OPINION: Taylor Swift can take down private equity firms


Taylor Swift performs June 1 at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Tribune News Service

Taylor Swift recently took to the internet to make a statement about the ownership of her music and her inability to perform her own songs. Her dilemma poses the problem of female artists being manipulated by powerful men and the insidious nature of private equity firms. Swift’s level of fame lets her shed light on both of these issues.

In June, it was announced that Scooter Braun purchased Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group which included all of Swift’s music. Swift wrote about the event on her Tumblr. She left BMLG because she was worried about Borchetta selling away her future work, but that decision meant leaving her past work with BMLG without an option for ownership unless she wanted to stay with the label for 10 more years. 

In her post, Swift noted that Braun has bullied and manipulated her for years. She references past events: “Like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it. Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked.”

Everyone was silent about the issue for a few months, but now, Swift stated on Twitter that Braun and Borchetta were not allowing her to perform any of her old music (prior to her most recent album, "Lover") at the American Music Awards or use them in a Netflix documentary about her life, as it would count as re-recording her music before she is allowed to do so. 

Essentially, Swift wants to own the rights to her own music, and if she is not able to, then it is unimaginable how difficult the process is for lesser-known artists with none of the power and fame that Swift has. She specifically demanded action from the private equity firm Carlyle Group, who put up money for the sale of her music as they are an investor in Braun’s media company.

Perhaps the issue seems a little abstract and relegated to rich celebrities, but private equity firms are insidious and affect American workers by destroying their jobs. Swift’s condemnation helps bring this issue to light.

Swift’s statement has garnered a large response, even from politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who tweeted: “Private equity groups’ predatory practices actively hurt millions of Americans. Their leveraged buyouts have destroyed the lives of retail workers across the country, scrapping 1+ million jobs. Now they’re holding @taylorswift13’s own music hostage. They need to be reigned in.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted a similar sentiment: “Unfortunately, @TaylorSwift13 is one of many whose work has been threatened by a private equity firm. They're gobbling up more and more of our economy, costing jobs and crushing entire industries.”

These firms lead to many bankruptcies as they buy out retailers that cannot handle the debt from financing the acquisitions. Obviously, this is bad for retail workers who lose their jobs when their workplace suddenly goes bankrupt.

Swift is one of the most powerful artists in the world and is still struggling to own her work due to a manipulative industry and the harmful nature of private equity firms, but her honesty and action toward owning her own music helps people understand. Hopefully it will help less powerful artists with their own record labels and inform voters about policy toward eliminating this problem altogether. 

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