For a business battle, though, the saga that’s unfolded has turned oddly personal. Swift’s note said, “When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them.” The thing she now objects to is who Borchetta sold them to—Braun. West’s and Kardashian’s alleged harassment of Swift, egged on by a social-media posting by Bieber, amounted to “bullying” that Braun sanctioned. “Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it,” Swift wrote. Braun’s camp has fired back by suggesting that he’s the one getting bullied. Bieber posted that he was sorry for once mocking Swift online, but also said that Braun actually discouraged Bieber from doing so. Braun’s wife, the philanthropist Yael Cohen, defended her husband with a harsh, multifront diss of Swift. “Girl, who are you to talk about bullying?” she asked. “The world has watched you collect and drop friends like wilted flowers. My husband is anything but a bully, he’s spent his life standing up for people and causes he believes in.”
Perhaps most shocking is Borchetta’s response, though. In clinical, unemotional prose, the man who publicly has been one of Swift’s great allies said that Braun previously reached out to ask Swift to contribute to two charity efforts: the benefit show for Manchester following the bombing of Ariana Grande’s concert in 2017, and the anti-gun-violence march led by survivors of the Parkland high-school shooting. Putatively, he’s sharing these facts to portray Braun as someone who’s sympathetic to Swift. But Borchetta goes out of his way to note that Swift declined both invitations. He thus further feeds a narrative that she is socially disengaged or callous (a long-standing one that Swift has recently tried to unwind). It’s a nasty move that attempts to change the subject from business ethics to larger political and moral matters.
Read: The queasy double message of Taylor Swift’s ‘You Need to Calm Down’
For her part, Swift is also trying to pursue financial goals under the cloak of virtue. By taking her complaints online, Swift likely hopes she’ll create a public-relations problem that could influence how Braun handles her masters—or even push him to relinquish them to her. Her post, however, does not specify that this is her motive. Instead, she gestures at feminism by saying Borchetta and Braun are “controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever.” She also purports to be setting an example: “Hopefully, young artists or kids with musical dreams will read this and learn about how to better protect themselves in a negotiation. You deserve to own the art you make.”
A greater good and a greater payout can, of course, sometimes align. Swift has reason to believe that picking this fight in public, and marshaling the language of liberation, is a smart move—after all, she’s deployed this playbook before. In 2015, she successfully shamed Apple Music for not paying musicians more, and last year she secured assurances from Universal that all its artists would get a cut if the record company cashed out its shares of Spotify. In both instances, she talked about a greater good—fairness and artistic freedom—while also shoring up her bottom line. Now Swift has antagonized a powerful wing of the music industry by going after Braun, but her assertion that “you deserve to own the art you make” would seem, to almost any layperson, a truism. A screwed-up system is what makes it otherwise, and Swift is not the first musician to profit from that system and then wake up to its failings.