CULTURE

The Victimization of Taylor Swift

It's a shame that Taylor Swift has had to build her career on victimization, because she doesn't deserve constant sympathy.

When Taylor Swift released an emotional statement regarding the sale of her music catalogue to the producer Scooter Braun, she detailed the events in a long, tearful Tumblr post.

Taylor Swift — For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my... taylorswift.tumblr.com

"I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future," she wrote. "I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums." She alleged that she learned of the sale right when it was announced to the rest of the world, and stated that "all I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I've received at his hands for years."

"This is my worst case scenario," she continued. "This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term 'loyalty' is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says 'Music has value', he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it."

"When I left my masters in Scott's hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. 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. That means forever."

Her allegations were met with immediate dissent from Borchetta, who claimed that Swift already knew about the sale before it happened and that she had a chance to buy back her music. Braun's wife, Yael, also responded to Swift's statement with an Instagram post:

Since then, Taylor Swift has received an outpouring of support from stars including Cara Delevigne, Halsey, Katy Perry, and more. On the other hand, Demi Lovato—who liked one of Braun's posts—has been the object of backlash from Twitter and the Internet alike. And for good reason: Powerful music industry executives have been screwing over artists, particularly female artists, since time immemorial, and the issue is a widespread problem that needs immediate recognition.


Let's get one thing straight: Braun's actions were and are unacceptable, and what happened to Taylor Swift is one incident of an epidemic, brutally real problem that so many artists in the music industry face. None of this, in any way, is meant to excuse Braun and Borchetta.

Then again, there's something familiar about this story, something slightly askew about all this. Maybe it's because this has happened before. Once again, it seems that Taylor Swift has been taken advantage of.

Coming from the majority of artists, these accusations would be shocking, but for Swift, they are run-of-the-mill. A glance back at the myriad headlines that have surrounded Swift for over a decade reveals that her career has been a long, repetitive sequence of getting into fights and then healing them, sewing everything back together into a neat, clean whole that places her at the center of the story, wronged but resilient, always with a new song to sell.

Compared to many of her contemporaries, Swift's music expresses little of the angst and pain that she expresses through her public persona. Even her last and arguably most emotive album, Reputation, was an empowered, declarative outcry against a press that she saw as hell-bent on personally attacking her. In some ways, she's the anti-Lana Del Rey: Never a sad girl, she's built her sonic brand on using her bullies and heartbreaks as rocket fuel. However, Swift's music and career echoes Del Rey's often submissive narratives in that things are always being done to Taylor Swift.

That narrative has been played out over and over. She built her career on songs that blamed other women for stealing her man and painted herself as the wronged angel, always seeking revenge.

Even then, she showed that she could not take the kind of criticism she unleashed on others. There was the time that Lorde criticized her for representing an unattainable ideal, and in response, Swift sent the singer flowers and befriended her.

Once she was called out on her music's internalized misogyny, she shifted her focus to female friendships in an effort to combat these accusations. 1989 brought Swift's "squad" into being—but it also rehashed Swift's victimized narrative. Hers is always a story about cheaters and liars, injustices and catastrophes that she had no control over but for which she always deserves our deepest sympathy.

After 1989, this pattern escalated. First, there was the beef between her and Katy Perry, which was apparently resolved during the creation of "You Need to Calm Down"; now, Swift is allegedly attending Perry's wedding. Then, of course, there was the legendary Kanye West drama. The seeds were planted at the 2009 VMA's, but everything fell apart when Swift released an emotional outcry against West's "Famous" song and video, in which he spoke about having sex with her. Later on, Kim Kardashian released a series of Snapchat videos that revealed that Swift had given West permission to do just that.

In that case, Swift's attempt to solidify her place as the victim backfired. Many noted the nature of the power imbalance between the white female victim and the black male oppressor, an old and deadly dichotomy rooted in historical injustice. Still, the incident got her name back into the press, and many still took her side.

These events led to an outpouring of thinkpieces and discussions that analyzed Swift's career-long positionality as an archetypally virginal, chaste damsel in distress, unearthing dozens of examples that saw her locate herself in a kind of classic, frail vulnerability that often disguised latent misogyny. "Her passivity and purity were the centrepiece of an appealing narrative constructed around traditional girlhood," writes Ellie Woodward—a narrative focused on denouncing an overly sexualized other woman (remember "she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts"?) and idealizing fairy tale tropes. Some called her career a "professional victim act."

As Swift grew more infamous and controversial, her attempts to reestablish her own victimhood grew more desperate. She lashed out, constantly placing the blame on the others, never questioning her own culpability.

Only this time, the media wasn't having it. Following criticism of the whiteness and exclusivity of her "squad," as well as the feud with Katy Perry that she blew out of proportion with the violent "Bad Blood," Swift turned her focus to the media, blaming it for attacking her while also combatting any accusations that she was representing an archaic feminine ideal. Thus came Reputation, in which she lashed out at the press and killed off her old self.

Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do www.youtube.com

After Reputation, it became harder to accuse Swift of embodying fragile white femininity, so the press turned their attention to her then-apolitical stance. At first, Swift attempted to quell accusations that linked her to white supremacy: She threatened to sue a blogger for defamation over an article that linked her song "Look What You Made Me Do" to both Hitler and the KKK, a suit that was denounced as 'meritless' by the ACLU.

Perhaps realizing that silence was no longer an option, Swift quickly turned political, supporting a Democratic candidate in Tennessee and denouncing Trump. Following a misstep in which she seemingly copied Beyoncé's Coachella performance, she later releasing the well-intended but misguided "You Need to Calm Down."

Taylor Swift - You Need To Calm Down www.youtube.com

Most likely, Swift is confused as to why her newly political persona has not been more widely celebrated and devastated when queer people were angry about that video. After all, she only wanted to support them—and it's true that support is better than silence. However, though a Tweet or speech in celebration of Pride would have sufficed, Swift's star power was also her downfall: She used queerness as a brand with her as its figurehead, and by capitalizing on the LGBTQ+ community and placing herself at the center of the narrative, she appeared to have appropriated a struggle that was not her own, rubbing quite a few people the wrong way.

In essence, the point is clear: Swift needs to be the star of every story, but even more acutely, she needs people to love her. Really, who can blame her? Don't we all want people to love us? It's difficult to be in the public eye, and even harder to try to please everyone in a media landscape that feeds on contention, cheap thrills, and drama.

But pleasing everyone is what Swift has built her entire career on—and that's not an easy state to maintain, especially when you're so squarely in the public eye. Still, she's kept at it. Through a career-long fight against criticism, Swift has proven that she is never going to give up the ghost of her own innocence.

With this latest revelation about Braun and Borchetta, she has cemented her position as a victim, expertly rehashing an old story but wearing a bullet-proof vest this time. Check-mate: Any protestations, any accusations that her actions are a publicity ploy will be met with outcries of misogyny. Still, it's a shame that Taylor Swift has had to build her career on this kind of victimization, because she doesn't deserve constant sympathy. She deserves respect and accountability for her actions as a public figure.

Swift's personal drama aside, it's painfully true that the recording industry has long cheated its artists, specifically its female artists, out of their profits and autonomy. It's true that what happened to Swift has happened to thousands, if not millions, of artists whose catalogs were overtaken by wealthy, powerful men, and who had no opportunity to achieve any public sympathy or personal autonomy over any of their creations.

Did Swift get the short end of the stick? Certainly. Do the presses hold an abnormally harsh vendetta against her when they allow other artists to get away with similar things? Possibly—because for all her brilliant marketing skills, Swift does seem less fluent in the language of social justice than many of her peers, and some of her initiatives that might come off as genuine if she were someone else feel saccharine and insubstantial when she delivers them. Admittedly, her poor delivery is not an excuse to denounce her as a person or as an artist, and she is certainly exceptional at what she does.

On the other hand, did Swift necessarily need to publish a message that was so clearly a cry for sympathy and that painted her as so completely helpless? Surely she knew that it would spark a wave of support, and for good reason. Her complaint touches a nerve, echoing a widespread and devastating phenomenon in the music industry, one that desperately needs to be brought to attention.

Of course, Braun and Borchetta have denied Swift's claims, arguing that she had the opportunity to buy back her catalog and that she knew about Braun's purchase before the general public. If either of these things are true, her outcry loses credibility and thus damages the credibility of other, more severe claims from artists with less money, power, and support.

Still, whether or not Swift's story holds up, it marks the beginning of an important conversation. She could use this opportunity to uplift the voices of other artists whose catalogs have been systematically stripped from them and who do not have the funds and power to create their own work like she does. She and her supporters might use this to spark a wider conversation—not about the validity of Swift's tragic story, but rather about the widespread, deep-rooted patterns of thievery, abuse, and destruction wrought by corrupt executives since the dawn of the recording industry.

For now, it seems like this is all about Swift. It seems that she has at last found the right niche, the one that will surround her with the maximum amount of love and compassion, sympathy and new album sales. There is no doubt that Swift was screwed over by Scooter Braun. She deserves support and compassion in these times. Whether or not she orchestrated this to help sell her new album and distract from the flop of "You Need to Calm Down" is irrelevant. The gravity of the issue outshines even Swift's questionable motives, and we should not let her past detract from the important conversations that it raises.

Taylor Swift, you win. We all feel sorry for you. This time.

Barbara Walters has released her annual “10 most fascinating people” list—and you won’t believe who made the cut.

It’s the last year Walters will be making her pick, as she’s retiring in 2014—and Popdust has the rundown on her choices.

The number one will be announced during her TV special which airs December 18, but in the meantime here’s her nine.

2. Kim Kardashian

3. Kanye West

4. Jennifer Lawrence

5. Miley Cyrus

6. Edward Snowden

7. Robin Roberts

8. Prince George (baby son of Prince William and Kate Middleton and third in line to the British throne.)

9. and 10. two of the stars of Duck Dynasty (whose names have yet to be announced)

What do you think about Walters’ choices? Sound off in comments below and tweet us @Popdust

A month and a half after offering fans her first transmission since returning home from rehab, Disney star Demi Lovato finally opened up about some of the "emotional and physical problems" behind her time away. "I've spoken openly about being bullied throughout the past few years, but one thing that I've never been able to feel comfortable talking about was the effects that it had on my life afterwards," Lovato told Robin Roberts of ABC News. "I literally didn't know why they were being so mean to me. And when I would ask them why, they would just say, 'Well, you're fat.'" As a result, Lovato said, "I developed an eating disorder, and that's kind of what I've been dealing with ever since."

"I was compulsively overeating when I was 8 years old," she continued. "So, I guess, for the past 10 years, I've had a really unhealthy relationship with food." Lovato explained that the eating problems started to affect her as a performer. "I was performing concerts on an empty stomach," she said. "I was losing my voice from purging." Demi also said that she would take out her anxieties in the form of self-mutilation. "It was a way of expressing my own shame, of myself, on my own body," she explained. "I was matching the inside to the outside. And there were some times where my emotions were just so built up, I didn't know what to do. The only way that I could get instant gratification was through an immediate release on myself."

Finally, Demi addressed the infamous in-flight altercation that shortly preceded her exit from the limelight. "I was not taking medication for depression, and I literally was so emotionally whacked out that I took it out on someone that meant a lot to me," Demi said of her attack on back-up dancer Alex Welch. ""I take 100 percent, full responsibility. I feel horrible. [She] was my friend...They sat me down and said, 'You can't live like this.'"

Demi also recently told People magazine that she wasn't planning on returning to Sonny With a Chance, the Disney show she was starring in before her breakdown, and which is currently shooting its third season (retitled and reformatted as So Random!) without Lovato's involvement. "It made sense for me to go ahead and leave the show to focus on my music," explained Lovato. "It's kind of sad for me that a chapter of my life has ended but there couldn't be a better time for me to move on."

Seems like these days, Chris Brown just can't stop apologizing for things. The domestic abuse, the gay slurs, and now the talk show storm-outs-and-window-breakings--Breezy's contrition has been demanded early and often for his reckless behavior of late. At least he's had the good sense to offer it when necessary, as he did last night with a live appearance on BET's 106 and Park. Brown refuted ABC's claim that the subject matter of his violence against Rihanna was a pre-approved talking point in his Tuesday interview on Good Morning America, but apologized for his flip-out, saying that he just needed to let the anger out.

"First of all, I want to apologize to anybody who was startled in the office, or anybody who was offended or really looked, and [was] disappointed at my actions," said Brown. "Because I'm disappointed in the way I acted." He maintained that his behavior backstage, while destructive, was not harmful to anyone. "When I got back I just let off steam in the back," said Brown of his alleged dressing-room tantrum. "I didn't physically hurt anyone. I just wanted to release the anger inside me." (Based on the creepiness of that last statement, maybe we should be glad that a window is all he may have broken.)

Brown insists, however, that all of this could have been avoided if ABC had stuck to their list of pre-approved subject matters. "A lot of people don't know what went down," claimed Brown. "When I do shows or when I do interviews we send out, like, a talking point sheet. And if the network or whoever isn't compliant with what we want to do so that we can equally accomplish a goal, we usually kind of back out and wait until it's a better situation...So when the interview proceeded, I was thrown off. I felt like, OK, they told us this to get us on the show and exploit me." For her part, GMA host Robin Roberts maintains that Brown did in fact pre-approve the Rihanna "talking point." "Any time we have a guest here on the program, we let them know ahead of time the subject matter, the topics that we're going to discuss and we, even right before the interview," said Roberts this morning. "I said that to Chris and I was shocked, like everybody else was."

Regardless of who was entirely to blame in the incident, it doesn't appear to be hurting Brown too much in the sales department. Estimates projected from the first few days of sales for Breezy's new album F.A.M.E. have the album selling between 250,000 and 275,000 copies, which would be the second-biggest sales week of 2011 (behind Adele's 21) and more than double the opening-week gate for Brown's previous release, Graffiti. Shows you what a couple of good singles and a leaked naked picture or two can help you overcome, huh?

Amidst all the hubbub yesterday—what with the broken windows, the hoops cameos, the general shirtlessness—you could very easily have missed the fact that Chris Brown was also debut the new video for the third single off his F.A.M.E. album, "Beautiful People." Brown was supposed to premiere said new video on MTV's The Seven a few hours after his controversial outing on Good Morning America, but got, uh, distracted, and ended up skipping the appearance. Nonetheless, we now have the video for your viewing pleasure:

The video finds Brown unburdened with the negative energy from all those Haters and Naysayers out there, just enjoying living life, surrounded by his famous friends. He rides his scooter all around the city, kicks it in the back seat, plays to a grateful club of thousands, and goofs off in the studio with celeb buds like Nelly, Timbaland, Pharell and T-Pain (with no sunglasses!!). At one point everyone's feeling so good grooving to the Benny Benassi-produced house banger ("Satisfaction," anyone?) that they start breaking out the Jersey Shore fist-pumping. Really, it looks like something that they could have played on MTV2's AMP around the turn of the millennium, only with names for the marquee that are a lot sexier than Darude and Bad Boy Bill.

Meanwhile, those tireless workers over at NMA.tv have somehow already managed to turn out a video recapping Breezy's latest brouhaha. It's worth watching if only for the sequence of a roided-up looking Brown smashing his dressing room window with a chair, ripping off his shirt like the Hulk, and then using said shirt to parachute down to the street below. Fantastic.

Finally, ABC and Good Morning America claim they bear no ill will towards the R&B star, are not pressing charges, and in fact, welcome the singer back with open arms. "I wish him the absolute best," said GMA host Robin Roberts. "We extended the invitation to him [to come back], and sure hope he takes us up on it because I'd sure love to have another chat with him." Next time, Robin, maybe stick solely to questions about just how much he loves his fans. He seems to really like talking about that.

You could have guessed that when Chris Brown stormed off the Good Morning America set, allegedly threw a chair into his dressing-room window and left the building shirtless, that wasn't going to be the last you heard about it. Indeed, more details and accounts of the incident have started to pop up, including audio posted by TMZ that seems to confirm that ABC called the cops after Brown's explosion. This has lead to speculation that the incident could constitute a violation of his probation agreement, as related to his previous domestic abuse charges.

TMZ also reports that GMA host Robin Roberts says that she got the OK from Chris Brown ahead of time to ask "a few questions" related to the Rihanna incident, claiming that she's "pulling for the guy" and wouldn't want to ambush him on live TV. ABC is defending the line of questions. "As always, we ask questions that are relevant and newsworthy," said a channel rep. "And that's what we did in this interview with Mr. Brown." (This is why we always turn to Good Morning America for our hard-hitting exposes, of course.) Roberts also tweeted about the incident after the fact, saying "Sure has been an interesting AM @GMA. Still sorting thru everything myself. Just my 2nd day on twitter, wonder what tomorrow will bring?" Twitter = drama, Robin. Better you find out now.

Speaking of the Bluebird, a couple artists ignored the day's events to post a controversy-less shoutout to Breezy's new album, F.A.M.E.—which, lest we forget, is in fact being released today.

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/MissKeriBaby/status/50262886278369280"]

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/Jeremih/status/50256437707935744"]

Hey, I guess friendship is defined as support in times both good and bad. True blue, that Keri and Jeremih.