Under the Influence: If Every Vote Counts, How Much Should a Celebrity Endorsement?

Beyonce and Rihanna attend Rihanna’s 3rd Annual Diamond Ball Benefitting The Clara Lionel Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street on September 14, 2017 in New York City.
Beyonce and Rihanna attend Rihanna’s 3rd Annual Diamond Ball Benefitting The Clara Lionel Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street on September 14, 2017 in New York City.
Photo: Kevin Mazur (Getty Images for Clara Lionel Foundatio)

It was the kind of Hail Mary some pray for—like a last-minute, death-row pardon. But when Beyoncé publicly threw her support behind Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, reactions were mixed, to say the least. Self-affirmed stans of the superstar praised their queen, while others understandably asked why she’d waited until the eleventh hour to use her considerable sway to stump for an underdog candidate.


I reported on that story, because, well, that’s my job. But like many of our readers, I was asking myself why the gesture was even necessary, at such a late—many would say, too late—date. And while no one knows the reasoning behind Bey’s ill-timed endorsement, as Democrats like myself watched O’Rourke lose his race by such a narrow margin that Ted Cruz had to have been completely shook, it was hard not to ask the inevitable question: What if she’d made this seemingly effortless gesture sooner?

After all, this was a campaign season in which none other than Oprah went door-to-door for Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Diddy hosted a celebrity-studded rally for Andrew Gillum and John Legend used his celebrity to help push forward Amendment 4 in Florida. And while it has been argued that it is both a risky tactic by candidates and a misuse of their considerable influence, celebrities have been throwing their support behind politicians for over a half-century—most memorably in Frank Sinatra’s endorsement of John F. Kennedy for president in 1960.

And then, there’s the simple fact that celebrities are voters, too. If there’s no crime in any of us stumping for our favorite candidate, their fame certainly shouldn’t exempt them from the right to participate in our democracy. But in a political climate where apathy at the polls has become a legitimately proven concern, Beyoncé’s political gaffe—coupled with Rihanna’s day-before-election endorsement of Andrew Gillum—raises valid questions over if, when and how celebs should insert their cultural power into the political process.

We can’t deny that celebs have considerable sway over culture—political and otherwise. If Beyoncé—or Rihanna, for that matter—had the well-meaning intention that her endorsement would combat that aforementioned and well-documented apathy, the simple fact is that the time to galvanize the fanbase was weeks ago, when it might have actually made a difference. There’s also the possibility that unlike the more strategic tactics of Oprah or John Legend, we might be unilaterally giving celebs more credit than they deserve for understanding the political process and their potential impact (*cough* Kanye)—doubtful, in the cases of both of these socially conscious megastars.


But especially for Beyoncé, who has, by turns, been vilified by association with the Obamas, Hillary Clinton and her Super Bowl tribute to the Black Panther Party, if she was suddenly feeling gun-shy about taking a political stance in the midterms, perhaps the lesson here was that sometimes, it’s OK to just sit one out. Because when it comes to politics, like entertainment, it’s all about timing; if the surprise drop doesn’t move its intended audience in the desired direction, you risk simply making an empty gesture that’s all about you.

And the rest of us are left wondering, “What if?”

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?


Mortal Dictata

I know celebs giving endorsements gets more people to the polls. I know you need to get every single vote you can and the endorsements help.

I still find it fucking depressing that people view what their celeb idol thinks as more important or voteworthy than the actual candidate or their policies.

(admittedly I do trust the views of Michael Sheen more than most but that’s because unlike say Bono or Swift he’s one of the few who actually spends more time campaigning for social or political change than doing their “celeb” activity)