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Taylor Swift still fighting misogyny of the 2010s pop era

Taylor Swift speaks out on the copyright acquisition of her music by alleged ‘bully’ Scooter Braun.

Pop culture exploded yesterday after a Tumblr post by pop megastar Taylor Swift called out her former label, Big Machine Records, for selling the rights to a large portion of her discography to producer Scooter Braun. In the post Swift accuses her ex manager Scott Borchetta of transferring ownership of all six of her albums to Braun, a man she alleges ‘tried to dismantle’ her career, without informing her.

Now, brushing over the frankly shocking news that people still use Tumblr, there’s a lot to unpack here. In her post Taylor states that Braun was a central figure during some of the worst years of her life, referring particularly to the escalation of her feud with the Kardashian Wests in 2015. Attached to the Tumblr paragraph is a screenshot of an Instagram tile posted by Justin Bieber in 2015 featuring him video chatting Kanye West and Scooter Braun. The caption reads ‘Taylor swift what up.’

According to Swift, the post is from a time when ‘Scooter got his two clients [Bieber and West] together to bully me online’ about an illegally released phone call between Swift and Kanye West. Swift appears to green light Kanye’s request to call her a ‘bitch’ in an upcoming song, but she has since denied that she ever gave her permission. When West’s song ‘Famous’ featured lyrics about her and included a blow-up doll with her likeness in the music video, Swift was irate.

Swift signed a contract with Big Machine Records and Scott Borchetta when she was about as green as they come in this industry – an unknown 15-year-old. Like most contracts in the music world the fine print heavily favoured the label, transferring ownership rights of her original songs to Borchetta for the foreseeable future. Taylor’s post explicates, ‘this is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept.’

Since then Swift has left Big Machine Records, but as they retain the rights to her early material, she’s had to leave this work behind her as well. Though she explains she was sure that Scott would sell on her licensing at some point, its appearance in the hands of Scooter Braun is particularly insidious given that ‘any time Scott… had heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to.’

Swift’s posts haven’t been met with unmitigated support. Yesterday Bieber clapped back with his own Instagram post which ‘apologized’ for the ‘hurtful Instagram post’ back in 2015 before accusing Taylor of ‘defacing’ Braun and ‘crossing a line’. Demi Lovato, another of Braun’s clients, also leapt to his defence, asking Taylor to ‘please stop dragging people or bullying them’.


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Hey Taylor. First of all i would like to apologize for posting that hurtful instagram post, at the time i thought it was funny but looking back it was distasteful and insensitive.. I have to be honest though it was my caption and post that I screenshoted of scooter and Kanye that said “taylor swift what up” he didnt have anything to do with it and it wasnt even a part of the conversation in all actuality he was the person who told me not to joke like that.. Scooter has had your back since the days you graciously let me open up for you.! As the years have passed we haven’t crossed paths and gotten to communicate our differences, hurts or frustrations. So for you to take it to social media and get people to hate on scooter isn’t fair. What were you trying to accomplish by posting that blog? seems to me like it was to get sympathy u also knew that in posting that your fans would go and bully scooter. Anyway, One thing i know is both scooter and i love you. I feel like the only way to resolve conflict is through communication. So banter back and fourth online i dont believe solves anything. I’m sure Scooter and i would love to talk to you and resolve any conflict, pain or or any feelings that need to be addressed. Neither scooter or i have anything negative to say about you we truly want the best for you. I usually don’t rebuttal things like this but when you try and deface someone i loves character thats crossing a line..

A post shared by Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) on

One thing that I think is interesting in this celebrity blow up is the similarity of the language used by famous interjectors. Taylor’s original post accuses Braun of being a ‘manipulative bully’. Bieber states that the point of her blog was likely to entice her fans to ‘go and bully scooter’, and Levato reckons that Taylor’s post itself is ‘bullying’.

There’s no easier way to take all the shades of grey out of an argument than to accuse your accuser of the exact same thing you’re being accused of. It’s the same reason ‘no u’ worked so well in primary school: it’s much harder to accuse Billy-Joe of smelling bad if he then states that it is in fact you who smells bad. You end up in a stand-off whereby either everybody is smelly, or nobody is.

Moreover, the term ‘bullying’ is one of those wokeisms, like ‘gaslighting’ or ‘mansplaining’, that was invented to describe a social problem but has become so co-opted by the original guilty parties that it’s now lost all meaning. It’s my opinion that it’s being used by people in response to Swift’s statement to attempt to shut down the conversation.

According to the OED, ‘bullying’ refers to the act of seeking to ‘harm, intimidate, or coerce’ another individual. I can absolutely see how the act of three people singling out one person on social media with the aim of humiliating them to their millions of followers could be interpreted as bullying. I cannot see how a post by an individual claiming that her music has been hijacked by a man who has caused her mental distress, accompanied by supporting evidence, could be interpreted as bullying.

I do not draw this conclusion in a vacuum. Swift’s claims against Braun are not baseless. Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey, Selena Gomez, Rihanna, and Adele have unfollowed Scooter on social media in the past after having interactions with him. Celebrities that have come out in support of Swift (and there are many) are ex-clients of Braun who state explicitly that he is an ‘evil man’ who has made homophobic comments and expressed anti-Swift sentiment (looking particularly at Todrick Hall’s statement).

Whilst there’s an element of ‘two sides to every story’ here, it’s notable that Swift’s own post focuses on her emotional response to undisputed facts (notably the sale of her music), whilst posts like Levato’s contain frankly bizarre maxims that she’s ‘always gonna stay loyal to [her] team’. The implication is that she’ll stay loyal to Braun and those she works with no matter what their behaviour. One’s reminded of Lena Dunham’s misguided and reactionary support of one of her writers after he was accused of sexual assault which she later retracted (we discuss this more in depth here). As Lena found out, it’s frankly unwise to nail your ethical colours quite so firmly to anyone else’s mast in this day and age when the public eye is so unforgiving and statements are so universally public.

Swift’s current predicament is remarkable for another reason, too. It exists in a narrative that has long defined how women interact in the music industry. During the surge of young female pop stars that came to prominence in the early 2010s there came a reactionary push from big labels to sign young, good looking women in the hope that some of them would find there footing in this flavour of the month environment and rake in the dough. When they did, all their music would belong to the label. It was a system ripe for exploitation from the get go.

One young pop star whose been repeatedly burned by this power dynamic is Ke$ha, who remains in a legal battle with a music agent she alleges sexually assaulted her during her heyday in the early 2010s. Ke$ha accused producer ‘Dr. Luke’ of rape, battery, and harassment in 2014, however due to Luke’s powerful countersuit she’s been locked in legal proceedings ever since. This means that all her past work and any work she plans to do in the foreseeable future will be owned and overseen by her (alleged) rapist. It’s safe to say that the ownership battle over her work has cost Ke$ha a significant chunk of her career.

With so many cases of this sort of abuse circulating in the industry it’s hard to see why people are reacting so strongly against Swift. As much as she’s tried to distance herself from the toxic hierarchies that exist within big labels, having since switched to Universal Music where she officially owns all her own material, the scars of corporate ownership clearly still exist for her.

Personally, I take heart from such considered, measured responses and that of Cara Delavigne to Bieber’s recent insta post. ‘I wish you spent less time sticking up for men and more time trying to understand women and respecting their valid reactions’ she says.

It’s also nice to see that the era of young female pop stars being kitted out in cookie cutter outfits and pushed to create identical hits by their male dominated labels seems to be coming to an end. Billie Eilish is signed to Interscope Records and has clearly been given the creative freedom to do as she wishes with both her music and her aesthetic. Surprise surprise, when young women are given autonomy over their own brand the results can be pretty spectacular, as Eilish’s signature baggy jumper and jeans proves that you don’t need to pander to the male gaze to have in identity in pop music.

This story could continue to evolve, and we know it’s important to maintain objectivity when appraising other people’s disputes. But, for now, we defend any woman’s right to publicly speak out against manipulation or foul play by a man within historically problematic industries.