Taylor Swift has been through the wringer over the course of her career. She is successful despite the smear campaigns against her because of her ability to navigate the entertainment industry as a musician and businesswoman. “The Man” in this case is like the “stick it to the man” man, as in institutions, powerful figures, and the patriarchy. I’ve broken that down into a few key players that she’s had to face off: Kanye West, Scooter Braun, and the media.
Taylor v. Kanye
At this point Taylor Swift and Kanye West have been feuding on and off for over a decade, and unfortunately it has been a major part of her public image from early on in her career. This mess began at the 2009 Video Music Awards when a then just eighteen-year-old Taylor won the award for “Best Female Video” for her “You Belong With Me” music video, which was up against Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” amongst other music videos. Kanye had a problem with this. He drunkenly jumped on stage and infamously said, “I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” Camera pans to Beyoncé who is inaudibly exclaiming, “Oh Kanye, no!”. The audience starts booing Kanye for his bad behaviour, but Taylor thinks they’re booing her. She’s dumbfounded and humiliated, and awkwardly walks off.
After this incident, Kanye and his supporters will continuously claim that he was just sticking up for Beyoncé since “Single Ladies” was the biggest hit of the year. Maybe, but the category was for music videos. Beyoncé danced in an empty room with two people and Taylor had a fleshed out narrative and big production. Anyways, Kanye didn’t actually need to stand up for Beyoncé because it was rude to Taylor, but more importantly “Single Ladies” won the “Video of the Year” award that same night. I don’t understand why it would be the inferior female video, but best video overall. It makes more sense that the “Video of the Year” award would be between “Best Female Video” and “Best Male Video” because if a video lost in the male or female categories, then it would lose against the winner in the overarching category based on the hierarchical structure of that, but I digress. The point is: Beyoncé didn’t need to be protected because she won the bigger accolade in the end so Kanye isn’t some martyr in this scenario.
Kanye did apologize to Taylor publicly, then privately, but after she made a joke about Kanye on her 2010 SNL appearance he claimed to be the victim of the scenario, then retracted his apologies and dissed her. However, by 2015 they seemed to have moved past this and were photographed together looking friendly at the Grammys that year. At the VMAs Taylor presented Kanye with the prestigious Vanguard award gassing him up in her speech, but his acceptance speech was unhinged and off script. He talked about how the 2009 VMA incident made his life terrible, which is kind of true. He was in a really bad place at the time since his mother died and he made a drunken mistake, but I think people had more of an issue of how he handled everything after the fact. In this same acceptance speech, Kanye criticizes MTV and award shows before announcing his 2020 presidential campaign. This was embarrassing for Taylor who stuck her neck out for Kanye by presenting the award to him as a display of friendship because he went against their mutually agreed upon plans. They seemed to move past it when Kanye sent Taylor apology flowers after.
Things between Taylor and Kanye really got bad in 2016 with Kanye’s release of his song “Famous”, which included the lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous,” which Taylor publicly hated. Kanye said that she had given him permission. Taylor said there was a conversation, but she didn’t approve of that lyric. She used her Grammys “Album of the Year” acceptance speech to claim responsibility for her success and fame.
Months later Kanye released a music video for “Famous” in which, alongside Kanye and other famous figures, there was a nude wax figure of Taylor, which she wasn’t informed about beforehand. She called it “revenge porn”, which I’d say is a true assessment of the situation considering her likeness was very realistically stripped nude and published. Kim Kardashian, reality TV star, business mogul, and Kanye’s wife, jumps into the mix and shares footage of the phone call between Taylor and Kanye in which Taylor gives Kanye permission to use the lyric about her on “Famous” on a Snapchat story. At this point, Taylor looks really bad. Kim, Kanye, the media, and everyone is calling Taylor a snake and saying she used Kanye for clout.
Fast forward to 2020 and the real full footage of Taylor and Kanye’s conversation is leaked online. It’s revealed that Kim had edited the clip to be in favour of Kanye and took Taylor’s words out of context. In the footage we see that the lyric Kanye pitched to Taylor was actually: “I feel like Taylor Swift owes me sex”. Her response was that she needed to think about it, but she was glad he didn’t call her a bitch and she doesn’t like that he used the word “owe” because it implies that he made her famous. Clearly, after this phone call Kanye tailored the lyrics to be exactly against Taylor’s expressed concerns.
So after almost five years of being portrayed as a villain in the “Famous” lyric dispute and over a decade after the 2009 VMA incident, Taylor is proved to be innocent in the Kanye mess, and Kanye* and Kim look like clowns.
*I also just want to say, Kanye does suffers from bipolar disorder which may or may not be a factor contributing to his actions in this feud and I hope he’s able to get to a good manageable place regarding his mental health.
Taylor v. Scooter
More recent news about Taylor Swift from the last couple of years includes the drama around her masters ownership. What is a master? A master is the recording of a song. So the artist records the song in the studio, the song is produced, engineered, and tweaked into the final product. This recording is put on records, CDs, streaming platforms, and lots of media forms. The person who owns the master rights gets to make the decisions for all those things, like whether it will be released on vinyl, which platforms can stream it, and what movies can use the recording; and they make money off its sales and streams. So the reason someone would want to own a master is for control over what happens to the recording of the song and to make a cut off money from it.
Taking it back to the very beginning, Taylor signed to Big Machine Records in 2005 when she was 15. Big Machine is an independent record label based in Nashville, Tennessee owned at the time by Scott Borchetta. In her contract, Taylor signed her master rights to the label, which isn’t an uncommon practice. Often artists sign away master ownership for the duration of their contract to account for the risk the label takes on for backing an unknown artist, when many new artists go nowhere. Sometimes artists buy back their masters down the line.
In November 2018, Taylor left Big Machine to sign with Republic Records. She wanted to buy her masters back, but Big Machine wouldn’t sell them back to her unless she signed to stay at the label for another ten years. Taylor knew that Scott was planning to sell Big Machine soon and Republic’s contract let her own her masters from thereon out. Her leaving was a good business decision regarding the future of her career since she didn’t know who was going to buy Big Machine and Republic let her keep her masters.
In June 2019, Scooter Braun, bigshot talent manager, bought Big Machine from Scott Borchetta. Taylor really doesn’t like Scooter and she had mentioned this to Scott several times before so she was shocked that Scott would sell the label to him. Selling the label to Scooter also meant selling the master rights of Taylor’s first six studio albums, from Taylor Swift to Reputation, to him. Taylor was fuming and only found out about the deal online like the rest of us. There’s a messy kerfuffle around whether Taylor actually got warning of the deal since her dad is a shareholder of the label and so the label claims he was informed earlier than the public. Apparently he remained willingly ignorant because under his NDA he wasn’t able to disclose information to Taylor. Scott also said he texted Taylor the night before the deal was announced. I’m not sure if she has responded to that claim, but that was all after Scott made a deal with her nemesis anyways.
So why does Taylor dislike Scooter? He’s best known for discovering and managing Justin Bieber. Taylor and Justin have beef. Justin and Taylor’s friend and fellow entertainer, Selena Gomez, used to date on and off for years. Taylor thought that Justin treated her friend badly, and Justin and Selena’s relationship seemed to end on bad terms. So, on a personal level, the vibes were just off. In general, Justin hasn’t been nice to Taylor, but it’s mainly petty things. However, Justin did make fun of Taylor on Instagram live and Scooter was with him on the stream partaking in the petty bullying. Justin eventually apologized, but I don’t think Scooter did.
Also, remember how Taylor hates Kanye? Particularly for the way he portrayed her in his lyrics and music video for “Famous”? Well Scooter used to manage him and was actually Kanye’s last manager because according to the god himself, he “can’t be managed”. Bet. Scooter was Kanye’s manager during his Life of Pablo era (the album that contains “Famous”). Now, since we believe that Kanye is unmanageable, we can’t hold Scooter as accountable for Kanye’s actions during this time to the extent of other manager + artist relationships, but there was definitely a level of compliance with the drama from “Famous”. He couldn’t not know what was in the song and music video as Kanye’s manager.
Even though this is all drama and gossip on news and media outlets, I think it’s actually really sad considering Taylor and Scott worked together for so many years and built so much together at Big Machine. Now it’s all turned sour. When Taylor was 15 she signed her masters to Scott because she trusted him. On the flip side, Scott and Scooter are also very close and Scooter is a famously savvy music businessman, so it makes sense that Scott would be comfortable selling his label to him. In the end, Scooter sold Taylor’s masters to a private equity company called Shamrock Holdings, which is a step up from Taylor’s nemesis owning her masters I guess, but why not just sell them to her?
Taylor is now in the process of recording her first six albums to create new masters for her discography that she was unable to buy back.
Taylor v. The Media
The media actually started off being in Taylor’s favour. She started off a wholesome teenage girl writing and singing country pop music with a young innocent audience. When the 2009 VMA incident occurred, media outlets slammed Kanye and defended Taylor. I’m not sure exactly when the media turned on Taylor, but it tends to be sexist and started by critiquing her love life.
Taylor was spotted on dates with guys at the beginning of her career and it quickly became a running gag that Taylor Swift always has a new boyfriend. She was also shamed for this, which is a major double standard. Even her ex John Mayer is known for dating lots of people. So all these men were allowed to date lots of people, but women couldn’t? Who were the men supposed to date if women aren’t supposed to date as much? Taylor was, and still is, entitled to date whoever she wants like the men in entertainment are allowed to do. I personally liked when she dated Taylor Lautner because I like Twilight and they have the same name. That’s so funny.
Then, the media got upset with Taylor (Swift) for writing so many songs about relationships. This one was just made up out of thin air, because what?? Love songs saturate pop and country music. That’s one of the main topics in lots of genres. It makes no sense to get angry with Taylor when everyone, including male artists like Justin Bieber, One Direction, and Drake was making music about love and relationships at the same time.
It seems whatever Taylor does, the media is going to hate it. There was talk about her being too thin, then gaining weight and her body in general, which fuelled her struggle with an eating disorder. When she had her conflicts with Kanye and Scooter they claimed she was playing victim for publicity, but when the truth came out that she made careful business decisions and covered her ass on important calls the media called her calculated and manipulative. No matter how things pan out, she can’t win.
I do think it would be better for Taylor to not be so reactive to the media, but of course that’s easy for me to say on the outside. She has said stayed single for a period of time because the media scrutinized her for dating, playing into the snake narrative for her Reputation era, and other reactive things. It just seems like she isn’t going to find peace by reacting to the media, although they’ve been much nicer to her during this folk era of her music.
At the end of the day, this all started because a 15 year old girl wanted to make country music and Taylor is still just here to make her music. All the business savvy and toolkit of tactics to navigate the industry are things she developed out of necessity and because she’s very smart. She is such a strong figure in music who constantly stands up for songwriters and women. She has earned her a long successful career.