Seeing the headline, “Scooter Braun Speaks,” across the pages of Variety this week brought a controversial name back to the forefront of the cultural discourse. It’s no secret why a headline about Braun would read as though it's giving a maligned figure their chance to explain—Braun, a music mogul, who in the same piece is awarded Variety’s “Music Mogul of the Year Award,” unpopularly purchased Taylor Swift’s masters to her first six studio albums in 2019, and then sold them to an investment firm in 2020. But the story sheds light on someone who seems to be a more misunderstood rain maker than the “incessant, manipulative bully” that Swift accused Braun of being. The whole ordeal speaks to the kinds of things that happen when the people at the table have more money than god and everyone’s too big for their britches.
Braun acquired Swift’s masters when he purchased the Nashville label that put her on the map, Big Machine. The whole saga is an interesting case study in the music business and entertainment politics in general. When Swift signed with Big Machine before she was famous, she signed a deal that gave the label ownership over her masters. This is common, and many artists often agree to this restrictive, either not expecting to reach such enormous success or desperate to get their music out with a record label.
So when Braun bought Big Machine, he effectively owned Swift’s music in earnest. What he didn’t have to do after the fact was sell it to Shamrock in a deal where he made $160 million. The situation was made messier by the fact that Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta, who in many ways is responsible for the Taylor titan we know today, defended Braun during the sale, saying that Swift had had the opportunity to buy back her masters and had been unwilling to come to an agreement. Swift denies that allegation, and what really happened will probably never be very clear. It’s worth noting though, that if Swift is being disingenuous about business dealings that were said behind closed doors, it wouldn’t be the first time considering her massive feud with Kanye West and the infamous phone call leaked by Kim Kardashian.
Swift did do a good job painting Braun as malicious and manipulative though in her Instagram post from last summer on the day he sold her masters, saying:
"Some fun facts about today’s news: I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world. All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years.
Like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it. Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked. Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it."
What is clear is that Braun is trying to make amends in his own mega millionaire way — just not with Swift. Still involved in various business capacities with stars like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, he is widely respected in the entertainment industry despite the infamous dust up with one of its most ubiquitous stars. Braun, in a $1.02 billion merger between his Ithica holdings and K-Pop giant HYBE, arranged for clients on his roster like Bieber and Grande, as well as “friends who helped along the way,” to be given tens of millions in stocks of the company. Braun has also broken many artists — including Justin Bieber — in moves not unlike Borchetta’s big break for Swift all those years ago.
The good will is working too. Daniel Elk, co-founder and CEO of Spotify told Variety, “Scooter’s creativity and ingenuity have helped so many artists chart new paths to success, and opened avenues for others to follow.” In the interview with Braun that follows an illustrious introduction, you can see a man who on the eve of turning 40, having just completed one of music’s most massive recent mergers, is using his platform to rewrite his image. He recalls that when he and Chairman Bang, as he is known, of Big Hit Entertainment (the other side of the HYBE merger) began talking, they barely spoke about business for weeks, instead, “We talked about our interests, meditation, music, family, and we really became friends.” He goes on to talk more about how he wants to merge western business acumen with more eastern philosophies that focus on relationships over money—which begs the question of where that mindset was when he bought and sold Swift’s work.
He does spend precious interview time in his Variety spread defending those actions though saying, "“I regret and it makes me sad that Taylor had that reaction to the deal. … All of what happened has been very confusing and not based on anything factual. I don’t know what story she was told. I asked for her to sit down with me several times, but she refused. I offered to sell her the catalog back and went under NDA, but her team refused. It all seems very unfortunate.”
Ultimately, Braun didn’t do anything illegal or even anything that hasn’t been done before. But he did do it to America’s sweetheart. Swift has been public about her disdain, and her fans have descended in droves to disperse vitriol on Braun. Swift has been quickly re-recording and releasing her old work as recording rights expire, continually drawing attention to what was done to her, and taking her power back in a cool way. At the same time Braun is doing billion dollar deals, meditating, and has no shortage of people to have his back.
It is hard to get over a man buying a woman’s hard-earned work, just to sell it off like a used car — no matter how rich and famous they both are. But it’s also Swift we’re talking about, who pretty much gets everything she ever wants. So why should we care that one business mistake from her youth lost her her masters as a star? And for that matter, why should we care about a meditation junkie who makes millions in back room deals?