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There are two things Annie Wu Henry is internet-famous for loving: the music of Taylor Swift and her dog, Bella, a Shih Tzu / Yorkie mix. This is significant, because both coalesced ever-so-satisfyingly in her role as social media producer for Sen. John Fetterman’s recent campaign in Pennsylvania’s high-stakes 2022 U.S. Senate race.
Although she’s prodigious across all social media platforms, the Philadelphia-based Henry has won most of her acclaim for being a TikTok whisperer, especially after Fetterman ultimately prevailed against his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr. Oz. Since then, her social-media creations, which worked humor into an often heated and emotional race, have collectively become a blueprint for political-candidate TikTok-ing. Among her best hits: an imagining of Oprah taking down Oz; challenging Oz’s claim that he grew up south of Philly; and of course, reworking one of Oz’s videos with a Swiftie soundtrack. (Fun fact: Tay is a Pennsylvania native.) “We weren’t gonna have John dance, like in some of those trends,” Henry says. “But we could utilize sound in a way that still felt right.”
These days, Henry says, “I’m kind of taking my time after the campaign to figure out next steps and different options.” She explains that sitting senators aren’t allowed to have TikTok accounts for security reasons. But that’s OK, because that just affords her more time to hang out with Bella.
“We usually go on walks. She likes car rides, too!” Henry says. “And then, you know, we’ll just kind of hang out and snuggle.” Last month, The Wildest spoke with her about what it was like working on the whirlwind Fetterman campaign — and how both she and her coworkers found immediate comfort in Bella’s presence.
To what extent did dogs figure into Fetterman’s campaign?
I mean, everyone loves dog content. I think we had a sticker that was like, “Dogs for Fetterman” or something. And John has two rescue dogs. They were such a part of that story. One of the fun aspects to the campaign was that we had the Levi and Artie Twitter account that was not run by myself — and I will keep [the person who posts on it] anonymous.
The Levi and Artie Twitter account was John’s dogs tweeting and giving their perspective on the campaign and some behind the scenes of what it’s like to live with the Fettermans. They were able to add an aspect of fun, but also talk about the important information or issues that we needed people to know.
You’re most famous now for your work on his TikTok. A lot of candidates would never go there. But you’ve said your motto is “Embrace the cringe.” What exactly do you mean?
“Embrace the cringe” is a quote from Taylor Swift. It was really about leaning into the things that we were doing — not just doing them, but really going for it. So, when it was about defining the opponent, we really did that and stuck to that. With something like TikTok, we were thankfully able to have the bandwidth to say, “If we’re gonna do this, we want to really commit to it and do it well.”
Is your love of dogs somewhat controversial because you’re a Swiftie, and Taylor is an avowed cat person?
I’m allergic to cats, so I grew up with dogs. Cats have personality, but I’d say dogs are more fun. And cats are a little bit less likely to cuddle up or want to play. But honestly, as a young person, a cat would probably fit my lifestyle a little bit better right now. You can let them go, and they’ll kind of fend for themselves, whereas dogs like to be given attention — at least mine does, pretty much 24/7.
But I just like pets in general. And if I weren’t allergic to cats, I would cuddle with them as well. But Bella is the perfect little dog. She’s still young and likes to play, but she is also a bit more chill, which I like.
Has Sen. Fetterman or his family met Bella?
I was based in Philly, and Bella is usually at my parents’ place in York County, which is actually where John’s from as well. But she will come and visit me. She came to the office a few days, and she even has a little extra-small Fetterman shirt. John, [his wife] Gisele, and the kids actually haven’t met Bella. But she did go on the trail a little bit.
She was in Pittsburgh when we had that rally in the rain with the late [Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer] Franco Harris. But it was a downpour, so she stayed with a friend during the rally... She will meet Gisele and John at some point, as well as Levi and Artie.
Your TikToks for the campaign could be pretty edgy by political standards. Were you given any parameters?
We did have to get approvals on things. But also I would say that our entire team, and that includes leadership, really understood what we’re trying to do. So we were given a lot of freedom. One of the only things that wasn’t approved was because we used audio that had a curse word in it. They wanted to keep things as friendly as possible.
And I know that with Oprah, we did want to be careful because we didn’t want to upset her. So that was, I’d say, a calculated risk. But everything was very intentional. It’s not like we were just haphazardly doing things. Everything had a reason behind it, even if it did seem a little goofy.
Politics have gotten so ugly that people really appreciated the campaign’s good-humored social-media presence.
I would say that one of the reasons they hired me was that I understood the platforms we were on and the people we were messaging to, whether it was the Twitter memes that were relevant, what topics were happening, or what references people would understand. The internet is so much about time and being able to react, to be present in whatever trend is happening at the moment. Because if you don’t do it now, tomorrow is going to be too late. It was important to hit those moments.
We also really wanted to make sure it was done in a way that’s true to John. So much of our campaign was about highlighting his authenticity: We never wanted it to feel mean or gross, which is a lot of what we got from the way our opponent was speaking. I don’t think that appeals to anyone. When we did make jokes, we wanted it to be in a way where people didn’t feel like we went low. We really did highlight who the opponent was, and what he was actually doing or saying.
When John had a stroke last year, that presented a very unique challenge for you. How did you, as a team, figure out what to do?
We wanted all the conversation around his health to be honest and transparent. The campaign put out updates from John and his doctor. People could see that, you know, he might stumble, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable or competent. It just meant that he was still going through recovery. Social media was definitely used when he couldn’t be out on the road right after [the stroke]. Social media was a way to reach thousands, if not millions, of people. I will also say that social media is a way to own the narrative.
Working on a campaign is a lot of work and pressure. Did Bella help mitigate some of that stress?
Yeah, she was definitely an emotional support animal. When I took her into the office, I think she was the emotional support animal for the office. Everyone enjoyed having a little friend around. Like, a coworker of mine took her out on a walk because, you know, he needed some time to relax for a minute on the job. She was a little source of that relief. And she obviously liked the attention of being played with and being held.
Based on your personal Instagram, it looks like it’s easy to dress Bella.
She is pretty good at it. She doesn’t like anything that’s on her head, like if something has a hood. But she’s pretty good with little T-shirts or a little jacket or her Eagles jersey. I’ve figured out what she likes to wear, which are, in general, things that are soft and fuzzy, or just light, like the jersey.
So sorry for the Eagles’ loss in the Super Bowl, by the way. What is Bella like when you watch football?
She lays down on my couch on a really fuzzy blanket that she almost blends into and just hangs out. She’s really good at chilling. If you look at my Instagram…we did head over to Broad Street in Philly [after the Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl], before it got too, too crazy. But we made our way out of the mosh pit of the crowd. She was overwhelmed and also excited to see a bunch of people, and they were all excited to see her and her little jersey. They were excited that we had a little Eagles pup.
In the weeks following this interview, Sen. Fetterman was hospitalized first for a seemingly minor medical setback, and more recently, to treat depression. (Of the latter, Dr. Eric Lenze, the head of the psychiatry department at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told The New York Times that depression after a stroke is “very common, often very serious and, maybe most importantly, actually really treatable.”) We applaud Sen. Fetterman for his transparency in bringing issue of mental health into the national conversation and wish him a meaningful recovery.
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Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.