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Image / Editorial

Explainer: Here’s why the Taylor Swift / Scooter Braun feud has taken off again

by Jennifer McShane
18th Nov 2019

If you’re Taylor Swift in 2019, you never quite get things right. But we’ve long had it in for the pop singer, says Jennifer McShane. Now she simply wants to own the art she created, yet some sides of the internet still say it’s nothing but attention-seeking. She isn’t out of the woods yet (no pun intended), but has claimed a victory. 

Taylor Swift was late to the #Pride support party, so say her critics. For years she deliberately took a backseat when it came to activism and a political stance but when she emerged fully ready to make her views known, it was too little, too late.

Why didn’t she didn’t she say it sooner? Why doesn’t she talk about her love life anymore? How did she get so many men to date her? 

These are just some of the critic’s taunts.

Why does she always play the victim? Again.

It’s the same now as it was back in July. She’s overreacting. She got herself into this.

But at the end of the day, it’s a narrative we’ve seen before; powerful men attempt to take down the female for asserting her rightful creative control.

But what exactly happened?

Swift has accused music mogul Scooter Braun of “bullying” after he bought most of the US pop star’s life’s work, thanks to his acquisition of her former record label Big Machine for $300m (£237m).

On Sunday morning, news broke that powerful talent manager Scooter Braun had signed a reported $300 million deal to purchase the Nashville-based Big Machine Label Group. It’s also the former home of Taylor Swift. The founder of BMLG is Scott Borchetta, who is famous for signing Swift to his independent label in 2005 when she was an unknown teenage country singer. As Swift’s career took off into the stratosphere, she and Borchetta had a very lucrative partnership. Swift’s contract expired in November and she decided to leave Big Machine to sign a deal with Universal Music Group.

In a scathing Tumblr post, Swift expressed anger and disappointment — more specifically, she was “grossed out” — that Braun was now the owner of Big Machine, and by extension, the owner of the masters (the rights to her songs) from her first six albums. She accused him of bullying tactics (she has been ‘feuding’ with him for years reportedly) – and even added Kanye West and Justin Biber to the mix.

For a label to own artists’ masters is fairly common, but many argue that it strips artists of control of their own music. Unless the artists buy the rights back themselves. Swift was offered this, she says. Swift refused.

“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead, I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.”

The ‘feud’

Braun formerly managed Kanye West, who has a rocky history with Swift. He infamously interrupted her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards to announce that she didn’t deserve her award. Years later, he rapped, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b—- famous.” West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, then publicly released a secretly recorded audio clip in which Swift appears to give the rapper permission for his crass lyric.

“Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it,” she continued on Tumbler. Bieber posted an apology on Instagram on Sunday for the “hurtful” and “distasteful” post-Swift mentions three years ago, but defended Braun, his manager, who he insisted Swift was unfairly defaming.

Many came to Braun’s defence, including his wife and other artists he works with. He himself said he told Swift in advance what was happening and that Swift orchestrated the public post for her own means. He alleged that she not only knew of the takeover but was also fine with handing over her masters.


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A post shared by Allison Kaye (@allisonjamiekaye) on

If it sounds messy, it’s because it is.


The saga took a new turn when last week, Swift said the new owners of her former music label, Big Machine, had told her she could not perform music from her first five albums at the AMAs, where she is due to receive the artist of the decade award.

The dispute set off a firestorm on social media and dragged in politicians including Senator Elizabeth Warren and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who attacked Big Machine’s private equity backers and attempted to dismantle “good little girl” narrative that surrounded the whole dispute.

“The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished,” she tweeted.

“Don’t know what else to do,” Taylor wrote on Twitter above a post that said in part: “I just want to be able to perform MY OWN music. That’s it. I’ve tried to work this out privately through my team but have not been able to resolve anything.”

n Monday, Big Machine said in a statement that the two sides “have come to terms on a licensing agreement that approves their artists’ performances to stream post-show and for re-broadcast on mutually agreed platforms”.

Big Machine disputed Swift’s characterisation of the disagreement, telling TMZ: “In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere.” However, they declined to comment on whether it was seeking to stop Swift performing older hits such as Shake It Off, Mean or We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

In its statement, Big Machine added: “It should be noted that recording artists do not need label approval for live performances on television or any other live event.”

What reputation?

A common narrative thread in all this seems to be Swifts’ ever-shaky reputation.

Some just don’t want to believe she is a woman who wants to rightfully own the work she has spent years creating.

The powerful men involved insist that it must be her fault, in one way or another.

But isn’t that what always happens?

She’s too perfect, too false, too unlikeable.

She never “recovered” from the Kanye West drama, and will never step up on a pedestal again. A quick Google of the pop star would suggest that she has brought her “downfall” on herself. The girl who was once America’s Sweetheart has been reduced to having a case of the “Anne Hathaways” – i.e., the masses hating on her for no reason other than because she’s an ambitious, successful woman.

And it’s a well-documented problem; that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Her success is treated with suspicion; the way she always acts surprised to win awards is fake and annoying, and her unapologetic demeanour means she must be told her place. Whereas the Justin Bieber’s and Tiger Woods of the world can always be forgiven.

She is never to be forgiven it seems. She must be put in her place.

Even when it comes to her own creativity.

If #MeToo has taught us anything, it’s that those responsible will hide in the shadows – while talented women take the fallout.

Swift has won this battle, but no doubt, still has a war to go; while she will now be able to perform her past hits, the future of a planned Netflix documentary is still in doubt. According to Swift, the artist has been told she cannot use her old music in the film.

Swift signed with Big Machine when she was 15. According to Variety, her catalogue recently accounted for 80% of its revenues.

Main photograph: @RollingStone

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