Taylor Swift's Masters Drama Goes Further Than Industry Fine Print

Her latest debacle with Scooter Braun and her former label raises questions about authorship and rights.
02 July 2019, 7:30am
Taylor Swift Scooter Braun Scott Borchetta Big Machine masters
Photo credit: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Taylor Swift is in the news again again. The country-turned-pop-star has now been caught up in some drama regarding the ownership of her masters.

A quick breakdown: Swift wrote an angry, impassioned post on her Tumblr page on Sunday, addressing the purchase of her former label, Big Machine Label Group. She said she was "sad and grossed out" that music mogul Scott "Scooter" Braun, who discovered Justin Bieber, bought Big Machine (and with it, ownership of all her music released on the label). As she puts it, he was responsible for "incessant, manipulative bullying" perpetrated against her.

That bullying includes, according to Swift, that moment when Kim Kardashian-West leaked the phone call Kanye West made to Swift asking for permission to invoke her name and mention of a possible future sexual encounter with her in his song "Famous." At the time, Swift said she had no idea about the song and was appalled by the line "I made that bitch famous," but then there's video footage of her on the phone saying she loved the song more broadly. Swift alleges in her post that Kardashian-West "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," referring to a 2016 photo of Braun, Bieber, and West posted by Bieber taunting Swift with the caption "Taylor swift what up." The caption has since been deleted, but the photo remains.

Having bought Big Machine, Braun is now the owner of the master recordings of six of her albums, including 1989, Reputation, and Speak Now. "Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy," she wrote. "Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it. This is my worst case scenario."

Swift and Braun's famous friends took to social media to take sides in the fight, with Bieber asking what she hoped to gain from her post. "Seems to me like it was to get sympathy u also knew that in posting that your fans would go and bully scooter,” he wrote. Demi Lovato spoke up for Braun, calling him a "good man" on her Instagram stories. Katy Perry said she stands with Taylor, while Cara Delevingne trashed Bieber for not "lifting women up instead of tearing them down because you are threatened," and YouTuber Todrick Hall called Braun an "evil person," "homophobic" and "not a Swift fan." Even Braun's wife, Yael Cohen Braun, got in the pit in defense of her man.

Here's where it gets extra muddy. Swift alleges in her post that she learned about the acquisition of her masters "as it was announced to the world". But there's another Scott involved here besides Braun: Scott Borchetta, the former owner of Big Machine. Swift mentions in her post that "Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to. He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever." She also alleged that she "pleaded for a chance" to own her masters, but that the deal presented to her forced her to earn one album back for every new album she created for the label, so she walked.

But now, as was the case with the Kim-Kanye scandal, the story's been complicated by past private messages being made public. Borchetta posted on the Big Machine website that "it's time for some truth," claiming that not only did Swift know of the acquisition ahead of time – because her father, Scott Swift, is a shareholder in the label and thus was part of a meeting in which the transaction was discussed, voted on, and passed – but that Borchetta texted her the night before to let her know that Braun was taking over the label. While he didn't post screenshots, he shared the text of the message he sent her letting her know that the news would be breaking the following day. Borchetta also shared messages and screenshots of a contract between the two of them discussing a possible new deal that would also allow her to own all her masters. He writes: "As you will read, 100 percent of all Taylor Swift assets were to be transferred to her immediately upon signing the new agreement. We were working together on a new type of deal for our new streaming world that was not necessarily tied to ‘albums’ but more of a length of time."

In a text she allegedly sent him (again, there were no screenshots shared, only text of the message), Swift wrote: "Since communication ran dry on our negotiations, I’ve done what I told you I would do and gone out exploring other options. Owning my masters was very important to me, but I’ve since realised that there are things that mean even more to me in the bigger picture. I had a choice whether to bet on my past or to bet on the future and I think knowing me, you can guess which one I chose." Borchetta also alleges that Braun approached Swift to participate in the concerts to support the Manchester bombing victims and the Parkland March and she declined both.

This does not look good for Swift. She is an attractive white woman who built her image on being a good country girl. American society is designed to bolster her, believe in her, and give her countless opportunities. And to be fair, in the cases that have appeared in the court of public opinion, Swift usually has valid points to make. West did use her image in a video in which she appears to be naked and in bed with several other celebrities, which must have felt awful, and she said so herself in the Tumblr post. Losing ownership of the music that she poured her heart into to her sworn enemy must be absolutely devastating.

She sang about the old Taylor being dead on her last album Reputation, replaced by a take-no-prisoners version of herself who would hold nothing back against those who have wronged her. But more and more, the distinction between old Taylor and New Taylor, i.e. Good Taylor and Bad Taylor, gets blurrier as she gets caught in what seems to be failed attempts at driving a narrative. Her fans are then forced to believe in her, or see through what she says and choose to love her anyway, or… not. But they deserve more. At the very least, they deserve to idolise a person who understands the existence and power of a screenshot.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.