by how much of our time is spent online, especially on image-based platforms. The internet hive-mind has democratised how media is received. Interpretations can become runaway memes — against the intentions of their creators. One such example is Pepe the Frog: killed off by his creator because he was adopted by Trump supporters.

Groups galvanise around these interpretations — constituting a Consensus Reality. They then shape discourse through ceaseless obsessive chatter about a meme or topic. This phenomenon has been dubbed “Swarm Politics”. Connected by the internet, these groups spread trends like contagions, with Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram as transmission vectors. Vibes are Swarm fuel — like the trail pheromones ants and bees use to direct each other. Similarly, it can also cause the swarms to enter hurricane-shaped death spirals when confused.

Vibe-based politics are what propelled the Barbie movie to accidentally become a conservative film. Establishment pundits accused the film of hating men. But online reactionaries saw Ken as a tragic hero, whose revolution of purposeless men against a matriarchal dystopia came narrowly close to victory. This prompted op-eds about how “men are watching Barbie wrong”. But the narrative containment engine was powerless to stop the Kenergy — resulting in Ryan Gosling getting two Oscar nominations, while the director and Barbie herself got none. 

Barbie was a vibe check for whether or not the pre-internet Boomercon way of doing politics can adapt to the Swarm. So far, it has failed — and is failing again with Taylor Swift.

The Right’s anxiety over Swift swinging US and EU elections leftward is less interesting than what this whole affair reveals about the right’s approach to online culture wars. A strong Swarm has coalesced around Taylor Swift. Adolescent girls’ friendship circles tend to co-ruminate: reinforcing one another’s beliefs and psychological problems. According to Swifties interviewed for her TIME Magazine Person of the Year piece, Taylor Swift represents relatable experiences for the fraught love lives of her listeners. If Swift is able to shepherd the AWFLs to the polls and produce thousand-year Democrat rule, it’s only because conservatives have alienated the trendsetting young women. 

As multiple polls show, Millennials and Gen Z are politically split along gender lines. Having lost young women, America’s conservative establishment cannot see the popularity of Taylor Swift as being anything but astroturfed. Swifties are a synecdoche for the demographic an anti-vibe right cannot appeal to. Yet rather than take a moment to reflect, some among MAGA won’t be happy until they’ve berated Swift for goofy dances at Chiefs games so often that she runs as Biden’s VP out of spite — and they can say “I told you so!” as their country continues to burn around them.

Nevermind that the conspiracy theory about Taylor Swift is filled with factual inaccuracies. Attempts to claim that the Soros family or Pentagon contractors are pulling Swift’s strings are absurd. Swift re-recorded her entire music catalog, releasing “Taylor’s Versions” to spite Scooter Braun and his financial backers for holding the master recording rights ransom for more than $300m. She has caused more damage to the reputation and finances of the Soros family than any Republican governor. Facts are immaterial here.

Concurrent to Con Inc. scaremongering about Swift, a musical abomination has topped the iTunes charts. Ben Shapiro has collaborated with Tom MacDonald to produce FACTS — a song featuring astounding lyrics like “Keep hating on me on the internet[,] My comments section all woke Karens”. The skin-crawling cringe of Shapiro in shades isn’t winning anyone over. The success of the song is solely because Ben’s existing fans bought it to stick it to their political opponents. But, revealingly, the rap is named after Shapiro’s famous rejoinder to gender-confused college students: “Facts don’t care about your feelings”. The Right fail to realise that the inverse is true: that feelings care little for facts. And why would anyone feel like joining the side with such repugnant aesthetics? 

Think about this for a moment: self-styled conservatives are alienating Taylor Swift fans, when Swift is living out the All-American dream of falling in love with the captain of the football team. Just as she’s living the dream of her You Belong With Me music video, they are rapping with men with face tattoos, and cheering them on for getting Trump’s mugshot inked on their thigh. Which vibe looks more appealing. Which is more likely to revive wholesome family values?

Conservative attempts to make culture fail the vibe check because they are only ever made in retaliation to Leftist revolution. Its purpose is, instrumentally and expediently, to “Own the Libs.” It is rushed out in a defensive posture, and so lacks substance, sincerity, and staying power. Nobody will be singing Shapiro’s FACTS in years to come; but they will be blasting the last verse of Swift’s Style on their morning commute.

A friend once said, “Culture is downstream of what the Hot Girls want”. Taylor Swift will set the incentives for a generation of women — and her romance with Travis Kelce is currently making attractive, white, heterosexual, monogamous couples look great again. Her revealed preferences cut against her Woke politics — so much so, that the press are printing fanfiction hoping she’s secretly gay. Swift could do more to raise pro-natalist sentiment among the politically uninitiated than any NGO, and yet the online right insists this is a vibe we should not support but suicidally shun.

Despite reciting Breitbart’s maxim, “Politics is downstream of culture”, ad nauseum, conservatives seem incapable of making anything with staying power. If Taylor Swift is sacrilegious, and Ben Shapiro rapping is “winning”, then I dread to think what losing looks like.

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