This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Aside from her music, Taylor Swift is well-known for her public rivalries. These are the inspiration for her Reputation album, along with future songs like Vigilante S**t. Whether she handled the rivalries directly, proving "there is nothing [she] does better than revenge," or she lets "karma" handle it, Swift has a habit of coming out on top.
In her TIME spotlight, Swift acknowledged that some of these rivalries directly contributed to the unbelievable success of her recent Eras Tour. However, that doesn't mean they didn't hurt.
"It’s not lost on me that the two great catalysts for this happening were two horrendous things that happened to me. The first was getting canceled within an inch of my life and sanity. The second was having my life’s work taken away from me by someone who hates me."- Taylor Swift, TIME, 2023
Here's a brief run-down of her those two major conflicts.
Taylor Swift and Kanye West
The feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West began when he interrupted her acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. He argued that, "Beyonce had the best video of all time," fundamentally undermining her success. While Swift largely laughed it off, including during her SNL musical monologue, it only got worse from there.
While Swift seemed willing to let it go, with some even believing her song "Innocent" was about West, he continued to bring it up, claiming that he did not mean any apologies he had made about it. Still, they seemed to be gradually heading toward friendship.
"I feel like I wasn’t ready to be friends with him until I felt like he had some sort of respect for me, and he wasn’t ready to be friends with me until he had some sort of respect for me. ... And then Kanye and I both reached a place where he would say really nice things about my music and what I’ve accomplished, and I could ask him how his kid’s doing."- Taylor Swift, Vanity Fair, 2015
But West couldn't let it go. In 2016, he released his single, "Famous," in which he says, "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that b***h famous." The music video includes a scene in which Swift is implied to be having sex with him.
Swift denied having approved of this, and her fans rallied against West.
Kim Kardashian, ex-wife of Kanye West, jumped to her then-husband's defense, claiming that Swift fully approved everything and that she was now trying to play the victim. This included releasing a recorded phone call which seemed to prove Swift was lying.
Between the massive backlash against Swift and the way the media portrayed her, Swift disappeared from social media. She came back in 2017 with her biggest reinvention yet in the form of Reputation, an album full of snakes, darkness, and promises of revenge.
In 2020, extended leaks of the phone call made it clear that Swift had not approved the lyrics or the music video.
In her TIME interview for 2023 Person of the Year, Swift reflected on the 2016 drama, explaining:
"That took me down psychologically to a place I’ve never been before. I moved to a foreign country. I didn’t leave a rental house for a year. I was afraid to get on phone calls. I pushed away most people in my life because I didn’t trust anyone anymore. I went down really, really hard."- Taylor Swift, TIME, 2023
A full timeline of the West-Swift-Kardashian rivalry can be found at Billboard.
Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun
For the first 13 years of her career, Taylor Swift worked with Big Machine Records, a label owned by Scott Borchetta. At the time, the partnership seemed to work well for both, as Borchetta took a chance on a young, relatively inexperienced singer and Swift helped Big Machine grow.
However, tensions began to grow during the last few years of Swift's contract. On one level, the label wanted to micro-manage Swift's music, which she wanted more creative control over. More than that, however, Big Machine Records owned the music that Swift had written and performed, which she felt trapped by.
"The molecular chemistry of that old label was that every creative choice I wanted to make was second-guessed."- Taylor Swift, TIME, 2023
As the contract neared its end, Swift fought for the right to own her masters. However, the label only offered for her to earn her masters by giving them her future ones. It was a difference they couldn't get past, which led Swift to move to Republic Records, where she made a far more advantageous deal.
This caused a rift between Swift and her former partner Scott Borchetta. But that was only about to get worse, as Scooter Braun then purchased the company and gained the rights to Swift's first six albums and their associated videos and artwork.
Taylor Swift already disliked Scooter Braun, in part because he represented many of her rivals, including Kanye West and Justin Bieber. In her words, "All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years."
"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."- Taylor Swift, Tumblr, 2019
Swift took to social media to explain the situation and why it hurt. In addition to the big picture, she shared that the label was blocking her from using her own work in future projects. Her fans were quick to support her, and fellow singer Kelly Clarkson gave her some brilliant advice.
Since then, Swift has been re-recording her first six albums so that she owns them. She asked her fans to stop using the originals, and they have, making the music Braun owned essentially worthless. In 2020, Braun sold the masters to Shamrock Holdings—with the condition that he keeps profiting off of them.
Swift won the battle, but the relationship between herself and Scott Borchetta was permanently damaged, and her hatred toward Scooter Braun is unparalleled.