It may seem like just a glitch in the simulation, but the pop stars of the music industry really are at war. It all started with a Tumblr post from Taylor Swift, where she claimed that talent manager Scooter Braun—who now owns the master recordings of nearly all of her music—had manipulated and bullied her for years.
The master recordings of Swift’s work were owned by Scott Borchetta, the CEO of Big Machine Records. Swift revealed that instead of signing a contract that would allow her to “earn” the rights to one album back for each new album she released, she turned down the offer and Borchetta sold those master recordings to Braun, who acquired Big Machine Label Group. In other words, this means that Swift does not own the rights to the final recordings of the majority of her catalog, which spans six studio albums and two EPs.
“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,” she wrote on Tumblr, before reminding her followers of the time “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.” This instance was immortalized in an Instagram photo, which Swift shared as part of her blog post. “Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked,” she went on. “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.”
“This is my worst case scenario,” she wrote. “This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says ‘Music has value’, he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it. When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. 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.”
For most people, when the name “Scooter Braun” is mentioned, Justin Bieber comes to mind. The two have had a business relationship and close friendship dating back years, when Bieber was just a tween signing up for his first record deal. In Swift’s blog post about losing the rights to her master recordings, the bullying “clients” she referred to included Bieber, who had screenshot a FaceTime conversation between himself, Braun, and Kanye West, adding the caption “Taylor Swift what up,” back when her phone conversation agreeing to West’s mention of her in his song “Famous” had been leaked and she had been painted as a snake.
After a few hours had passed, Bieber then responded to Swift’s claims about Braun via Instagram, where he shared an old photo of the two of them and insisted that she only used her Tumblr post about losing the rights to her music to “get sympathy” and encourage bullying. “Scooter has had your back since the days you graciously let me open up for you!,” Bieber said. “As the years have passed we haven’t crossed paths and gotten to communicate our differences, hurts or frustrations. So 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. Anyway, One thing i know is both scooter and i love you.” His wife, Hailey Bieber, commented “gentleman” on the post coming to Braun’s defense.
Braun also manages many other popular artists, including Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Demi Lovato, and even Todrick Hall, one of Swift’s squad members who recently appeared in her music video for “You Need to Calm Down.”
Hall shared his thoughts on working with Braun as a manager (and eventually firing him) via Twitter, then shared a screenshot of the beginning of his Twitter thread on Instagram. He claimed to believe that Braun is homophobic and “not a Swift fan.” It was on Instagram that Lovato commented, “Hey boo, idk you or anything and this isn’t hate, but making claims that someone is homophobic is really serious. Please don’t spread information that isn’t true because I can guarantee you Scooter isn’t. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, he wouldn’t have signed me if he was. No hate just trying to clear that up.”
Hall then took to Twitter to address Lovato’s comment and add that he does not intend to start any drama with her, since she’s not a part of the issue with Swift’s masters collection, but also made a salient point about racism and homophobia. “PSA, Just because you have a black friend doesn’t mean you can’t still be racist,” he tweeted. “And just because you’re not picketing against gay marriage doesn’t mean you’re not homophobic. I said what I said and I believe what I believe.”
Halsey has also joined the chorus of artists defending Swift by tweeting out her support.
Braun himself has yet to comment publicly, but his wife Yael Cohen Braun took to Instagram to call Swift out for not accepting the terms of the contract that could eventually lead her towards earning her own music again. She also took issue with Swift’s reference to bullying by calling her out for the development and crumbling of her squad. “The world has watched you collect and drop friends like wilted flowers,” she wrote, before ending the post by saying, “Tumblr can’t fix this, a phone call can.” Some more receipts regarding the terms of Swift’s contract and when she was informed of the sale of Big Machine Label Group were shared via Twitter by Erik Logan, a board member at Big Machine and former president of the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Just last week, the Brauns traveled to Wyoming for the marriage between Joshua Kushner and Karlie Kloss, one of Swift’s closest friends. Swift was not in attendance, and though Kloss is not a musician, she is listed as a client on Braun’s website.
Regardless of one’s thoughts on Swift as a musician or celebrity figure, an artist’s ability to own the rights to their work is crucial to their success. Now, there are a few ways for Swift to get around the legal issues of not owning her masters, one of which would involve re-recording her first six albums and putting out those re-recordings as new (it’s been done before, just look at JoJo), but that would be a lot of work and she already appears to have set her sight on new horizons. As for the personal drama this has caused, the Swifties and the squad will likely handle that part.