In the past few days, some friends have asked me to explain the “Taylor Swift drama” that has been in the news recently. Why me? (ME!). Because most people who know me know that I am a big Taylor Swift fan, and have been for the past 11 years. But being a Swiftie doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being critical of her work or actions; rather, I believe it makes me a more qualified and generous judge of her character compared to the average listener of her music. Do I ever raise my eyebrows at moves made by Taylor and her team? Yes. But am I also a hardcore fan who will defend her to the best of my ability? Yes. In this post, I hope to elucidate why I believe standing with Taylor is important, especially given the double standards of the toxic, often male-dominated music industry.
Below is an image that Taylor shared on her tumblr:
Two days ago, it was announced that Scooter Braun had acquired the Big Machine Label Group (Taylor’s previous label) from Scott Borchetta, and along with it, Taylor Swift’s entire back catalogue. If you are understandably asking who Scooter Braun is, he’s the manager of artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and Kanye West (Trump supporter, husband of #KimOhNo Kardashian).
Why is this a problem for Taylor Swift?
Before I delve into what makes this a problem, I want to first address why it’s a problem for Taylor specifically. She puts it best on her tumblr post: Her “musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” Scooter, like many other people in the entertainment industry, has always had it out for Taylor. This takes us back to 2016, when Taylor and Kanye had “beef” over Kanye’s song “Famous.” In the song, Kanye sings, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.” (How did Kanye make Taylor “famous,” exactly? According to him, by interrupting her award acceptance speech in 2009. Even Obama called him a “jackass” for it. ICONIC.) Anyway; Taylor claimed she never wanted Kanye to use her name like that in the song; Kim Kardashian then illegally released a recording of a phone conversation in which Taylor presumably said it was “okay.” It goes without saying that what Kim did was wrong and disrespectful. Not surprising for someone who has just recently tried to trademark “Kimono” for her own clothing brand. But let’s assume that Taylor did say “yes” to Kanye. How many women’s “nos” are manipulated by men into “yeses?” How many women out there understand how difficult it is to say no? How many women are blamed for situations in which they feel like they had no control?
To use a personal example, last night, I went out swing dancing, and felt someone rub my back in an intimate way. I turned around, expecting it was my boyfriend. No, it was a total stranger, who immediately asked me: “Would you like to dance?” My head said no, but what instead came out was, instinctively, “yes.” I spent the rest of the dance regretting it. I realized again, in that instance, that many women are often pressured and conditioned into saying “yes” to everything, when we should have the right to say no to as many people as we want. So, when people accuse Taylor Swift of saying “yes” to Kanye, one of the first things I think about is how easily people (especially men) will assume that saying “yes” is automatic, unconditional, and simple for women. I also think about how t he audio snippet Kim released was blatantly doctored and illegally publicized. And how Kanye later barely received criticism for stripping Taylor’s body double naked in his music video for “Famous.” Scooter was there when Kanye organized his “revenge porn music video” for “Famous.” Scooter was also there when Justin Bieber, Kanye, and some other random dude (see photo above) teamed up on social media to bully Taylor about being “exposed” by Kim. Scooter has, as Taylor rightly says in her tumblr post, been responsible for the “incessant, manipulative bullying” aimed at her for years.
Back to 2019…
So, given this context, you can understand why Taylor is not happy with SCOOTER BRAUN acquiring her masters, her life’s work, her greatest hits, her dreams. This is not “pettiness.” This is injustice. Scooter is not only a man who now reaps the rewards of a woman’s labor, he is also a man who has purposefully targeted this woman and is now in a position that allows him to assume some control over her artistic representation.
Why didn’t Taylor just buy her own songs?
Folks have been saying that Taylor once “had the chance” to buy her own music, but “passed.” As Taylor makes very clear in her tumblr post, however, the deal offered to her by Big Machine Records, a.k.a Scott Borchetta, was anything short of liberating. In order to own her previous albums, Taylor would have to ” ‘earn’ one album back at a time,” one for every new one she turned in. This would take at least 10 years. Taylor walked away to set herself free. Borchetta, who genuinely believed he was doing himself a favor by sharing the following photo, posted an exchange between him and Taylor on his website. His post includes one text from Taylor, informing him of her decision to leave Big Machine Records, and one text from himself, notifying her of Scooter’s purchase. It does not take a genius, or even an English major like myself, to note the marked contrast in tone that both texts present. Firstly, I’m pleased to know that Taylor begins her texts the same way I begin my emails: “I hope this finds you well.” Secondly, one line in Scott’s text jumped out at me as carrying the saltiness of a salty, salty ex-manager: “I wanted to pass along to you the same courtesy that you passed along to me in regard to my future.” I saw no courtesy there. Honestly, go read the exchange, and tell me whether you see it.
Why does Taylor’s fight matter?
Scooter’s wife, Yael, addressed Taylor on Instagram, saying that Scooter “believed in you more than you believe in yourself.” Are you kidding me? Do I even need to expend the energy to rebut this? She also tells Taylor to leave her kids out of this drama, whereas Taylor had never, anywhere, in any way, mentioned Scooter’s kids. So. Perhaps it’s true, as Yael says in her post, that Scooter reached an “olive branch” out to Taylor. But after everything Scooter has done to Taylor, why should Taylor invoke the energy to respond to Scooter? Do people have to forgive or even interact with those who have hurt and traumatized them? No.
In the aftermath of Taylor’s tumblr post, different celebrities and media outlets have spoken out, each with their own story, each with their own way of reframing the narrative. Taylor herself is a master at framing narratives. After Kim called her a snake in 2016, Taylor rebranded her next album to successfully and cleverly incorporate the snake motif into her music. Her latest single, “You Need to Calm Down,” is an LGBT-anthem (or at least wants to be) that brands herself as a strong ally (although not without controversy) after years of her political silence. But I don’t want to make this about narratives or social media or celebrity gossip, which is what the tabloids want. This is “drama,” but as Taylor says, “I don’t love the drama, it loves me.” Try to ignore the gossip swirling around Taylor’s post (which albeit invokes it) and focus on the simple, straightforward fact that Taylor Swift is an artist who would like to own her own music and is fighting for other artists to also have that right. People point out that even The Beatles don’t own their own music. So? Since when has established tradition been a reason to preclude future change?
Taylor Swift “grew up in a pretty house,” but has not had an easy time in the spotlight. She is in a position of immense privilege, but also has had to make a number of sacrifices (like, privacy) to get to where she is today. There are articles out there saying that Taylor’s struggles are nothing compared to those of laborers who are also fighting for their own rights. People will say that Taylor has no right to complain, given her wealth and status. But if Taylor Swift, one of the most powerful and influential women in the world, is also subject to outrageous injustice and manipulation, what does that say about our world? That even those with the most power cannot have it all? Or that the profit-driven, business-minded, and often male-dominated music industry can always trump creative thinkers and artists?
The bottom line is that music written, sung, and produced by Taylor Swift, alongside many other artists, is now in the hands of someone who had absolutely no part in making it. It is in the hands of someone who has not been a friend to Taylor Swift. It is in the hands of someone who should, honestly, NOT have it. Whether or not you like Taylor Swift, take a moment to think about the implications of this transaction. Some might say that now that Scooter has Taylor’s music, he’ll want the best for her (now, he has a stake in it). While that kind of ownership mentality is toxic in itself, the facts speak for themselves: recently, Scooter’s team has been re-uploading Taylor’s catalogue onto iTunes and rebranding it; Fearless has gone from being under the “Country” category to “Pop,” erasing the contributions that the album made for country music in 2008. One of Scooter’s friends congratulated him on social media for having “bought Taylor Swift.“ The Big Machine deal between Scott and Scooter would have been nothing without Taylor’s catalog. Taylor’s years of hard work now enlarge the status and bank account of a man who has wronged and disrespected her on many occasions. Imagine if you were Taylor in this situation. Just think about it.
Since the start of her career, Taylor Swift has always been an easy victim. She’s been ridiculed by the media for her dating life when few other artists have experienced the same slut-shaming she was subject to; certainly, no men were victim to such media scrutiny. People love to say that Taylor can’t write her own music, even after she wrote the album Speak Now entirely own her own to prove a point. People criticize Taylor for remaining silent on political issues and criticize her when she uses her voice. Too often, men treat women like easy targets, and assume that their casual “bullying” will have no consequences. Too often, men assume forgiveness. Too often, men think they can get away with anything: even profiting off of a woman’s labor.
What angers me about the Scooter-Scott deal is the way in which it reinforces notions of gender inequality and the soul-sucking nature of many business deals. But what gives me hope is the fact that I believe Taylor can make a change for the greater good. In the past, she has used to power to leverage deals with Spotify, Apple Music, and Universal Music Group to increase artists’ wages and agency. “People throw rocks and things that shine,” but “snakes and stones never broke” Taylor’s bones. Taylor Swift doesn’t have to say “yes” to anyone anymore. I believe that, in the years to come, she’ll be able to make the music industry a better and more equitable place. And that she will continue to be a role model for women and emerging artists everywhere. And for those reasons, #IStandWithTaylor.
- Like Taylor Swift, every woman faces a Justin Bieber: https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/02/opinions/taylor-swift-justin-bieber-isnt-a-feud-campoamor/index.html
- Taylor Swift-Scooter Braun catalog battle is about more than just music: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/taylor-swift-scooter-braun-catalogue-battle-about-more-just-music-ncna1025541