Taylor Swift Bites Her Tongue at the AMAs
While performing and accepting the “Artist of the Decade” award at the AMAs, the pop superstar decided not to address her ongoing war with her old label and Scooter Braun.
Taylor Swift’s “Artist of the Decade” performance at the American Music Awards was already marred with controversy days before Sunday night’s festivities. Thanks to ongoing drama between Swift and her former record label, Big Machine, this year’s AMAs has been more hotly anticipated than ever before. Unfortunately for the celebrity gossipmongers lying in wait for a major “Fuck you, Scooter Braun!” moment, Swift chose to be the bigger person.
Instead of dwelling on the drama, the 29-year-old singer focused on highlighting her appreciation for her new label, Universal Music Group. While accepting the award for Pop Rock Album of the Year for Lover, she emphatically thanked her label. “I also really love my record label, Universal and Republic,” she said. “Thank you for letting me make the music I want to make.” Though there is not anything particularly unusual about an artist thanking her record label while accepting an award, Swift’s recent, extremely public fallout with her former label adds crucial context.
Ten days ago, she took to Twitter to claim that Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Big Machine Records, and Scooter Braun, who recently acquired Big Machine, were blocking her from performing a medley of her songs at the awards show, as they own her master recordings from the past decade. It was the latest development in a contentious months-long debate between Swift and Braun about artists’ rights of ownership.
In the Nov. 14 post, Swift wrote, “Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said that I’m not allowed to perform my old songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I’m allowed to next year.” Big Machine then released a statement saying they never tried to stand in the way of her performing her old songs on television. Eventually, it was announced that the two parties reached an agreement and Swift would be going forward with the medley as planned. While everything was ultimately resolved, it was a whole lot of trouble to go to for a performance at an awards show nobody watches, and people were expecting fall-out.
Iconic songwriter Carole King presented Swift with the prestigious “Artist of the Decade” award. Notably, the video montage introducing Swift’s onstage performance only featured songs from her latest, post-Big Machine record, Lover. Over colorful music-video clips, the narrator touted Tay Tay’s impressive accomplishments, including being the first artist in history to have four consecutive albums sell one million copies in the first week and headlining the highest-grossing U.S. concert tour of all time. Once again, Universal Music Group was name-dropped, and Swift was credited with being a vocal advocate for musicians’ intellectual property rights.
When the pop diva finally took the stage, things seemed to be off to a potentially politically charged start. She kicked things off with “The Man,” off of Lover—by far the most overtly feminist selection from her lengthy catalogue. On the Haim-esque track, she sings, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” The production was kept to a minimum, with Swift on stage alone wearing a white button-down shirt with her album titles scrawled in black paint. She was eventually joined by a troupe of little girls in matching outfits as her backup dancers.
After that, however, the performance was a run-of-the-mill career retrospective. Swift’s preteen dance crew pulled back the white shirt to reveal a sparkling gold leotard, and she proceeded to sing her heart out to some of her safest, poppiest hits, from “Love Story” to “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Camilla Cabello and Halsey joined Swift onstage for an energetic rendition of “Shake It Off.” Famous dancers Misty Copeland and Craig Hall later danced a stunning ballet to Swift’s stripped-down performance of “Lover.” The singer sat behind a pastel pink piano resembling a French pastry with the names of her albums piped in shiny frosting-like paint, as if asserting her ownership all over again.
In her acceptance speech, Swift kept things positive and appreciative. “All any of the artists in this room want is to create something that will last,” she said. “And all that matters to me is the memories that I have had with you, the fans, over the years, because we’ve had fun, incredible, exhilarating times together. Thank you for being the reason I am on this stage.”