top of page
  • Kayla Petroski

The Limits of Celebrity Activism

Courtesy of CNN

After rumors rose of her alleged relationship with lead-singer of The 1975, Matty Healy, singer songwriter Taylor Swift has come under fire for aligning herself with the controversial singer despite being a self-declared feminist and ally. While the relationship was short-lived, many fans saw it as a reminder of the limits of celebrity activism.

With the news of Swift and Healy’s relationship in 2023, fans began expressing their disappointment in Swift’s connection to him due to his past behavior. It didn’t take long for fans to find an old Q Magazine interview the 1975 frontrunner did in 2016 where he stated that it would be “emasculating” to date Swift. What many deemed misogynistic had fans questioning why Taylor would align herself with Healy, as she has been an outspoken feminist.

Healy has been under further scrutiny by Swift fans due to his actions early this year which many received as racist. While appearing as a guest on an episode of “The Adam Freeland Show” podcast, Healy was heard laughing at jokes mocking rapper Ice Spice. During the podcast, Healy and the hosts began speculating about Ice Spice’s ethnicity, guessing at whether she was an “Inuit Spice Girl,” or a “chubby Chinese lady.” These comments were followed by the two imitating Hawaiian and Chinese accents. In the same podcast, Healy also joked about masturbating to porn that features the degradation of women of color. In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Healy addressed the podcast, stating that “it doesn’t actually matter.”

When the interviewer pushed further, Healy responded, “If it does, you’re either deluded or you are, sorry, a liar. You’re either lying that you are hurt, or you’re a bit mental for being hurt. It’s just people going, ‘Oh, there’s a bad thing over there, let me get as close to it as possible so you can see how good I am.’”

Swift herself has made no comments on the controversy, but three weeks after rumors of her relationship with Healy, Swift announced that she would be releasing a collaboration with Ice Spice on her hit song “Karma.” Due to the announcement coming so soon after Healy’s comments about Ice Spice resurfaced, fans were quick to call the collaboration a ‘PR stunt’ and ‘strategically timed.’ Many were angered at Taylor for exploiting her allyship for her own purpose - in this case “damage control.”

Despite the attempt to move attention to the collaboration, criticism continued pouring in. Swift fans felt betrayed by her choice to connect herself with a man who has used harmful language towards women of color, despite declaring herself a feminist and ally . The inconsistency between Swift’s public standing and her private relationship has many fans doubting Swift’s care for her fans of color.

The controversy came to a head on June 5, when it was announced that Swift and Healy had broken up. Fans were happy to see the two go their separate ways and many praised Swift for ending the relationship. However, a large number of fans kept firm on their standing that Swift had only ended the relationship due to the damage that it was doing to her reputation.

Swift isn’t the only celebrity to be called out for inconsistencies between their activism and their private decisions. Only earlier this year, actor Dylan O’Brien, who has also been seen as a male feminist and ally, was seen at Paris Fashion Week with his new girlfriend, model Rachel Lange. Only days later, Lange, a white woman, was called out for being racist after multiple Tweets from 2013 to 2016 surfaced of her using the N-word. Fans were quick to express their disappointment in the actor for being in a relationship with the model despite the news of the tweets. While Rachel has issued an apology about the tweets, O’Brien has remained silent.

While attending the 2018 Golden Globes, actress Blake Lively wore a black dress in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harrasment - an issue she has spoken out about often. However, at the time, she had just recently worked with director Woody Allen. Despite accusations against Allen of sexual abuse, Lively praised the director, saying he is “empowering to women.”

Another scenario that comes to mind is the “I Take Responsibility” video of 2020. The two-minute black-and-white filtered clip featured a variety of white actors and entertainers such as Kristen Bell, Aaron Paul, and Stanley Tucci. The teary-eyed actors declare their responsibility for perpetuating racism by “turning a blind eye.” It was swiftly mocked for being melodramatic and performative. While it may have been well-intentioned, many viewers thought it felt hollow when compared to direct action, such as donations to organizations meant to solve the issues they claim to care about.

Celebrity activism is criticized for being performative. For some, like Swift, there is a high standard. The singer has been very vocal on the challenges facing women in the industry and has previously encouraged multiple donations for the GLAAD organization, which focuses on LGBTQ+ issues, with the release of her hit song “You Need to Calm Down.” Because of her vocality on these issues, fans were disappointed to see her lack of comment on many women’s issues plaguing the nation such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade or the women’s rights violations in Iran. Swift tends to steer clear of issues that would be deemed too controversial for her brand. Her activism tends to come out strong when she chooses to speak up, inspiring many, but it doesn’t always last.

Celebrities have extensive platforms and can be effective in the activism world, but there will always be limits to just how far they are willing to speak out and apply their activism to their personal lives.


bottom of page