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Once again, Taylor Swift is being forced to defend herself against a man


By Sarah Finnan
25th Jan 2022
Once again, Taylor Swift is being forced to defend herself against a man

The singer has had to defend her wildly impressive career against accusations that she ‘doesn’t write her own songs’.

Taylor Swift has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in the past few years, one that many would say started back in 2019 when she announced that she would be re-recording all her old albums. A decision spurred on by the fact that she didn’t really have any power over her previous work, its means of production or its distribution, Swift faced the challenge head on and her very personal battle to reshape the way wealth is distributed in the creative field has been an inspiration to many. 

For those of you who don’t know the backstory, Swift signed to Big Machine Records in 2005 when she was only a fresh-faced country singer on the cusp of stardom. That contract was in place until 2018 by which time Taylor was pretty much a household name with countless hits under her belt. In 2018, she switched labels to Universal’s Republic Records. Big Machine Records, still owned the original recordings to all of her first six albums though, as is usual in many recording deals. 

Things got messy when Big Machine Records was bought by Ithaca Holdings, a company owned by well-known music executive Scooter Braun (a.k.a. Justin Bieber and Kanye West’s manager). Braun subsequently sold Taylor’s masters (or original recordings) to Shamrock Holdings for a reported $300 million. A smart move for Braun on a business level, as Time Magazine points out, but much more contentious on the personal front when Swift alleged that Braun had repeatedly bullied her in the past. 

Swift didn’t take the news lying down and vowed to re-record her first six albums, this time with the masters under her control… and so Taylor’s version was born. That’s only one instance of a time that Swift has had to fight back against men in power though. 

In 2015, she was sued by radio DJ David Mueller for defamation who claimed that he had been wrongfully terminated following an incident at a 2013 meet-and-greet. Swift responded by filing a federal counterclaim for battery and sexual assault – only seeking a symbolic $1 in damanges. The trial began on August 7 2017 and lasted for one week, with eight jurors (six women, two men) selected to decide the outcome of both opposing lawsuits. 

Mueller’s lawsuit against Swift was dismissed with Judge William J. Martinez ruling that Swift “did not act inappropriately” in contacting KYGO radio (Mueller’s former employer) to inform them that he had reached his hand under her skirt and groped her without her permission. Three days later, jurors ruled that Mueller was guilty of sexually assaulting Swift. The outcome was bittersweet for Taylor who noted, “You don’t feel any sense of victory when you win, because the process is so dehumanising. This is with seven witnesses and a photo. What happens when you get raped and it’s your word against his?,” she questioned. 

Mueller’s fall from grace was short-lived and it was only a matter of time before he was back on the airwaves thanks to a new job at Delta Radio in Mississippi. This was a civil, not a criminal case, and so Mueller never faced jail time. He claimed that Swift had “ruined his life” and yet he was never really punished for his actions. 

Even those who consider themselves firmly anti-Taylor, will have heard of the infamous Video Music Award moment when the artist is formerly known as Kanye West (now legally referred to as Ye) interrupted her Best Female Video award speech… thus beginning a years-long “feud” between the two.

Distraught that his good pal Beyoncé had been overlooked, Ye was so overcome with passion that he stormed the stage to share his thoughts on the matter. “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, and imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time,” he said into the microphone – the very one he had just snatched from Swift’s outstretched hands. Over a decade later and the scandal is still ingrained in our collective cultural consciousness as one of the most shocking moments of the late noughties. It fuelled the narrative that Swift is always the victim and the resulting memes and social media discourse seemed to suggest that many thought Taylor almost deserved such humiliation. 

The internet tends to forget just how young Swift was at the time though. Only 19-years-old, Ye was 13 years her senior and completely took advantage of a vulnerable Swift who was admittedly still very sheltered to the harsh realities of the industry. Case in point: she donned a Cinderella gown and arrived at the event in a pumpkin-shaped carriage. Life was still a fairytale for the teenager and Ye ruined that illusion on the world stage in front of millions of fans and contemporaries. 

Cut to present day and Taylor is once again being forced to defend herself against a man. This time it’s Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur and later of the Gorillaz. Though not a name I personally would have known before last night, Albarn has a reputation as one of the heavyweights and so his opinion counts. Which is why his claims that Swift doesn’t write her own songs are so damaging. 

Recently interviewed for The Los Angeles Times, Albarn admitted that he thinks a lot of modern musicians are relying on sound and attitude. Challenging his interviewer to “name me someone who’s not”, Mikael Wood suggested Taylor, commenting that while she may not be to everyone’s taste, she is an “excellent songwriter”. Albarn immediately dismissed the comment, responding that “she doesn’t write her own songs”. 

To which Wood rebuked, “of course she does. Co-writes some of them”. That apparently doesn’t count, according to Albarn though who later named Billie Eilish as one of the artists he really enjoys… even though she co-writes many of her songs with her brother, Finneas. A little contradictory if you ask us. 

Swift came across the article and promptly called the English rocker out for what he said. “I was such a big fan of yours until I saw this,” she tweeted. “I write ALL of my own songs. Your hot take is completely false and SO damaging. You don’t have to like my songs but it’s really f*cked up to try and discredit my writing. WOW.”

Loyal Swifties know that Albarn’s comments are completely unfounded – Taylor is credited as a songwriter or co-songwriter on all 11 (11!!!) of her albums (it’s also partly why she can re-record all of her old songs). She even famously wrote her third studio album, Speak Now, completely solo following claims that she didn’t write her previous records.

“I’ve had several upheavals in my career. When I was 18, they were like, ‘She doesn’t really write those songs.’ So my third album I wrote by myself as a reaction to that,” Swift told Rolling Stone in 2019.

She became the youngest person ever signed to Sony/ATV Music at the age of 14 – publishing on a songwriting deal. In 2007, she was honoured by the Nashville Songwriters Association as Songwriter/Artist of the Year, becoming the youngest person ever to receive that accolade.

In 2010, she was presented with the Hal David Starlight Award given to young songwriters by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Five years later she became the youngest person ever recognised on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest songwriters of all time. The same magazine previously referred to her as a “songwriting savant” way back in 2008.

 

Albarn has since made a swift (pun very much intended) u-turn on his comments, replying to Taylor’s tweet and writing, “I totally agree with you. I had a conversation about songwriting and sadly it was reduced to clickbait. I apologise unreservedly and unconditionally. The last thing I would want to do is discredit your songwriting. I hope you understand.”

Good of him to apologise and all, but his “I’m sorry” doesn’t really add up. Claiming that his comments have been taken out of context and “reduced to clickbait” isn’t in line with how the article reads. Wood immediately defends Taylor’s status as a legitimate songwriter, thereby giving Albarn more scope to explain himself – which he does, but anything he adds only corroborates his belief that Swift’s songs are all smoke and mirrors. 

“That doesn’t count. I know what co-writing is. Co-writing is very different to writing. I’m not hating on anybody, I’m just saying there’s a big difference between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes. Doesn’t mean that the outcome can’t be really great. And some of the greatest singers – I mean, Ella Fitzgerald never wrote a song in her life. When I sing, I have to close my eyes and just be in there. I suppose I’m a traditionalist in that sense. A really interesting songwriter is Billie Eilish and her brother. I’m more attracted to that than to Taylor Swift. It’s just darker – less endlessly upbeat. Way more minor and odd. I think she’s exceptional,” he continued. 

As one of the most successful artists of her time, you might think that Taylor doesn’t really need to concern herself with the opinion of one singer over in the UK. But it’s about the principle of Albarn’s comments. Why should he be able to discredit her entire body of work in one blasé statement and get away with it? Taylor makes a very legitimate argument; Albarn may not have much standing within the Swift community, but he’s a well-regarded musician in his own right and his words have weight in the music industry. How many times will she be forced to prove herself? Spreading the rumour that she “doesn’t write her own music” takes away from everything she’s achieved in the course of her career… and we all know how hard she’s had to fight to get where she is. Especially against men.