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.

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