Friday, July 19, 2024

The Silencing of Taylor Swift: Censorship Resounds Through the Patriarchy

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(The hills won’t be alive with the sound of music.)


While being a Taylor Swift fan doesn’t lead directly to misandry, it tends to come with the territory. This past Thursday, Swift revealed that Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun, the men who negotiated her art and her legacy as if she were a posable mannequin, have further interfered in her career. (Shocking, I know.) In a gross move characteristic of any privileged man confronted by a successful, self-determining woman, Borchetta and Braun shut her down.

(Well, partially. She’s Taylor Swift.)

(For context on this situation, please refer to my analysis of her development as a filmmaker. And I definitely recommend this compilation of rumors regarding Braun’s mistreatment of his clients to better understand how he fits in the larger world of pop music.)

Swift detailed over Tumblr how they and her former label, Big Machine Records (BMR), are holding her past work hostage against her. They refused to give her licensing permission to perform televised versions of her old hits, affecting her appearance at an awards show and a Netflix documentary on her life. And of course it’s the awards show — the American Music Awards (AMAs) to be precise — that will be honoring her as Artist of the Decade. She explained that BMR justified their decision for the AMAs as the performance “would be re-recording [her] music before [she’s] allowed to next year.” Their censorship goes against decades of label conventions. In regards to Netflix, she elaborated that, “Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project[.]” They only agreed to relent if she stopped talking about them publicly and gave up her goals to re-record her old music. Swift summarized the lockdown as, “Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.”

This retaliatory censorship reflects the institutional, capitalistic misogyny that entraps every woman (especially women of color), particularly in the music industry, whose contracts are notorious. It’s a little too coincidental that BMR and Co. should disallow her televised performances now, considering she performed her Braun-owned songs for recorded events like Good Morning America. Directing their attention towards more intimate and celebratory events reveal Borchetta and Braun’s sense of entitlement. Swift isn’t a person to them. Only an uncooperative money-maker.

The following day BMR posted a rebuttal on their blog, dripping with insincere emotional pleads. The label explained that, “At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special. In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere.” Notably, they left out the part that they’d forbidden performances of her BMR-specific music. Their accusations of her owing them money also stand in contrast to her publicist’s counter-statement.

Furthermore, Swift’s team sent an email from the negotiations to The New York Times and The Guardian, reinforcing her side. Swift being censored is not in dispute.

Friday was one of those rage-filled, emotional days seen in romcoms like Legally Blonde — ranting to Swiftie friends, swirling wine, and thinking “Liar!” any time we saw Borchetta’s name. The fandom is channeling its energy into raising awareness, especially on social media. After the announcement, the hashtags #IStandWithTaylor and #WeStandWithTaylor trended, particularly the former. And as it was five months ago, many discussions center on celebrities and those in power who have spoken out in support of Swift. Most A-list singers have been… silent. Again. (The bulk of Twitter-verified support comes from indie musicians like Bloxx.)

Though this silence spans all genders, it’s glaring for the high-powered men who are connected to Swift. Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes come to mind. They both benefited from her career, Swift having taken them on tour and collaborated with them, bringing them huge exposure. Neither have ever spoken publicly in her defense when it came to BMR, and their various forms of privilege would shield them from the worst of industry backlash. Then there are women of color like Halsey and Selena Gomez raising their voice, leveraging their platform, the latter stating in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t give a f*ck about retaliation.

This summer, Sheeran vocalized public support for Justin Bieber, who had posted about struggles that included abusing the women in his life. When it came to Swift, one of Sheeran’s best friends and career cheerleaders, a private conversation sufficed. Mendes, whose collaborative remix of Swift’s song ‘Lover’ dropped earlier this week, has been on social media this weekend. Radio silence about the woman who mentored him and boosted his career. Nope, just an InstaStory that advertised an upcoming performance with John Mayer. The indie rocker known for his unsavory views of women and who Swift called out by name for emotional abuse in her 2010 song ‘Dear John’. Mendes then appeared on Mayer’s Instagram Live last night. Mayer proceeded to mock some of Swift’s ‘Lover’ lyrics, while Mendes said nothing about the BMR situation.

Bro-code y’all! Nine out of ten self-proclaimed feminist men recommend it!

Overall, I am not afraid for Taylor Swift’s legacy and her legal rights. She’ll just need to wait out the bullsh*t until November 2020, and she has the resources to do so. If she can’t perform at recorded events, so be it.

That being said, if Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren can find the time to vocalize support for Swift, acknowledging how her situation reflects the toxic interconnection of capitalism and misogyny, then so can her loved ones. Especially the ones that are secure in the industry and who have seen its psychological impact on her.

iTunes, play ‘Look What You Made Me Do’.

Update – 11/18/19:

This afternoon, BMR released a statement, permitting Swift to perform next Sunday: “The Big Machine Label Group and Dick Clark Productions announce that they have come to terms on a licensing agreement that approves their artists’ performances to stream post show and for re-broadcast on mutually approved platforms [including the AMAs].” Swift going public with her struggles was thus half effective, freeing her to sing the medley of her greatest hits as she intended.

@CourtRevolution pointed out that BMR’s statement contradicts their original blog post, in which they claimed to have not interfered with Swift’s performance or project. If BMR had a consistent story and not a manufactured narrative, there would have been no negotiations with the AMAs in the first place.

Soon after Dick Clark Productions fired back at the label, a representative explaining, “At no time did Dick Clark Productions agree to, create, authorize or distribute a statement in partnership with Big Machine Label Group regarding Taylor Swift’s performance at the 2019 American Music Awards.”

It’s going to be a long week for the fandom; I better keep my phone charged.

Image courtesy of Taylor Swift

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