Taylor Swift took to Tumblr this weekend to share some news.
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work,” she begins the post, telling her followers how all she wants to do is own her “masters” — AKA the first recording of a song — and therefore own the copyright to all her own music. She eventually left her record company, Big Machine Records, after she was unable to do this, and then recently learned that that record company was acquired by a guy named Scooter Braun. Braun, therefore, now owns her masters.
When she learned this, she wrote, “All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years.”
Woah. Shall we get into it?
First: Who is Scooter Braun?
Braun, born Scott Samuel Braun, is why we’re writing this explainer here on Alma (a site for Jewish millennials)! He was born in a Jewish family, and he’s very open about his Jewish identity. He’s married to Yael Cohen, who founded the nonprofit “Let’s Fuck Cancer” and is an influencer.
Braun is best known for being a talent manager — he manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, as well as Carly Rae Jepsen, Hillary Duff, and Demi Lovato. The last time he was in the spotlight was over that whole Justin Bieber/Anne Frank controversy, when Bieber wrote in a visiting book at the Anne Frank house that he hoped Anne would’ve been a “Belieber.” You can read Braun’s defense of Bieber’s comment here.
Okay, why does Taylor Swift hate Scooter Braun?
Let’s go back to her Tumblr note!
“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. (See photo) Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked. 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.”
For those not pop culture fluent, let’s break that down.
Can you remind me what the Kim x Kanye x Taylor drama was all about?
Sure! The Kim Kardashian “illegally recorded snippet” refers to drama that went down in 2016. It began that February, when Kanye West (married to Kim) released a song called “Famous,” where he sings,
For all my Southside n****s that know me best
I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous (God damn)
I made that bitch famous
(FWIW, Kanye is referring to a 2009 incident at the VMAs where Taylor won Best Female Video, and Kanye grabbed her mic and said, “Imma let you finish,” but Beyoncé — nominated for “Single Ladies” — had “one of the greatest videos of all time.”)
After some of Swift’s friends expressed outrage over West’s lyrics (including Karlie Kloss, she’ll come back later), Kanye then took to Twitter to explain, “I called Taylor and had a hour long convo with her about the line, and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings.”
Taylor Swift’s rep denies this, saying, “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.'” And then, at the 2016 Grammys, Taylor said, “I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame” — seemingly a direct dig at Kanye.
Flash forward a few months, to June 2016, and Kim is on the cover of GQ. Let’s pull the relevant passage:
“[Swift] totally approved that,” Kim says, shaking her head in annoyance. “She totally knew that that was coming out. She wanted to all of a sudden act like she didn’t. I swear, my husband gets so much shit for things [when] he really was doing proper protocol and even called to get it approved.”
Taylor Swift’s rep denies this.
Then Kanye released the music video for “Famous,” featuring nude figures of 12 famous figures from pop culture, including, you guessed it, Taylor Swift. (This is the “revenge porn music video which strips my body naked” she refers to in her note.)
That July, Kim leaked footage on her Snapchat of Kanye and Taylor talking about the “Famous” lyrics, where Taylor is heard saying, “It’s like a compliment.”
Taylor then took to her Instagram, writing, “While I wanted to be supportive of Kanye on the phone call, you cannot ‘approve’ a song you haven’t heard. Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination.”
And then, flash forward to 2017, we get Taylor Swift’s album Reputation, which is largely considered a response to this drama.
Okay, wow, I remember it all now. But how is Scooter Braun involved?
Well, Braun and Kanye work together.
“He’s always hated the word manager and we get along because I hate the word manager, because that’s not what I do. I don’t manage artists, I partner with them. If an artist tells me, ‘You work for me you’re my manager, I tell them fuck off we’re done,'” Braun explained last year.
Therefore, Swift — as she writes in her Tumblr note — perceives Braun as partly responsible for her issues with Kanye.
Okay, but so what’s going on now?
As we wrote up top, this new drama has to do with the ownership of Taylor Swift’s “masters.”
What is a master?
It’s the first recording of something.
“The case for masters extends beyond arguments about bit depth and frequency ranges audible only to dogs. It enters the realms of aesthetics and phenomenology. Simply put, the master of a recording is that recording; it is the thing itself. The master contains the record’s details in their purest form: the grain of a singer’s voice, the timbres of instruments, the ambience of the studio. It holds the ineffable essence that can only truly be apprehended when you encounter a work of art up-close and unmediated, or as up-close and unmediated as the peculiar medium of recorded sound permits,” The New York Times explains.
Who owns Taylor Swift’s masters?
Up until this weekend, it was Big Machine Records, where she recorded her first six albums. Scott Borchetta founded Big Machine Records, and he is referenced multiple times in Taylor’s note.
As she writes, “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.”
She argues that she woke up to the news that Borchetta’s Big Machine Records had been acquired by Scooter Braun.
Borchetta tells another story…
In a blog post (sidenote, are blogs back??), Borchetta writes, “It’s time for some truth…” He goes on to detail how he informed Taylor of the news before, and how Taylor’s time at Big Machine Records ended. (Read the whole thing here.)
Three key parts to pull out:
1. Borchetta argues he offered Taylor “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.”
2. Borchetta denies that Taylor cried any time Scooter Braun’s name was brought up.
“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… 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.”
3. He also says he texted Taylor the evening before the news was announced, and that Taylor’s dad, Scott Swift (there are too many Scotts in this story!!) is on the board of directors at Big Machine Label Group and also would have known about the deal.
What does Taylor say to all this??
In response to Borchetta’s blog post, Swift’s spokesperson told People that Swift’s dad is not on the board, but a shareholder, and did not participate in the shareholder phone call. (“Her dad did not join that call because he did not want to be required to withhold any information from his own daughter.”
Reportedly, Taylor says she didn’t see the text from Borchetta about the decision.
Wow. Okay. Who to believe?
Let’s start with who believes Taylor: her fans, obviously. #WeStandWithTaylor immediately started trending.
good morning i’m awake and ready to fight for taylor swift (ง’̀-‘́)ง
— ellie (@eleanorbate) July 1, 2019
A lot of irrelevant singers or hating on Taylor are siding with Scooter Braun. They don’t know how Taylor Swift work hard for her music. She write and sings her music. It’s really sad people are siding the WRONG person. Everything is DIFFERENT when it comes to Taylor Swift. pic.twitter.com/jwXGKous2y
— Taylor Swift Facts (@blessedswifty) July 1, 2019
Numerous artists have started unfollowing Braun on Instagram, which you can interpret as siding with Taylor, including Joe Jonas, Harry Styles, Selena Gomez, Halsey, Rihanna, and many, many more (though actually, it’s unclear if they ever followed him in the first place, so take that with a grain of salt).
Danielle Haim, of the band Haim, wrote on her Insta story, “sometimes I’m reminded how fucked up and slimy this business is. this is one of those times — let @taylorswift BUY BACK HER MUSIC YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES !!” Halsey also posted a supportive message.
Taylor’s pal Todrick Hall also stepped into her defense:
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.
— Todrick Hall (@todrick) June 30, 2019
A BuzzFeed writer tweeted this:
this isn't about taylor being offered her masters and turning it down
it's about scott borchetta knowing taylor's music was what made his company successful, offering her a deal she'd probably refuse, and then selling it to someone she had a bad relationship with
— ellie (@eleanorbate) July 1, 2019
And who believes Borchetta and supports Scooter Braun?
Also many people! Most notably, none other than Justin Bieber himself, who took to Instagram to defend his manager.
Demi Lovato also defended Scooter.
Yael Cohen, Braun’s wife, obviously also supports him, and posted a note on her Instagram about it:
She writes to Taylor, “You were given the opportunity to own your masters, you passed… your dad is a shareholder and was notified… so no, you didn’t find out with the world.” She ends her note with, “Tumblr can’t fix this, a phone call can.”
Notably, musician Kacey Musgraves liked this Instagram post (and so now many Taylor Swift fans are calling on people to “cancel” Kacey).
In another note, Erik Logan, an executive at Big Machine records, wrote an open letter to Taylor, saying, “You’re the real bully. Your power is fading, your shine is dull, and this what bully’s [sic] do, they lash out — especially when they are called to stand in the truth.”
At Jezebel, Emily Alford writes that yes, this situation does seem really shitty for Swift, but “in the thirteen years she’s been in this business, Taylor Swift has become one of the smartest players in the game, and this post seems pretty well-timed to bait a response not only from Braun but also from the Kardashian-Wests, which always generates headlines for everyone involved when it comes time to promote new projects.”
And why is Karlie Kloss involved?
Well, she’s not really… but Kloss is represented by Scooter Braun. And Karlie Kloss and Taylor Swift used to be BFFs. Not sure what happened, but they are very likely not close anymore. Could Scooter be the reason? Allow us to wildly speculate.
Karlie Kloss and Josh Kushner (yep, brother of Jared) recently held a second wedding ceremony in Wyoming (after an intimate Jewish wedding ceremony this past fall), and Scooter and Yael Braun were in attendance. Taylor Swift was not.
And, FWIW, Karlie still follows Scooter on Instagram (as of this writing).
Scooter Braun, as of now, controls Taylor Swift’s masters. Taylor Swift is very upset about this. And we don’t know what to think.
Image of Taylor Swift in header by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Film Magic/Getty Images and of Scooter Braun in header by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Spotify