We Just Got an Email From Taylor Swift

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Recently, a surprising name popped up in a Washingtonian editor’s inbox. It was none other than America’s biggest pop star, Taylor Swift. Even more unexpectedly, the email concerned working conditions for staffers on Capitol Hill. Obviously, we were curious to hear the singer’s thoughts on this, so we decided to call her up. There was a catch, though.

Turns out, this was Taylor J. Swift, the senior policy advisor, which we should have known all too well. But the staffer at Demand Progress (whose Instagram handle is @notthesuperstar) was a good sport anyway. Swift—who’s 29, so his name is purely a coincidence—works as an advocate for better pay and more transparency for the congressional workforce. We spoke with him about living in the shadow of the pop megastar and how he’s come to shake it off and embrace his name as the ultimate icebreaker.

Do people ever surprise you by not commenting on your name?

Before the job I have now, I worked in the House of Representatives for a few years. Every once in a while I would interact with members of Congress and of course introduce myself as a staffer. The vast majority of them would be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so funny. I love your name,” and then they’d always say hello to me in the hallways which, again, was great. But then there were some, especially some of the older members who maybe aren’t as into the music scene or maybe don’t have kids or grandkids. When I’d say it, I would leave some room for them to be like, “Oh, wow, that’s so interesting.” But then they would just be like, “Ok.”

It must be funny introducing yourself and then having to leave a comedic pause like it was a punchline.

Exactly. No, I’m so used to that now. I always try to give people a little space to either react or make a joke just so we can have a good time with it.

Overall, has your name helped you, or has it more been annoying?

Overall, it’s probably been beneficial. There are obviously times when people can take the name not very seriously or go too far with jokes. I was actually bullied quite often in middle and high school, and there was a point where I thought maybe I should change my name. But I realized as I got older that I should just embrace who I am and love who I am. I would say that, especially professionally, it’s been quite a blessing because when I meet new people, it’s a great icebreaker. In a town where there are so many people doing so many important things, having the name really resonates and people remember it.

Photo courtesy of Taylor J. Swift

What’s your go-to icebreaker?

My go-to joke is: “I get jokes all the time, but I just shake it off.” And one of my recent favorites is, “Hi, my name is Taylor Swift. I’m the problem, it’s me.” I’ve got so many more, too, but I won’t bore you. I appreciate the jokes: There’s no bad blood here.

Where did your name come from? Did “Taylor” have any significance for your family?

My parents were having trouble deciding on a first name. My dad’s favorite movie was 1968’s Planet of the Apes, and Charlton Heston’s character was named Taylor.

Are you a Swiftie?

Truth be told, I am not a fan. Not that I don’t respect her music. I respect her craft and her creativity. She has a huge fan base and she really understands and empathizes with her fans. She’s a true artist in the sense of that term. I personally just feel like her music is a little too safe for me. It’s a little too bland. I grew up in North Carolina and so I kind of gravitated to more of the hip hop and R&B scene, especially the Dirty South music back in the day. When I found out in seventh grade that there was this country star—well, then-country star, now she’s more in the pop world—I was like, this isn’t really for me; I don’t think this is gonna mean anything. Fast forward a decade and a half later, she’s still selling out stadiums and having people wait outside to sing along. Her music isn’t really in my wheelhouse, but she’s been doing this for well over a decade now. Not very many artists can say that.

You couldn’t have known she’d have as lasting of a career she has. But I imagine at a certain point you realized this was going to be with you for a very long time.

Exactly. When I was a kid, I remember watching the movie Office Space. There’s a character in that movie named Michael Bolton, and there’s a running joke that, oh my gosh, your name is Michael Bolton just like that singer guy, and the character gets so angry every time. I remember watching that when I was a kid and thinking, oh, man what a life that is. Fast forward, now I’m living that life. But to be honest, every time I meet someone new, I use it as a positive. Like I mentioned before, it really helps people remember who I am, and I find that to be an advantage. It makes me a little more personable and more real to folks.

Did you ever consider going by TJ?

It’s so funny you say that—I did consider TJ. You’re the first person ever to say that to me. But no, you don’t want to run away from stuff like that, so I stuck with it.

Did you follow the concert-ticket fiasco?

It’s so funny because—I don’t work on the issue particularly—but at my organization we work with antitrust issues. Given the Ticketmaster crossover with antitrust issues, and how Taylor Swift crashed Ticketmaster when she first launched her tour tickets, it was a hilarious thing for us to talk about on our team calls. Like: Isn’t it funny that we as an organization do this work, we have a staffer named Taylor Swift, just like the person who ended up crashing Ticketmaster, so that we can push reform in this space in Congress?

Ike Allen

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