opinion

Today, a dilemma faces every Taylor Swift fan who isn't so wild about animal cruelty.

Oh, Lover, what to do, what to do?

Last year the hottest hashtag of Australia’s Spring Racing Carnival was #nuptothecup – as the criticism that’s been raging for years around this horse racing institution teetered towards a critical mass.

The most popular stories on Cup Day on sites like Mamamia that day were about choosing to eat lunch at your desk alone rather than hammering the finger sandwiches and office sweep in the boardroom. And the fact is, every first Tuesday of November, media outlets have a story prepped and ready about a Cup horse falling and dying, and those stories always run.

But this year, one of the most influential and powerful stars in the world is coming to play two songs at The Cup. For the price of a General Admission ticket – about $90 – you can see Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift! – perform in the Mounting Yard at Melbourne’s Flemington Race Course.

Taylor Swift introduces all her personalities in her infamous 2017 Look What You Made Me Do music video. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

And that presents a bit of a… dilemma. You see, there’s only one reason that the Victorian Racing Club has shelled out the big bucks to tempt Taylor to the yard (literally): The Young People.

There’s always “an international” being paraded through the marquees on Cup Day, usually with a very tenuous link to the day itself. We’ve had Sarah Jessica Parker, and Geri Halliwell, Naomi Campbell and Joan Collins and Eva Longoria.

And in recent years, as the whole combo of racing horses, mass gambling and binge drinking in the sun has become a little… uncool, the guests have been getting younger and younger, to try to offset an ever widening relevancy deficit. We give you, Gigi Hadid.

And now it’s official, with the Chief Executive of VRC telling the ABC that the decision to pursue Swift to perform what is reportedly her only Australian performance for her new album Lover at the Cup was strategic. “We’re targeting more and more of the next generation coming through.”

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The reason for that, of course, is that the next generation coming through are not that crazy about horse-racing.

Concerns about animal welfare are a big deal in this cohort. In Europe a quarter of all 18-24 year olds are reporting that they have become vegan in the past year. In the US, 60 per cent of the same group say they are more than happy to base their diets more on plants than meat.

And while a debate rages on about whether horse racing per-se is cruel, the stats are certainly sobering. The Coalition For The Protection of Race Horses reports that one horse dies on an Australian race track every three days. And six horses have died at the Melbourne Cup Race alone in the past six years.

“[Taylor Swift] is getting paid a lot of money to play at the Cup,” the Coalition’s Kristin Leigh told Mamamia. “And it just goes to show what they’re willing to spend to make this race relevant. Attendance has been dropping over the past eight years and the racing industry wants to pull out all the stops to save this event that has become broadly unacceptable to the community.”

melbourne cup horse broken leg
In 2018 racehorse, Cliffsofmoher was euthanised after suffering a fractured right shoulder seconds into the race. Image: Getty.
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The racing industry on the other hand, insists that the big race follows all guidelines on animal welfare, and that the Melbourne Cup is a world-class sporting event and an Australian institution that we can all be proud of.

All of which leaves the average Taylor Swift fan - or parent of a Taylor Swift fan - in a confusing yet familiar place in 2019: Trapped between the virtuous higher-ground and the desire to hang out on more basic planes of pleasure.

Everything is black and white in our hyper-reactive era: If you pay your money to go see your idol perform Lover on a windy racecourse, the conversation goes, you are actively supporting whipping animals and gambling addiction and shooting horses. You are practically the devil. You are practically (whisper it) Trump.

It's the kind of dilemma that leaves us longing for the days - perhaps only two short years ago - when you were able to justify any hedonistic urge with a loud cry of "YOLO" and a few googly emojis. Or, perhaps just a simpler time - still feasibly possible - when every choice you, or any other young woman, made was not subject to endless scrutiny and a shouty demand to pick a side.

And doubtless today it leaves Taylor Swift avoiding her Twitter mentions, as she's being bombarded with calls to cancel and say #nuptothecup. There's a petition to convince her to pull-out about to be launched. And of course, accusations will be flying that she clearly never loved all those cats anyway.

So, business as usual in 2019, really.

What do you think about Taylor Swift playing the Melbourne Cup? 

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