The past few years have been a long strange road for Taylor Swift, one of the biggest, most beloved — and of late, controversial — pop stars in the world. After a public, lengthy feud between Kanye West and Taylor (based on his initial interruption of her at the 2009 VMAs) became reality TV fodder due to the involvement of Ye’s wife, Kim Kardashian, Taylor dealt with a negative reputation in the court of public opinion for the first time. But she took the fall from grace like a champ, weathering further bullsh*t, like a controversial 2016 election that saw white supremacists co-opting her as an icon, and abandoned social media to focus on a new album, new relationship, and healing, returning with the campy, dark pop record Reputation in late 2017 that garnered her the biggest audiences yet on tour.
Despite the change in the so-called court of public opinion, Taylor’s fans were more loyal than ever, and this year’s Lover was another triumph, full of songs about love, recovery, and hope. Part of why Swift was able to survive the negativity surrounding her run-in with Kanye and Kim was because of how close her relationship is with her fans, and the trust and loyalty that she’s built up with them over many years.
Whether it was on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, inviting fans to intimate album listening parties, or making time for in-person meet and greets at shows, Swift has always prioritized her relationship with the people who love her music the most. Her fanbase is not one to be swayed by an irate reality star and her rapper husband, and frankly, I think plenty of her female fans understood any distinction that might have been made between being mentioned in a Kanye song as a sex object and being called a “b*tch” — the sticking point in that massively ridiculous feud.
Late last year, Taylor faced another very public decision, as she geared up to sign with a new label for the first time since she was 16. Initially, after Taylor chose to leave Big Machine Records and sign with Republic Records, it seemed the decision happened pretty amicably. But this summer when it was announced that Scooter Braun and Schoolboy Records had purchased her old catalogue, Taylor communicated a sense of betrayal via Tumblr that brought down the fourth wall between fans and the inner workings of label relationships. Claiming that she’d been denied a chance to purchase back her own masters without a clause that kept her ceaselessly tied to her old label, and that Big Machine owner Scott Borchetta was more than familiar with how painful it would be to watch Kanye’s former manager own her music, Swift made her disgust public.
Ironically, it seems clear that without the public, petty messiness and fallout with Kanye and Kim, Taylor would’ve been loath to make a disagreement like the one she had over her masters public. But after surviving the backlash and incessant commentary, she realized something else — taking things public was a way to have a permanent impact on her reputation. Instead of sitting quietly and letting her old music be taken advantage of, and controlled by men who didn’t have her best interests at heart, she spoke out, first back in July, and then again last week, when she posted another eruption on Tumblr about how Big Machine was denying her access to her back catalogue.
Swift, who was planning to perform a medley of old and new material at the upcoming American Music Awards, publicly leveled claims last week that her former label, Big Machine Records, was blocking her from performing any old material on the live broadcast. While the label tried to twist the situation around on Taylor, claiming their employees were at risk because of thousands of teen girls tweeting their ire about the situation, the righteous indignation those fans — and other artists — felt about the label blocking a pop icon like Taylor from performing her own music was powerful. Eventually, Big Machine released a statement claiming they had no power to block the performances, roping in Dick Clark Productions, who later claimed they hadn’t been in contact with the label and deferred to Taylor’s management for comment.
Regardless of shady statements, attempts to block one of the most powerful female pop stars in the world from accessing her own music, and selling an artist’s catalogue without giving them the option of purchasing it outright, it was the pressure of Taylor’s fanbase that really turned the tables here. Because of her own experience with the debilitating power of public shaming, Swift has since decided to use the technique to her own advantage. Even so, it wouldn’t be effective if she didn’t have the support of her fans, who listen, weigh the situation presented, and take action. The support of her fans has always been Taylor’s most powerful weapon, and her decision to enlist their help to be able to perform a medley at the AMAs shows a deeper understanding of just how much their voices can do.
As for the man who now owns most of her music, according to TMZ, Scooter won’t be at the ceremony, which is fine. Taylor delivered some of her best barbs at Kanye during her 2016 Grammy win for Album Of The Year, and he wasn’t present for that, either. Whatever people say about Taylor now, and whatever they say in the future, she’s learned to take the impact of the internet seriously. And, at least in this case, that’s a win.