Music

Megan Thee Stallion’s Contract Dispute Shows How Labels Undermine Promising Female Talent

This past weekend, Megan Thee Stallion inserted herself into the growing list of female artists to express their frustration with a label after sharing the basis of her dispute with 1501 Certified Entertainment. The dispute only extended a half-decade streak of women airing out frustrations with their current or former labels. Tink (2015), SZA (2016), Tinashe (2016-17), Teyana Taylor (2018), Taylor Swift (2019) and now Megan Thee Stallon each saw their art in some way, whether it be during its creation of release, tampered with by their label.

During a recent discussion I had on the reoccurring struggles between an artist and their label, an up and coming artist offered me a simple solution of their own: “Just let them be.” The most critically acclaimed artists of today are more times than not left unbothered in the process of creating and releasing their art — at least, the most critically acclaimed male acts of today are. In recent years, it has been proven otherwise when it comes to female acts. Despite their unquestioned talents, women are oftentimes plagued with hair-pulling obstacles on their journey to success. Whether it be before during their official debut or six albums into their career, the obstacles appear and throw a massive wrench — or multiple — into the fruition of their artistic vision.

For example, Rihanna, one of the biggest and most recognizable entertainers in the world today, was once plagued with helicopter parent-like activity from her then-label, Def Jam. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey’s Next Chapter back in 2012, Rihanna opened about her experience during the early days of her time at the label. “They had a brand, they had an idea of what they wanted me to be without figuring out who I was and then working with that.” A focus was placed on creating a brand for Rihanna rather than just letting her be her own brand. This is one of the many times labels failed to realize branding and its creation and embodiment lie in the hands of the artists themselves.

Tink and Tinashe both faced dilemmas right in line with that of Rihanna’s. Their labels at the time — Mosely Music Group and RCA, respectively — were both unwilling to display their artist’s work as the artist themselves wished to have it showcased. The repeated desire to brand talents and portray them to selfish standards is proof of the failed realization that understanding the artist and making room for their growth will result in the best of brands. Tink had no interest in becoming the next Aaliyah as Timbaland boldly proclaimed on that FADER Fort stage in 2015, a claim he failed to prove in the following years.

Tinashe also had no interest in being the next hit record-churning pop star her label felt she needed to be. In fact, when a potential hit record was forced upon her, one they insisted was needed to release her heavily-delayed Joyride album, she “couldn’t as an artist get behind” its content and lyrics, as she revealed in a 2017 interview with Lena Dunham. Free from the confinement of their old homes, both Tink and Tinashe have found solace in independence and control.

Even when their brand is accepted, female artists often experience issues on a later tier; the timely deliverance of their art to the public. SZA’s debacle with TDE and her Ctrl stand as the epitome of this. After fighting various delays, the singer momentarily put the mic down with her “I actually quit” tweet in October 2016. She would also prompt TDE president, Terrence “Punch” Henderson to release the album “if he ever feels like it.” She later shared that the album would have been something completely different” if she had been forced to wait another month as she made constant changes during the delays.

Teyana Taylor’s KTSE saw the complete destruction of both her physical art and her vision after its 2018 release. Verses were cut, tracks were removed, and the album Taylor had created was far from the one released. Personal anecdotes were left to marinate in the space of her hard drive and attempts to share them with the world were blocked. In the days after the album, Taylor said: “This album is so dear to me, and I got more to talk about because I just wanted to get more creative.” Yet, the world was barred from hearing Taylor’s full truths.

Even Taylor Swift, arguably the biggest pop star in the world, found herself entrapped in the fine print of her contracts. Taylor Swift, undoubtedly one of music’s biggest and most successful acts, saw the rights of her first six albums go to Scooter Braun, a man she described as an “incessant, manipulative bully.” This was a result of Braun purchasing Swift’s former label — which holds the rights to her previous six albums — Big Machine Label Group in 2019. Swift claimed that she could only gain the masters for the six albums one at a time, with each one coming after the arrival of each new album. Refusing to agree to these terms, Swift would eventually split from BMLG and as of this past December, the dispute between the two parties was two still ongoing.

Most recently, Megan Thee Stallion, whose 2020 was set to see her hone in on the spotlight that shone brightly on her throughout the previous year without a flicker, became the latest female act to express their disgruntled feelings towards their label. Admitting her own faults, Megan shared that her contract with 1501 Certified Entertainment funneled most of the profits from her music to the label, leaving little to her own keeping. A request to renegotiate the contract was met with not only instant denial but the refusal to release any of Megan’s new work. Unlike the above-mentioned women, Megan’s issue looked to be short-lived as a judge requested that 1501 “do nothing to prevent the release, distribution, and sale of Pete’s[Megan Thee Stallion] new records.”

When looking at young male acts, the higher-ups responsible for these artists execute keen play calls in the process of sharing their work with the world. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, these same higher-ups resort to shooting blindfolded halfcourts shots or worse, benching their young female acts, when it becomes their turn to share their art with the world. This includes female artists with equal potential to their male counterparts, potential each of the aforementioned artists had at the respective early stages of their career. And while there are examples of male artists who battle their labels for creative control and equal profits — Lil Uzi Vert comes to mind, as does Kanye West — their careers are often allowed to flourish despite these disputes and long after them. Just look at the outsized response online when Lil Uzi does, well, anything and compare it to the radio silence that engulfed Tink or Tinashe once their post-label projects were released.

While it may sound a bit irresponsible at first, especially in the case of newer acts, the solution to the constant frustration of women — and realistically all artists in general — is to simply let them be. When given artistic freedom without the hair-pulling hassle, women have time and time again made critically acclaimed projects (Rihanna’s Anti, Ari Lennox’s Shea Butter Baby, and Tinashe’s Songs For You, among others). Women are a dominant force in the music industry and are often shown the promising green pastures of success only to be boxed in by the glass ceilings and narrow limitations. Allow women to create the art they please to create. Allow them to release that art to the world. And most importantly, allow them to just be.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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