Is Taylor Swift Really ‘Playing the Victim’ in Her Masters Dispute With Scooter Braun?
The pop superstar has a history of bending the truth to fit her own narratives, but the issue of artists exercising ownership over their own music is even bigger than her.
Leave it to Taylor Swift to break the internet over a record label acquisition. Usually complex, insider maneuvering over a musician’s right to her masters wouldn’t merit the tabloid treatment. But Taylor Swift disrupted business as usual on Sunday, posting a lengthy response to the news that Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings media company had acquired the Scott Borchetta-founded Big Machine Label Group. As Variety explained, “The acquisition encompasses all aspects of BMLG’s business, including its client roster, distribution deals, publishing sides and owned artist masters—including the rights to Taylor Swift’s first six albums.”
To hear Swift tell it, the Prideful pop star had no prior knowledge of the $300 million deal. “I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world,” the singer told her fans. She alleged that she “pleaded for a chance to own my work” for years. “Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past.”
According to Swift, the fact that Scooter Braun would be acquiring the rights to her first six albums made the sale particularly devastating: “All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at [Braun’s] hands for years.” Swift went on to write about the powerful talent manager’s role in her career nadir, when her longstanding feud with Kanye West culminated in a public calling out by Kim Kardashian. In her update, Swift included an Instagram from Justin Bieber that he posted at the time, FaceTiming with West and Braun, captioned “Taylor swift what up.” Swift annotated the image, writing, “This is Scooter Braun, bullying me on social media when I was at my lowest point. He’s about to own all the music I’ve ever made.” Swift referenced this post in her response, recalling, “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.” She also cited “when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked” as another example of Braun’s “bullying.”
“Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”
“When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them,” Swift concluded. “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.”
In true Taylor fashion, she ended her post by reminding followers that her new album, Lover, will be out August 23—a “healthier option” for Swifties who don’t want their fandom lining Braun’s pockets.
Following Swift’s missive, this scandal got even more esoteric. Big Machine released their own statement, complete with text message transcripts and a “screen shot of deal points.” First off, Scott Borchetta asked to be excluded from the narrative that his business dealings blindsided the star. “I truly doubt that she ‘woke up to the news when everyone else did,’” Borchetta clapped back. He pointed out that Swift’s dad, Scott Swift, was a Big Machine Records shareholder, and that they were made aware of the pending deal with Ithaca Holdings ahead of the acquisition. Additionally, Brochette claimed that “out of courtesy” he texted Taylor “at 9:06pm, Saturday, June 29th to inform her prior to the story breaking on the morning of Sunday, June 30th so she could hear it directly from me.”
A spokesperson for Swift countered that, “On June 25, there was a shareholder phone call that Scott Swift did not participate in, due to a very strict NDA that bound all shareholders and prohibited any discussion at all without risk of severe penalty. Her dad did not join that call because he did not want to be required to withhold any information from his own daughter. Taylor found out from the news articles when she woke up before seeing any text from Scott Borchetta, and he did not call her in advance.”
Borchetta also refuted Swift’s version of her masters saga, attaching “a few very important deal points” from the label’s “official last offer” to Swift (the pop star ultimately signed a new recording agreement with Universal after her deal with Big Machine expired in 2018). “As you will read, 100% of all Taylor Swift assets were to be transferred to her immediately upon signing the new agreement,” Borchetta wrote of the proposed 10-year contract. “Taylor had every chance in the world to own not just her master recordings, but every video, photograph, everything associated to her career. She chose to leave.”
“As to her comments about ‘being in tears or close to it’ anytime my new partner Scooter Braun’s name was brought up, I certainly never experienced that,” Borchetta continued. “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 to see if Taylor would participate (she declined). He called me directly to see if Taylor wanted to participate in the Parkland March (she declined). Scooter has always been and will continue to be a supporter and honest custodian for Taylor and her music.”
After years of studied silence, Taylor Swift has recently pivoted to speaking out against injustices both personal and political. This most recent statement is emblematic of everything that Taylor Swift stands for: female empowerment, creative control, and, most importantly, Taylor Swift. Swift’s messaging might be emotional, but she’s talking about her business first and foremost. Her decision to recast an industry deal as a highly personal, gendered affront is deliberate, like every move the pop star makes. Scott Borchetta may have some receipts, but Taylor Swift knows what she’s doing.
Naturally, the singer successfully got the entire internet talking about her masters, with pop stars quickly picking sides. According to The Independent, “Reports on social media suggest that a number of other high-profile singers, including Camila Cabello, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus, have unfollowed Braun. Other singers, such as Halsey, have shared their own distaste at the situation and expressed solidarity with Swift.”
In a social media post Justin Bieber, a lifelong Scooter Braun client, criticized Taylor for “defac[ing]” Braun’s character. Bieber began by apologizing for his old Instagram post, writing, “At the time i thought it was funny but looking back it was distasteful and insensitive.” He claimed that Braun wasn’t to blame for the post or the caption, and “in all actuality he was the person who told me not to joke like that.” Bieber insisted that, “Scooter has had your back since the days you graciously let me open up for you.”
“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.”
Bieber maintained that both he and Braun “truly want the best for [Swift],” and would love to sit down with the pop star and resolve any remaining conflicts or hurt feelings.
Bieber’s wife, Hailey Baldwin, supported her husband’s post. Model and ex-girl squad member Cara Delevingne took both Biebers to task on Instagram, responding, “I wish you spent less time sticking up for men and more time trying to understand women and respecting their valid reactions...This issue that @taylorswift is talking out is about far more than a picture and you know that. As you said, you haven’t spoken to her in years which means you definitely don’t understand the situation. I do.”
Meanwhile, Swift’s detractors are citing her well-documented penchant for playing the victim, and a supposed pattern of manipulating the truth to serve her own purposes. Scooter Braun’s wife, Yael Cohen, shared a three-page note on social media in an effort to “get the facts straight.” Cohen maintained that Swift passed on the chance to own her masters, before continuing, “girl, who are you to talk about bullying? The world has watched you collect and drop friends like wilted flowers.” She wrote that Braun is “a manager, not God. He cannot control the actions of other humans, even ones he manages. Don’t blame him because Kim caught you in a lie…Adults own up to their mistakes. We learn and grow from them, we don’t divert blame and blur the lines of reality to suit our needs.”
“I hope you have the dignity, class and kindness to leave your fans out of this and have an open discussion,” Cohen concluded. “Tumblr can’t fix this, a phone call can.”
Todrick Hall, noted Taylor Swift affiliate, supported his friend on social media, writing, “For those asking, I left Scooter Braun a long time ago...I am saddened by this news, but not shocked. He is an evil person who’s only concern is his wealth and feeding his disgusting ego. I believe he is homophobic & I know from his own mouth that he is not a Swift fan.”
“I would normally not say anything because I’m sure scooter will threaten me like he has before to keep me quiet, but guess what Scooter, nothing you can do to me would be worst than the 6 years of my life I can’t get back from when & I was ignored as your ‘artist.’”
Hall continued, before calling out “Yael and Hailey” specifically: “Men sending women in (their wives) to carry out their patriarchal bullshit is the worst form of feminist and human betrayal of all time.”