Taylor Swift just called Scooter Braun out by name at the Billboard Awards – here’s exactly why that is so important.
Last month, Taylor Swift stood on stage at the American Music Awards wearing a white shirt. The titles of her seven studio albums were printed across the shirt. She then started to sing The Man, from her new album Lover. “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man,” she sang, before shedding the shirt to reveal a glittering gold playsuit and breaking into her 2009 hit Love Story.
The statement of the performance was clear: Swift was making a point against music manager Scooter Braun, who now owns the rights to her music catalogue. According to Swift, this was the result of signing a contract when she was just 15 years old, and being told that she’d need to “earn” the rights of her own music back.
Since announcing this in June, Swift has called out “the liars and dirty, dirty cheats of the world” in various performances and statements. Then, in November, she took to Twitter to tell fans that she was being barred from performing her own songs at the American Music Awards. “Don’t know what to do,” she wrote. “[…] The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.”
Swift’s former record label, Big Machine Records, then responded with a statement, which said: “Taylor, the narrative you have created does not exist.”
Braun also broke his silence by, indirectly, saying in an interview: “We’re at a time when people say things and then people who might not be in the right mindset do really horrible things and we’re inciting all of this by continuing these arguments in public.
“And I think we just need to go behind closed doors and see if we can have a conversation and if we’re not having conversations then I don’t think we’re going to find the resolution.”
Swift’s response came in the form of the white shirt – and its visual power was undeniable. But it’s worth noting that, since this debate became public, Swift hadn’t actually spoken Braun’s name out loud… until now.
On the eve of her 30th birthday on Thursday (12 December), Swift accepted Billboard’s Woman of the Decade Award. She seized the opportunity to speak Braun’s name in an incredibly powerful speech (which you can read the full version of here).
After accepting the award from Jameela Jamil, Swift opened the speech by recalling her long career, which started when she was 16 years old. She then proceeded to talk about how she quickly learned how women are treated differently in the music industry.
“I saw pop stations send my songs Love Story and You Belong With Me to number one for the first time,” she said. “And I saw that as a female in this industry, some people will always have slight reservations about you. Whether you deserve to be there, whether your male producer or co-writer is the reason for your success, or whether it was a savvy record label. It wasn’t.”
She then opened up about the Braun case, referring to herself as the “resident loud person”.
“Lately there’s been a new shift that has affected me personally and that I feel is a potentially harmful force in our industry, and as your resident loud person, I feel the need to bring it up,” she continued. “And that is the unregulated world of private equity coming in and buying up our music as if it is real estate. As if it’s an app or a shoe line. This just happened to me without my approval, consultation, or consent.”
Swift then laid everything out for us and called out Braun by name, continuing:
“After I was denied the chance to purchase my music outright, my entire catalogue was sold to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings in a deal that I’m told was funded by the Soros Family, 23 Capital, and the Carlyle Group. Yet to this day none of these investors have ever bothered to contact me or my team directly. To perform their due diligence on their investment. On their investment in me. To ask how I might feel about the new owner of my art. The music I wrote. The videos I created. Photos of me, my handwriting, my album designs. And of course, Scooter never contacted me or my team to discuss it prior to the sale or even when it was announced.”
Watch Taylor Swift’s Billboard award acceptance speech
She then focused on Braun and “toxic male privilege”, adding: “I’m fairly certain he knew exactly how I would feel about it though. And let me just say that the definition of the toxic male privilege in our industry is people saying, ‘But he’s always been nice to me,’ when I’m raising valid concerns about artists and their rights to own their music. And of course he’s nice to you. If you’re in this room, you have something he needs.”
“The fact is that private equity is what enabled this man to think, according to his own social media post, that he could buy me. But I’m obviously not going willingly. Yet the most amazing thing was to discover that it would be the women in our industry who would have my back and show me the most vocal support at one of the most difficult times, and I will never, ever forget it. Like, ever.”
And Swift is right. women in the music industry are starting to speak out about the sexism they face and support each other. Sky Ferreira recently said gaslighting is a “go-to tactic” for music executives. Lily Allen has outed “controlling, belittling” men in the music industry. And Kate Nash made a whole documentary that highlighted the problem.
Calling out the sexist and abusive behaviour of men is still an incredibly hard and brave thing to do, even in 2019. So for Swift to call out Braun by name is a breakthrough for women in the music industry. Braun might have control of her music, but she refuses to “be a good little girl and shut up”.