If you took a scroll through Twitter or Instagram on Sunday, it’s very likely you saw a controversy erupting that involved Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, a $300 million deal ... and somehow, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian?
It’s a complicated situation, and one that shows no signs of slowing down. Here’s everything to know.
Q: So ... how did this all start?
A: On Sunday morning, news broke that powerful talent manager Scooter Braun had signed a reported $300 million deal to buy Big Machine Label Group – the former record label of Taylor Swift. The founder of BMLG is Scott Borchetta, who is famous for signing Swift to the independent label back in 2005, when Swift was still an unknown teen country singer. Swift’s partnership with Borchetta proved lucrative for both of them as she grew into a global star. It lasted until last November, when Swift’s contract expired and she decided to leave Big Machine to sign a deal with Universal Music Group.
Q: How did Swift react?
A: In a post written on Tumblr, Swift said she was “sad and grossed out” that Braun was now the owner of Big Machine, and by extension, the owner of the masters (the rights to her songs) from her first six albums.
In her post, Swift said she “pleaded for a chance to own [her] work”, but was told she could not buy her masters, only “earn” them buying signing back up to Big Machine. Last year, it was reported that Borchetta did not want to sell Swift’s masters because as much as 80 per cent of Big Machine’s revenue came from them. After negotiations with Big Machine, Swift walked away without her masters and signed with Universal.
“This is my worst case scenario. This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept,” Swift wrote, adding, “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.”
Q: Who is Scooter Braun?
A: He’s the entertainment manager best known for discovering Justin Bieber on YouTube and making him a superstar. Now he represents Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and Carly Rae Jepsen, and used to represent Kanye West. Unlike most music managers who operate behind the scenes, Braun has always stayed in the spotlight, and has more than 3 million followers on Instagram.
Q: What is Swift’s issue with Braun?
A: In her post, Swift said she has been the target of “incessant, manipulative bullying” by Braun. As proof, she pointed to two of his clients: Bieber and West. Swift shared a screenshot of a 2016 Instagram photo from Bieber, which he posted during the worst backlash of her career, shortly after Kim Kardashian referred to her as a snake on social media. Bieber's post pictured a grinning Braun and West, and he captioned it “Taylor swift what up”. Swift also pointed out that West used a naked wax figure of Swift in a “revenge porn music video” for his song, Famous.
“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,” Swift wrote. “Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them."
Almost immediately, Swift’s enormous fan base stepped in, and #WeStandWithTaylor started trending worldwide on Twitter.
Q: How did Justin Bieber respond?
A: Bieber quickly leaped to the defense of his manager. In an Instagram caption, he apologised for the “hurtful” 2016 photo, but added that Braun had nothing to do with that post, and in fact, he and Braun are both big Swift fans. Then Bieber went a step further, saying that Swift was in the wrong because she knew that her Tumblr post would result in her fans bullying Braun. “Neither scooter or i have anything negative to say about you we truly want the best for you. I usually don’t rebuttal things like this but when you try and deface someone i loves character thats crossing a line,” he concluded.
Q: How did Braun respond?
A: So far, he hasn’t. Despite reposting Instagram stories on Sunday from people congratulating him on the Big Machine deal, he stayed quiet on Swift. He did, however, repost a caption from Allison Kaye, the president of his entertainment company, SB Projects, in which she said it was “absolutely reprehensible” that Swift tried to make the situation a gender issue. Kaye also reposted a Instagram statement from Braun’s wife, Yael Cohen Braun, in which she defended her husband and wrote to Swift, “How embarrassing this temper tantrum is because you didn’t get your own way.”
Q: Who was defending Swift?
A: Quite a few famous figures: Pop singer Halsey wrote a long statement about how Swift “deserves to own the painstaking labor of her heart” and “It turns my guts that no matter how much power or success a woman has in this life, you are still susceptible to someone coming along and making you feel powerless out of spite”. (Swift retweeted the post.) Supermodel Martha Hunt, a longtime friend of Swift, tweeted, “Taylor doesn’t deserve for someone who has constantly BULLIED her to OWN THE RIGHTS to her blood, sweat + tears.” The most vocal defender was singer Todrick Hall, who is close friends with Swift and recently co-directed the music video for her new single, You Need to Calm Down. In a series of posts, Hall - a former Braun client - called Braun “an evil person” among other things.
Q: How did Borchetta respond?
A: The war of words been Swift and Borchetta has been suprising, given that in the past, the two have only ever praised each other in public. As Swift has explained when telling her origin story, she passed up offers from major Nashville record labels when she was 15 to go with Borchetta’s independent label, which didn’t even have a name at the time - because he was the only one who would let her write and perform her own music.
On Sunday night, Borchetta wrote a post on Big Machine Label Group’s website titled “So, It’s Time For Some Truth...” First, he disputed Swift’s accusation that she wasn’t told about the sale before it went public. Borchetta said he texted Swift on Saturday night and told her the story would be published the next day, although he admitted it’s possible she missed his text, and that maybe her attorneys, who learned about the sale last week, didn’t tell her.
He also included an image of a legal document that he said was BMLG’s final offer to Swift before she signed with Universal. “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,” he wrote. (In her post, Swift said the offer was that she could “earn” back one old album for every new album she released on Big Machine.) He also denied that he ever saw Swift in tears when Braun’s name was mentioned, and that “Scooter was never anything but positive about Taylor.”
Q: Has Swift said anything else?
A: So far, Swift has let her post speak for itself, except that she has been active on Tumblr “liking” fans’ posts defending her and criticizing Braun and Borchetta.
“What some people are failing to realize is, if taylor swift, one of the world’s biggest superstars, is being forced to deal with these kind of problems, then can you just imagine what’s happening to other artists?” one such comment read. “If taylor swift’s ‘temper tantrum’ is going to put a stop to money-hungry men who like to take advantage of people’s careers, then... taylor swift, please continue your temper tantrum.”
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge