Yesterday, I was going about my business when I got a push notification that really surprised me. My phone was chiming in to inform me that, once again, Taylor Swift has beef with Scooter Braun. I know this entire year has felt like a bizarre alternate universe and time is a social construct, but I really thought we had left Taylor Swift’s drama with Scooter Braun in 2019. But despite my initial surprise (and the eye roll that went along with it), of course I had to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on. The saga of Taylor and Scooter is still going strong, and unsurprisingly, Scooter still looks like an asshole.
But before we get into the new developments, how about a quick refresher of how we got here. Scooter Braun is best known as the manager of major recording acts such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Demi Lovato, but he’s also a major record executive and investor. Taylor Swift is… Taylor Swift. Duh. In 2018, after over a decade of releasing music through the Big Machine record label, Taylor signed a new recording contract with a different label. Due to the terms of her Big Machine contract, the label still owned the master recordings of her first six albums, even after she left. In the summer of 2019, without Taylor’s knowledge, Scooter Braun’s company bought Big Machine, which basically made Scooter the owner of Taylor Swift’s entire catalogue.
Taylor was livid when she found out about Scooter’s purchase, and this was when the drama ignited publicly for the first time. In a searing public statement, Taylor accused Scooter of years of “incessant, manipulative bullying,” and claimed that “my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” Later in the year, Taylor also claimed that Big Machine (aka Scooter Braun) was trying to stop her from performing a medley of her hits at the American Music Awards, or from using her songs in her documentary Miss Americana. In her post, she invited her fans to let Braun know how they felt about these actions, and as you can imagine, the response was intense. In a subsequent post, Scooter Braun said he received death threats, and pleaded with Taylor to bury the hatchet. Ultimately, Taylor was allowed to perform at the AMAs and use her songs in the documentary, but even though that particular beef was squashed, it wasn’t like Taylor and Scooter were going to get brunch anytime soon.
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So where does that leave us now? Well, fast forward a year, and Scooter Braun has already sold Taylor’s masters to another company. Last month, all of the recordings, videos, and album art from Taylor’s first six albums were purchased by Shamrock Holdings in a deal believed to be worth over $300 million, and on Monday, Taylor Swift shared an open letter, in which she made some important clarifications about the recent deal.
First of all, Taylor makes it clear that she wanted to purchase the masters herself, and she tried to do so. But before Scooter’s team would enter discussions with Taylor or even quote a price, she was told she would need to agree to sign a permanent NDA agreeing to never say another negative thing about Scooter Braun. This request was a dealbreaker for Taylor. She says plainly, “These master recordings were not for sale to me.”
Been getting a lot of questions about the recent sale of my old masters. I hope this clears things up. pic.twitter.com/sscKXp2ibD
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) November 16, 2020
Then, she gets into the stuff with Shamrock Holdings. She says she received a letter from the private equity company after the deal was done, and they told her that Scooter Braun made it clear the deal would be off if they told Taylor before it was completed. While Taylor says she was initially “hopeful and open to the possibility of a partnership with Shamrock,” she soon found out that under the deal, Scooter Braun will continue to profit from the masters for the foreseeable future. Taylor writes that “Scooter’s participation is a non-starter,” and makes it clear that she will be moving forward with her previous plan to re-record the songs from her first six albums.
So at the end of the day, we’re basically in the exact same place as before. Taylor Swift still doesn’t have any ownership over the recordings from the first decade of her career, and Scooter Braun is still profiting off of the work of someone who hates his guts. Nothing has really changed, yet here we are (things I say about being on day 287 of quarantine).
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Images: tinseltown / shutterstock.com; scooterbraun / Instagram; taylorswift13 / Twitter
It’s been nearly five months since Taylor Swift first began her public crusade against Scooter Braun, but until yesterday, it was a one-sided battle. From this summer’s fallout over the sale of Taylor’s master recordings to last week’s drama over whether Taylor would be allowed to perform her hits at this weekend’s American Music Awards, Scooter Braun stayed silent. Lots of his famous friends spoke out to support him or dispute Taylor’s claims, but Scooter didn’t have anything to say… until now.
On Thursday, Braun spoke at the 2019 Entertainment Industry Conference, and he finally addressed his issues with Taylor Swift, and was more than a little shady in the process. He explained his reticence to engage with Taylor on social media, saying that “we live in a time of toxic division, and of people thinking that social media is the appropriate place to air out on each other and not have conversations. And I don’t like politicians doing it. I don’t like anybody doing it.” Lol, ok boomer. You don’t have to be public about your sh*t, but it’s 2019, and that’s just how people do things. Chiding Taylor Swift for being open about her feelings on social media isn’t a great look, and it’s almost certainly a losing battle for Scooter Braun. Also, who asked about politicians? No one, that’s who.
Scooter also said that he believes most of Taylor’s issues with him stem from “misunderstandings,” and that he would like to have a private conversation with her, but he doesn’t wish to publicly “add to the narrative.” This last comment harkens back to an iconic instance in which Taylor Swift asked to be excluded from a narrative, and then again in Big Machine Label Group’s own initial statement where they claimed to Taylor, “the narrative you have created does not exist”. So in this case, using the word “narrative” feels a little icky. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Taylor Swift or how she’s chosen to deal with situations in the past, but she’s brought up some pretty serious issues in her statements about Scooter Braun, and it feels like he’s trying to minimize his role in this situation.
In saying that he didn’t want to publicly elaborate on the situation with Taylor, he also added, “If that means that I’ve got to be the bad guy longer, I’ll be the bad guy longer, but I’m not going to participate.” You can’t see me, but I just cringed like, very hard. I think Scooter mostly just means that everyone *thinks* he’s the bad guy, but this is still a strange choice of words to me. Like, why are you going to refer to yourself as the bad guy if this whole thing is just a misunderstanding? Which one is it? Also, the way he phrased “be the bad guy longer” doesn’t really make me think he wants to end the feud with Taylor ASAP. It sounds like he’s ready to drag it out just as long as Taylor, except he’s trying to pretend he doesn’t want to.
But then, less than 24 hours after Scooter Braun made all these comments about not airing sh*t out on social media, he took to Instagram to, uh, air a lot of sh*t out. His open letter to Taylor Swift, though sadly not a screenshot from the iPhone Notes App, is a whole lot to take in, but I read it all so you don’t have to.
In the first paragraph, he acknowledges his prior comments about not speaking on social media, but explains that he came home on Thursday to find that his wife had received a threatening phone call. Scooter Braun knows that he’s seen as the “bad guy” in this situation, and by immediately positioning his statement as strictly a response to safety concerns, he smartly buys some time to explain himself. In the second paragraph, he shifts from his expressing concern to basically lecturing Taylor Swift about the power of her words.
My initial reaction was to say that no one needs to tell Taylor Swift her words are powerful. She has some of the most intense fans in the world, and she wouldn’t be posting about this sh*t if she didn’t think anyone would listen. But then again, because she has some of the most intense fans in the world, she should know that people will react strongly to her words, and potentially take things too far. I’m sure she doesn’t want anything bad to happen, but when she explicitly asks her fans for their help, some of them aren’t going to be chill about it. Scooter also says that Taylor was notified by her attorney about the threats four days ago. If that’s true, it definitely doesn’t make Taylor look great, because she hasn’t spoken out at all.
Moving on to the second page of the statement (FML), Scooter gets up on his soapbox, throwing in a pointless sentence about how “we are living in a time of pointless violence.” Not incorrect, but with all due respect, what does this have to do with anything? This isn’t about gun control, it’s about Taylor Swift saying some things you didn’t like on social media.
Scooter reiterates that he doesn’t like the “toxic division where people express their opinions over social media instead of having conversations in person,” and then quickly launches into expressing his opinions over, you guessed it, social media. He brings things back to the drama over the summer, saying he was “shocked and disheartened” to hear that Taylor was so upset about his inclusion in the deal to buy her masters. He claims that over the last several months, he’s made many attempts to “rectify the situation,” but that all his attempts to discuss things with Taylor have been rejected.
In this part of the letter, Scooter’s tone varies from sentence to sentence—sometimes he sounds concerned for Taylor’s best interests (“I’m open to ALL possibilities”), but then he’ll turn petty, like when he says that “it almost feels as if you have no interest in ever resolving the conflict.” He finishes the second page by saying that “this game of telephone isn’t working,” and honestly, I feel like he’s being a little dramatic.
In the third and (thankfully) final page of the letter, Scooter moves into damage control mode, saying anything that might get Taylor Swift’s army of fans to leave him alone. He says that “no artist should ever feel cornered or bullied,” and then reiterates that she can perform whatever songs she wants at the AMAs this weekend. But even in that statement, he denies all of Taylor’s accusations, saying that he ” never and would never say otherwise.”
In his closing paragraph, Scooter once again states that he would like to meet with Taylor, saying that he’ll make himself available for her. Of course, he does so while also being a shady bitch, saying that if Taylor “would prefer to make large public statements while refusing to work towards resolving things amicably,” then hopefully no one will get hurt. I mean, I’m pretty sure we all hope no one gets hurt over this bullsh*t, but this really isn’t a nice way of speaking to someone, and it almost sounds like a threat.
Just like every story, I’m sure neither Scooter Braun nor Taylor Swift are telling things 100% accurately, and we’ll never really know the truth of everything that’s gone down between them. But I do feel like Scooter is playing a game with this open letter, and I’m curious to find out if Taylor Swift engages with him after his big public statement. I guess we’ll first see what Taylor Swift ends up doing at the AMAs, and then go from there, but I have a feeling we won’t hear much more about this situation. Scooter and Taylor have both said all they have to say, and even if they meet to work through their issues, I’m pretty sure they’re never going to be best friends. But most of all, I’m just annoyed that now I have to watch the American Music Awards.
Images: scooterbraun (3) / Instagram
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