Taylor Swift put typically opaque, back-room music-industry dealings and rivalries on full public display Sunday afternoon, in a post on Tumblr in which she called out two executives involved in a major deal as manipulative and controlling.
The online missive from Swift, one of the most successful and strategic pop stars of her generation, concerned the ownership of her master recordings — including all six of her multiplatinum albums — which are controlled by the Nashville-based record company Big Machine. The Big Machine Label Group, which includes multiple labels, announced on Sunday that it was being acquired by Scooter Braun, the powerful manager behind Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, and his company Ithaca Holdings. Braun has also represented the rapper Kanye West, a longtime rival of Swift’s.
Swift, in her note, addressed both Braun — accusing him of years of “incessant, manipulative bullying” related to her tiffs with West — and the Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta, who she said refused to sell her control of her masters.
In November, Swift left Big Machine, her first and, until that point, only label, and signed a multiyear, multi-album agreement with Universal Music Group and its subsidiary, Republic Records, with the singer owning her master recordings moving forward.
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work,” Swift wrote on Sunday. “Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future.”
Swift added: “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.” She cited Braun’s involvement with West around the time when the rapper and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, released a partial recording of a phone call that they said showed her agreeing to appear in West’s lyrics, as well as when West released a music video that included a Swift likeness naked in bed.
“This is my worst case scenario,” Swift wrote. “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.”
She illustrated her message with an Instagram post by Bieber — captioned “Taylor swift what up” — that shows him on a video call with Braun and West. Swift added in her own caption: “This is Scooter Braun, bullying me on social media when I was at my lowest point,” adding, “He’s about to own all the music I’ve ever made.”
Representatives for Braun and Borchetta declined to comment. Bieber posted a response on Instagram later on Sunday, apologizing for the “hurtful” post referenced by Swift but adding that Braun “didn’t have anything to do with it.” He also criticized Swift for airing her differences with Braun on social media, saying she did so “to get sympathy” and to get her fans to “go and bully” Braun.
Ithaca Holdings, which includes Braun’s companies in music, television, film and tech, announced on Sunday that it had bought Big Machine Label Group, which, in addition to Swift’s music, is home to country artists like Florida Georgia Line, Rascal Flatts and Thomas Rhett. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported news of the sale, put the price at more than $300 million.
“He’s built a brilliant company full of iconic songs and artists,” Braun said in a statement about the sale. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”
Gossip about a possible sale of Big Machine, which was founded in 2005, had been buzzing through the industry for years. In 2015, Big Machine was seeking a deal that would have valued the company at up to $250 million, and attracted interest from not only major music labels but also tech players like Snapchat. Borchetta ultimately pulled out of that sale and renewed his company’s distribution deal with the Universal Music Group.
Last year, as news circulated that Swift’s contract was ending, Big Machine again became a hot property. But this time it was seeking up to $350 million, a sign of the boost in value that many music catalogs have gotten from streaming. Universal was a possible suitor, but withdrew early on; the company signed Swift to her own new deal.
Borchetta reportedly owned 60 percent of Big Machine, with minority positions owned by the country artist Toby Keith and Taylor Swift’s father, Scott Swift, a former Merrill Lynch stockbroker.
Swift, who signed to Big Machine at the age of 15, has sold more than 40 million albums on the label, in addition to releasing more than 40 platinum singles. According to a report last year in Billboard, sales and streams of Taylor Swift’s music made up almost 35 percent of the Big Label Machine Group’s market share.
“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 on Sunday.
Many artists do not own or control their recordings or the copyrights associated with them, which does not prevent them from making money through sales or streaming royalties. But in the struggle between artists and labels, powerful acts like Prince and Jay-Z have stressed the self-determination that comes with overseeing one’s catalog, thus dictating largely how it is used and marketed in the future.
As part of the deal, Borchetta will join Ithaca’s board and remain the president and chief executive of Big Machine. Ithaca also announced that the private-equity firm Carlyle Group would make an additional investment in the company, remaining a minority shareholder in Ithaca.
Swift, 29, has made something of a habit of expressing her displeasure in public. In addition to her yearslong feud with West, which she addressed in song and onstage at the Grammys, she has taken tech giants like Apple and Spotify to task for what she claimed were unfair business terms for artists and songwriters. (She went on to collaborate with both companies.)
A hashtag — #WeStandWithTaylor — was trending on Twitter by Sunday evening, with artists like Halsey sharing messages of solidarity.
In concluding her note on Sunday, Swift plugged her upcoming seventh album: “I will always be proud of my past work,” she wrote. “But for a healthier option, ‘Lover’ will be out August 23.”
Ben Sisario contributed reporting.