Arts & Entertainment

Taylor Swift, Scooter Braun, and Justin Bieber's Feud, Explained

A dispute over Swift's back catalog has snowballed into a massive social media feud involving everyone from Todrick Hall to Demi Lovato.
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The best drama starts small—a business deal, a loan between friends—and snowballs, gathering new famous names, social media posts, and evidence screenshots in its wake. That’s the case with the feud between Taylor Swift and superstar talent manager Scooter Braun, which has grown to encompass everyone from Justin Bieber, to Todrick Hall, to Demi Lovato. Here's how it got started, where it stands, and everyone who has weighed in—so far.

What's the back story between Swift, Braun, and Big Machine Records?

Swift signed to Scott Borchetta's Big Machine Records as a teenager, and the label released all of her albums, from her self-titled 2006 debut to 2017's Reputation. In 2018, Swift left Big Machine for Universal Music Group, the label that's behind her upcoming release Lover.

On Sunday, it was announced that Big Machine was acquired by Scooter Braun's Ithaca Holdings. In years past, Swift has publicly feuded with two of Braun's clients—Justin Bieber and Kanye West. Tensions between West and Swift date back to his infamous interruption of her 2009 VMA's speech, and include a 2016 flare up that found Swift claiming that she wasn't consulted about Kanye's plan to namecheck her in a song, only for his wife Kim Kardashian to produce a secret recording in which Swift appeared to agree to be mentioned. In the wake of that controversy, Bieber posted an image of himself Facetiming with Braun and West to Instagram with the caption "Taylor swift what up."

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So what happened now?

On Sunday, Swift posted a lengthy statement to Tumblr. In it, she accused Borchetta of attempting to contractually hold her hostage for the rights to her back catalog. "For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work," she wrote. "Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past."

Swift wrote that she was horrified to learn that her catalog would now be owned by Braun. "I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world," she wrote. "All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years."

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Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy...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.

How did Braun and Borchetta respond?

Taylor’s post prompted a cascade of clapbacks. Braun has not yet personally responded, but his wife, philanthropist Yael Cohen Braun, posted a retort to Instagram. “You were given the opportunity to own your masters, you passed,” she wrote. “Your dad is a shareholder [in Big Machine] and Borchetta personally told you before this came out. So no, you didn’t find out with the world.”

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For his part, Borchetta posted a lengthy letter to Big Machine's website Sunday night. "I truly doubt that she 'woke up to the news when everyone else did,'" he wrote, claiming that, in addition to her dad being a shareholder in the label, he’d personally texted Swift to tell her about the deal with Braun.

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He also disputed Swift’s point that she had had no viable opportunity to acquire her back catalog, and said that Big Machine’s final offer to keep Swift at their label would have immediately transferred "100% of all Taylor Swift assets" to her—and included a screenshot of their offer as proof. Instead, said Borchatta, Swift decided to depart for Universal Music Group. "Taylor had every chance in the world to own not just her master recordings, but every video, photograph, everything associated to her career," he wrote. "She chose to leave."

To Swift’s statement that Borchatta wanted her to earn her back catalog in exchange for more albums, the executive claimed that they "were working together on a new type of deal for our new streaming world that was not necessarily tied to ‘albums’ but more of a length of time.” Borchatta also wrote that Braun was "never anything but positive about Taylor," and invited the artist to participate in memorial events surrounding the Manchester arena shooting and the Parkland high school shooting—both opportunities he said Swift declined.

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Who else chimed in?

Bieber also posted a response to Instagram. Though he started on a conciliatory note by apologizing for mocking Swift with the photo from 2016, he ended his post by coming to the defense of his longtime manager. "Scooter has had your back since the days you graciously let me open up for you," Bieber wrote. "What were you trying to accomplish by posting that blog? seems to me like it was to get sympathy u also knew that in posting that your fans would go and bully scooter."

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Other artists, however, came to Swift’s defense. Rapper Iggy Azalea pointed out that if Swift had learned of the Braun deal after the shareholder meeting on June 25th, that wouldn’t necessarily have given her more options. "Telling someone about a deal days before it’s public means the deal was already done & she never had the opportunity to even make a bid to own her own work,” she tweeted. "These deals take months to negotiate in long form."

Danielle Haim also supported Swift. "Sometimes I’m reminded how fucked up and slimy this business is," she posted to her Instagram story. "This is one of those times - LET @taylorswift BUY BACK HER MUSIC YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES!!

Halsey chimed in with the statement: "It turns my guts that no matter how much power or success a woman has in this life, you are still susceptible to someone coming along and making you feel powerless out of spite. I am standing with her."

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Former Oprah Winfrey Network president Erik Logan, who’s a Big Machine board member, shared a blunt assessment of Swift and her claims. "I also find it interesting your use of the word bully. As I watch you attempt to re-write history and parse words, all from your massive platform, I’m reminded that’s what a real bully would do," he wrote in a now-deleted Twitter post. "Your power is fading, your shine is dull and this is what [bullies] do, they lash out—especially when they are called to stand in the truth."

Your [sic] lying. Stop it. Take responsibility for your own actions. Your mistruths and lies about what happened are just that—lies. You knew about this deal, you know what you were walking away from, and the offer that was given to you was NOT what you said. It was much more.

Broadway star and occasional-RuPaul's Drag Race judge Todrick Hall, who appeared in Swift’s music video for You Need to Calm Down, took to Twitter to share his own experience with Braun. "I left Scooter Braun a long time ago...I am saddened by this news, but not shocked. He is an evil person who’s only concern is his wealth and feeding his disgusting ego. I believe he is homophobic & I know from his own mouth that he is not a Swift fan."

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Hall's post spawned its own branch of this thriving tree of drama, when a manager from Braun’s company replied that Hall did not leave Braun, but was dropped by him. But Hall responded with a screenshot of an email in which he told Braun he’d be moving on. Hall also had a back-and-forth with Braun-defender Demi Lovato, who, as a member of the LGBT community, defended the talent manager against Hall’s claim that he’s homophobic.

Meanwhile, it looks like Selena Gomez's mom (?) is Team Taylor.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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