In July, Taylor Swift caused something of a rift in the music industry and public opinion when she opened up about Scooter Braun’s company buying out Big Machine Records, the old label under which Swift recorded her first six albums. The reason anybody cared was because this meant Braun’s company would now own the masters to Taylor Swift’s first six albums, which affects her ability to earn money off the master recordings. (Like, royalties, basically.) It also means she does not have control over how those recordings are released. That second bit became especially relevant yesterday, when Taylor Swift released a very open statement accusing Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Label Group, of forbidding her from performing her old songs.
Don’t know what else to do pic.twitter.com/1uBrXwviTS
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) November 14, 2019
In the statement, she claims that she will be honored with the Artist of the Decade award at the American Music Awards, and wanted to perform a medley of her hits throughout the decade. Makes total sense. But, she alleges, “Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said I’m not allowed to perform my old songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I’m allowed to next year.” She continues that, in addition, Netflix had been filming a documentary about her life, but “Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project, even though there is no mention of either of them or Big Machine Records anywhere in the film.”
She claimed that Scott Borchetta told Taylor’s team that she would be allowed to use her music only if she agrees to not re-record “copycat versions” of her music next year, and if she stops talking (sh*t) about him and Scooter. In other words, as Taylor ominously puts it in her statement: “be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.”
This morning, Big Machine Label Group released a statement that straight-up denies each of Swift’s accusations. The statement says, “At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special. In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere.” Which is cool, but (deliberately or not) avoids the issue of did Big Machine say Taylor could not perform certain songs? The question is whether or not she was permitted to perform, it’s whether she was permitted to perform the songs she does not own the masters for.
Furthermore, they also claim, “Since Taylor’s decision to leave Big Machine last fall, we have continued to honor all of her requests to license her catalog to third parties as she promotes her current record in which we do not financially participate.” This directly contradicts Taylor Swift’s assertions that Scooter Braun et. al. are basically holding her music hostage and preventing her from doing what she wants with it.
But in their statement, Big Machine Label Group takes it one step further and completely throws Taylor under the bus. “The truth is,” it reads, “Taylor has admitted to contractually owing millions of dollars and multiple assets to our company, which is responsible for 120 hardworking employees who helped build her career.” This is attempting to make Taylor look greedy; she is worth an estimated $360 million, and yet she is being accused of screwing over “hardworking” little people. This statement to me is suspect. Taylor Swift has the money—I’m inclined to believe that if she is withholding money and assets (aka songs), she has a good reason for it.
Then, they go on to say that they have tried to come to a solution with Taylor that benefits both parties, and thought they were getting somewhere, until Taylor nuked it yesterday with her statement enlisting her fans to go apesh*t on Braun and Borchetta. They said that in a more fluffed-up PR way, but it’s clear the message they are trying to convey: they are just innocent, hardworking people who are trying to work with Taylor, and she is the one standing in her own way. They claim, “Taylor made a unilateral decision last night to enlist her fanbase in a calculated manner that greatly affects the safety of our employees and their families.” Which, like, okay. Taylor Swift does have a rabid fanbase, but it’s not like she’s got actual hitters out here. Worst case scenario, I feel like Scooter Braun is going to have a lot of angry teenagers in his mentions and DMs.
But the statement ends with the real knockout punch: “Taylor, the narrative you have created does not exist.” When I read that, I audibly bellowed out, “oooooh!” with my hand over my mouth like I was at a f*cking rap battle. (My coworkers looked concerned.) This is what we in the business refer to as a callback—in this case, to Taylor Swift’s infamous response to the Kim/Kanye feud of 2016 when, after losing the battle against the Wests in the court of public opinion, Taylor said, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.” I’d bet that this was a very deliberate choice in words, meant to call into question Taylor’s credibility, and remind people that, at least according to the story Kim and Kanye told, which many people believe, Taylor Swift has attempted to manipulate facts to sway public opinion in her favor before.
Frankly, it’s hard to know what to believe when we are receiving two completely contradictory accounts. I always like to say that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but there doesn’t seem room for much of a middle ground here: you either did forbid someone from performing at the AMAs, or you didn’t. You either blocked their Netflix special, or you didn’t. Maybe I lack imagination, but I don’t see how both scenarios could still hold truth.
Given her history, I have to believe that Taylor is telling the truth. She knows better than anyone what can happen to one’s career when they are perceived to be caught in a lie; to deliberately manufacture a false tale of victimhood would surely blow up in her face, and Taylor and her team would have to know this. If she was not being prohibited from performing at the AMAs and doing a Netflix special, then surely she would just do those things? Aside from news stories and an outpouring of support from people who already support her, Taylor Swift would have nothing to gain by making this up.
So then, it’s my opinion that this statement from Big Machine Label Group is nothing short of a hit job. Forget trying to spin Taylor’s story—they are upending it. They’re denying it ever happened. And by doing so, they’re trying to call her sanity into question. If Taylor’s account is true, then this statement is pure gaslighting—both her, and the public.
Images: taylorswift 13 / Twitter; Getty Images