Taylor Swift is still only 31 years old. I feel like I’ve been reading about her for that long (I developed very early). This is a woman – and a recording artist – who not only knows what she wants, but isn’t afraid of being the first one to take the steps to get it, regardless of what happens.
I remember first realising that Swifty was no ordinary artist after she removed all her work from Spotify back in 2014, due to the platform not giving artists enough of a cut. Translation: they get fuck all. She then brokered a record deal in 2017 ensuring that all musicians under her label Universal would get a slightly fairer deal with the streaming giant (an actual cut of the money generated by streams) This would help smaller artists who, if money was divided fairly, would stand to make a fair amount from streaming platforms.
Then, of course, there was the Kanye controversy. Kim Kardashian alleged that Taylor knew in advance about the notorious Swift-baiting lyrics to his track ‘Famous’ – a claim the singer denied – which looked like it might temporarily derail Swift’s ‘decent honest strong woman’ image. Then it was pointed out that Swift had no idea she was being recorded in a leaked phone call of the trio’s conversation, and Kanye wasn’t totally honest about the lyrics he was asking permission for. He hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory since (the less said about the Trump bootlicking the better).
Now, after releasing the surprise album ‘Folklore’ just as we were emerging from lockdown one last year, plus sister album ‘Evermore’ in December (is anyone else tired just reading this?) she’s taking control of her back catalog by re-recording her first six albums. I hope she at least had Christmas off.
Now, strap in for the juicy stuff. In June 2019, her extensive past works changed hands for the second time in two years when Scooter Braun’s holdings company Ithaca Holdings LLC acquired her label Big Machine Label Group. It turns out that Swift had been trying to buy her own back catalogue from Big Machine (whom she’d been signed to since she was 15), but founder Scott Borchetta refused. Strike one.
Then Scooter Braun’s company acquired them and thus owned her gold. Swift published an extremely angry piece on Tumblr (why didn’t she just go the whole hog and remove them from her Top Ten on MySpace?) accusing Braun of being an “incessant, manipulative bully” and claiming him owning her work was her “worst case scenario”. Whatever happened, Scooter Braun sounds like a shaving device marketed to recently divorced dads.
Swift labelled both men “toxic manipulators”. Imagine how many other people have wanted to say this. She lived everyone’s dream of calling your boss out for the prick they are! You only need to look at Kesha’s toxic relationship with producer Dr. Luke’s Kemosabe Records to see how unhealthy and unequivocally binding recording contracts can be. When you think about it, it’s strange that an artist doesn’t automatically own their masters, as well as their label. It’s controlling in itself. Which is why when Swift signed with Universal in February 2020, part of the deal was that she got to keep the masters of everything she made then on. Clever.
She claimed that Braun would only discuss her back catalogue with her if she signed an NDA that stopped her from ever badmouthing him (she declined, clearly). In the end, Braun has since sold Swift’s masters to a company called Shamrock Ltd; she then voiced her distaste about this through a delicious twitter rant. (Braun later told the Wide Open podcast: “I don’t do anything with malicious intent. I try to do things above board. I try to do the right thing… Not everyone’s going to be happy with everything that you do, and I think in the long-term – I’ve learned this over time – the truth always comes out, and I’m confident in that.”)
In the ultimate power move, Swift has started to re-record her old songs, enabling her to once again regain control over where and how they’re used. If this is her self-partnering (the phrase that actor Emma Watson coined for being single a few years back that sounds a bit like a posh wank), then good luck to her. Surely, it’s the ultimate act of self-love.
I’ve nailed my colours to the mast – after years of not quite knowing why controversy supposedly follows her around, I finally realised that Taylor Swift simply doesn’t take any shit. I’m Team Swift. Happy Valentine’s Day, Taylor.