Controlling the Narrative: Taylor Swift Leverages Social Movements to Get What She Wants

Taylor Swift recently gave a seemingly vulnerable and emotional plea to fans. In a viral tweet, the pop star attached three screenshots of text that detail her frustrations about the ongoing feud between herself and Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun, the founder of Big Machine Label Group and Swift’s former manager, respectively. Swift begins by telling fans she was planning on singing some of the older songs she recorded at the American Music Awards – where she is being honored as Artist of the Decade – and learned that she cannot do as she wanted. Swift also cannot use that same music in a future Netflix documentary that is being made about her. This is, according to Swift, because Borchetta and Braun are prohibiting her from doing so, though she does not include the fact that she recorded this music under a contract and now Big Machine Label Group technically owns the music she recorded. She then says that her doomed “fate” can be avoided and is partly sharing the ordeal with the world so that other musicians do not become Borchetta and Braun’s next victims. Swift plays on the emotions of her readers, saying, “The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.” She wants fans to believe that the two men are not only trying to keep Swift silent, but also that they view her not as a woman, but as a girl, a very demeaning way of viewing a woman. This is when Swift makes a call to action, asking fans to let Borchetta and Braun know what they’re doing is wrong, and let other artists that Braun manages know, too. The men are unhinged and “tyrannical” and cannot be reached by logic and reason, so Swift thinks an emotional outpour from both herself and her millions of fans might do the trick, though her devoted Swifties are have been known for attacking whoever Swift’s latest nemesis is.

At first glance, Swift seems under distress as a result of the feud and to the unsuspecting person, what she is saying almost makes sense. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to play songs she wrote about her life? Swift paints Borchetta and Braun as the perfect villains who have a vendetta against her, only keeping her from using old music she recorded because they long to see her miserable. But this narrative that Swift has constructed is not enough to convince those of us who do not worship at her altar, especially for those of us who are familiar with the Taylor Swift of the past.

In the past, Swift has co-opted social movements such as feminism and LGBTQ rights for her own personal gain. She once acted as a feminist at heart, parading around her “girl squad” in the music video for her song Bad Blood. She painted herself as the ultimate LGBTQ ally in the music video for her song You Need to Calm Down. Now, she is pretending to be a champion of musicians, saying that she wants to keep other artists from succumbing to the same fate as her, but she is again acting in her own self-interests. Swift only takes on a new facet of her public persona when it’s beneficial to her. Her girl squad said look at all my female friendships, how can I be the aggressor in my feud with Katy Perry? Her LGBTQ friendships said listen to how I’m shutting down homophobes, of course I’m a real ally! Now, this new warning for other artists says I don’t want you to suffer at the hands of the ultra-powerful men who think they can own us.  

But Swift does not own her music: it is the property of Big Machine Label Group. That is (for better or worse) what she signed up for when signing with a record label. Like all of us, Swift sold her labor and made a profit off of it and with the projects she so desperately wants to complete, she stands to make another profit, which is something she very conveniently leaves out of her tweet. So, is Swift making this plea to fans because she longs to play the songs she feels a strong personal connection to or does she see dollar signs? Regardless of what the answer to that question is, the only thing left to be seen about Taylor Swift is which social movement she will dress herself in next.

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