LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Taylor Swift has issued an unprecedented plea to her fans to get involved in a business fight over early hits like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD BLOOD")
TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) 'Cause, baby, now we got bad blood. You know it used to be mad love. So take a look what you've done 'cause, baby, now we got bad blood. Hey.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A company bought her early music catalog, and she's now fighting to be able to perform those songs on TV. The battle involves a lot of big names in the music business and private equity.
Here to help me untangle this is NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas. Welcome.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu. Thanks for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we're talking about music from Taylor Swift's first several albums, like "1989," the big breakout hit, which is where that song comes from. Tell us what brought this disagreement out into the open.
TSIOULCAS: Right. Well, on Thursday night, Swift posted a note on social media saying that her former label, Big Machine, is refusing to give her permission to perform a medley of her old hits on the made-for-TV American Music Awards later this month during a tribute to her. And she also said in her post that Big Machine was refusing to give permission for her old recordings to be used in an upcoming Netflix biographical documentary. And she claimed that the label's founder and head, Scott Borchetta, said she can only use that old material if she gives up those plans to make copycat recordings of her old albums.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the record label issued its own statement Friday disputing that, right?
TSIOULCAS: It's pretty ambiguous. Big Machine said it doesn't have any right to keep her from performing live anywhere, but it didn't say that she could specifically sing that music it owns on television.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how did all this bad blood come about?
TSIOULCAS: Nice quote of the lyrics there.
TSIOULCAS: Back in July, Big Machine was sold to a company called Ithaca Holdings. That's owned by a guy named Scooter Braun, who is a very big impresario in the music industry. He manages Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, among others. And he also used to manage Kanye West, who got into a pretty famous snarl with Taylor Swift just as her career started heating up.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. He interrupted her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards years ago.
TSIOULCAS: Yes, and it has been very rocky ever since. And Swift's claimed that Braun had a hand in those feuds personally.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it seems that this goes way back. But in her social media post, Swift called upon her fans to get involved in this current business feud.
TSIOULCAS: Yes. She mustered up her Swifties, as they're known. And as of Saturday, over a hundred thousand people have signed a change.org petition, and they've absolutely swamped the social media accounts of Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta. So she's leveraging a very particular kind of power she has as an artist and the real love that her fans have for her. I cannot say that music executives inspire that kind of love and devotion.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I shouldn't think so. And she's also called out others who have a different kind of power.
TSIOULCAS: Right. Swift name-checked the Carlyle Group in her post, and that's a private equity firm that's a major investor in Scooter Braun's company. So she's also calling on those who hold some serious purse strings.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it seems like this is a lot of money facing off against a lot of fame. Where would it all be heading?
TSIOULCAS: It's honestly not so clear right now, Lulu. It appears the tribute to her on the AMAs will go on, and it also appears that she still plans to re-record her back catalogs during next year. Big Machine said at the end of its statement that it's open to negotiating with her. But you know, conference-room negotiations aren't exactly the stuff of social media.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the one thing we do know about Taylor Swift is that she uses her real-life experiences to, you know, inform her art. So I'm assuming there might be some new songs, at least, to come out of this conflict.
TSIOULCAS: I think that is a pretty good bet.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much. That's NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas.
TSIOULCAS: Thanks so much for having me.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.