Taylor Swift has set heads in the music industry spinning with a frank and fiery statement about the recent sale of her entire back catalogue.
It was announced yesterday that Big Machine Records, the pop star's former label, had been acquired by Ithaca Holdings, a company led by Scooter Braun. The high-powered music manager counts Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato among his clients – and used to represent Kanye West, one of Swift's industry rivals. Ithaca's purchase of Big Machine Label Group means it now owns a string of artists' master recordings, Swift's first six albums among them.
Describing the deal as her worst-case scenario, Swift wrote on Tumblr: "Some fun facts about today's news: I learned about Scooter Braun's purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world. All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I've received at his hands for years."
"Like when Kim Kardashian 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.
“Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked.”
Scott Borchetta knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn't want to be associated with them. In perpetuity
She attached a screenshot of an old Justin Bieber Instagram post, captioned “Taylor swift what up”, showing Bieber FaceTiming Braun and West. It was posted at the height of Swift’s feud with West and Kim Kardashian, in 2016.
Swift signed with Big Machine Records when she was 15, recording the six albums that Ithaca now owns. She announced last November that she was leaving the label to sign a deal with Universal Records.
In her Tumblr post Swift hit out at Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Records, whom, she wrote, she had for years "asked, pleaded" for a chance to own her work. When he offered her a less attractive deal she walked away and signed with the Universal subsidiary Republic Records, an agreement that means she will own all her new master recordings.
“When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them,” she wrote. “Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. 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 concluded her post: “Sad and grossed out, Taylor”.
Swift’s dismayed reaction to the Ithaca deal highlights a music-industry practice the average fan may not be familiar with. Many artists sign over the rights to their master recordings in exchange for support from their record label. This means the label takes control of the licensing, marketing and release of an artist’s music.
Artists who own their own masters – who include Jay-Z, 21 Savage and SZA – keep total control of how their music is used while also benefiting financially.
Scott Borchetta responded to Swift with his own blog post, entitled, "So, it's time for some truth..." Disputing Swift's version of events, he published a screenshot of what he said was an earlier offer that would have seen "100% of all Taylor Swift assets" transferred to her as soon as the singer signed a new deal with Big Machine.
He added that he had texted Swift on Saturday morning, to tell her about the deal the day before news of it broke. He also wrote that her father, Scott Swift, was a shareholder in Big Machine Records and was therefore notified of the deal last week. Swift's team denied this, saying that her father did not participate in a shareholder telephone call because of a confidentiality clause that would have prohibited him from discussing the deal with his daughter.
Borchetta also denied her suggestion that her witnessed her in tears anytime Scooter Braun’s name was previously brought up.
And girl, who are you to talk about bullying? The world has watched you collect and drop friends like wilted flowers. My husband is anything but a bully
“Was I aware of some prior issues between Taylor and Justin Bieber? Yes. But there were also times where Taylor knew that I was close to Scooter and that Scooter was a very good source of information for upcoming album releases, tours, etc, and I’d reach out to him for information on our behalf. Scooter was never anything but positive about Taylor.
“He called me directly about Manchester” – the One Love benefit concert, after the terrorist bombing of Ariana Grande’s concert in the city in May 2017 – “to see if Taylor would participate (she declined). He called me directly to see if Taylor wanted to participate in the Parkland March” – the March for Our Lives, in 2018, led by students and survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting – “(she declined). Scooter has always been and will continue to be a supporter and honest custodian for Taylor and her music.”
Braun's wife, Yael Cohen Braun, was one of his many supporters to come to his defence."And girl, who are you to talk about bullying?" she wrote on Instagram. "The world has watched you collect and drop friends like wilted flowers. My husband is anything but a bully, he's spent his life standing up for people and causes he believes in..."
Justin Bieber apologised for the Instagram post that Swift had found hurtful, calling it "distasteful and offensive", but then asked: "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."
Amid the conflicting narratives, many of Swift's peers have taken her side. Halsey, Iggy Azalea, Cara Delevingne, and Todrick Hall are among the stars to express support for the singer. And Swift's fans have made #WeStandWithTaylortrend on Twitter.
But perhaps the most salient advice has come from Cher. The singer told Swift: "Pull up ur big-girl g-string, pull on ur rhinestone combat boots, kick some ass & remember, 'You are a rich man.'"