April 14, 2024

Taylor Swift Controversies Throughout the Years

Here’s our overview of the nine biggest Taylor Swift controversies throughout the years – from copyright lawsuits to feuds with other celebrities.

Shake It Off Lawsuit

Most Viewed Taylor Swift YouTube Videos
Credit: Statista

The popular hit song Shake It Off was released in 2013 and, since then, became Swift’s most-viewed YouTube video, hitting 3.4 billion views as of March 2024. However, not everyone is a fan.

In 2017, two songwriters, Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, filed a lawsuit against Swift, claiming that she plagiarized their song Playas Gon’ Play, released in 2001. The basis was that the 3LW song featured lyrics “Playas, they gonna play / And haters, they gonna hate,” which are allegedly similar to a line in Shake It Off.

The dispute lasted for five years. The original lawsuit was initially dismissed in 2018, but Hall and Butler appealed that decision, which was reversed in 2019. Swift claimed that she’d never heard Playas Gon’ Play until the suit and requested a summary judgment, which was rejected in 2021. That means that Taylor Swift would’ve had to face a jury trial in January 2022.

However, the case was finally dismissed by a judge with prejudice in December 2022, per the parties’ request, as they reached an agreement to end it. The sum of the settlement hasn’t been disclosed to the public.

Hall and Butler weren’t the first to sue Swift over Shake It Off, although their dispute was the longest. In 2015, singer Jessie Braham demanded $42 million in damages, claiming that the hit plagiarized his Haters Gonna Hate song. That suit was dismissed the same year, albeit without prejudice.

Big Machine Dispute

We recently wrote about Swift’s bestselling albums, and as you might remember, four of them have been re-recorded since their release. The reason for that is the artist’s dispute with her former label Big Machine Records.

Swift was Big Machine’s first recording artist and they had the ownership rights to the masters (original recordings) of her first six albums released in 2006-2017. As her contract was due to expire in 2018, her representatives proposed to the label that the masters be sold to her. The label insisted they’d only do so if Swift were to renew her contract for another 10 years.

No agreement was reached, but as a result of a $330 million acquisition of Big Machine by Scooter Braun’s company in 2019, the rights to Swift’s masters went with it. Swift, who doesn’t get along with Braun for many reasons, only found out about it after the fact and put together a scathing social media post, calling Braun a bully and a manipulator.

Swift received a lot of support from fellow artists like Ed Sheeran and Kelly Clarkson. But the drama escalated when Big Machine tried to stop her from performing her old songs at AMA and using them in her documentary Miss Americana. The label eventually gave the artist the green light.

However, that wasn’t the end of it. As a result of the controversy, which also involved Big Machine trying to monetize an “album” of Swift’s performance that she didn’t authorize and re-selling her records to an investment firm in 2020, Swift took the decision to re-record her first six albums.

This meant she could reclaim the ownership of the masters. To date, four out of the six albums have been re-recorded as Taylor’s Versions.

The event was highly publicized and is considered one of the biggest events in music in the last few years and a transformative moment for artists. Swift’s decision to speak up and re-record her albums was praised by artists and politicians familiar with the exploitative practices of private equity firms.

Kanye West Drama

The highly publicized feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West started way back in 2009 when West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV VMAs. Swift was accepting the prize for the best music video, You Belong With Me, when West got on stage to cut her off and proclaim, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!”

Both Swift and Beyonce were shocked by West’s outburst. Following it, Beyonce shared her time on stage with Swift after winning her award for support. West did subsequently apologize to Swift, but the contentious relationship didn’t end there.

In 2010, Swift performed Innocent – a track seemingly about West and the incident. As a result, the feud reignited and West took back his apology in 2013. In 2016, West released Famous, a song featuring sexist lyrics about Swift, and of which she had no prior knowledge.

The lyrics prompted social media outrage from artists, but West’s then-wife Kim released an alleged phone call between West and Swift where she seemingly allowed the lyrics. The phone call has since been proven edited, but not before Swift was called a snake.

The same year, West released the Famous music video. Swift called the NSFW video featuring the naked bodies of celebrities, including her, “Revenge Porn,” in the same Tumblr post as the one from the previous controversy.

Swift addressed the feud with West in her interview with TIME in December last year, calling the phone call “a fully manufactured frame job.”

Bad Blood – Katy Perry Diss Track?

Katy Perry Instagram post Swift’s other major feud was with her fellow pop star Katy Perry. Before the fallout, the two artists seemed like close friends, but in December 2013, things started to get messy.

Perry was dating Swift’s ex John Mayer at the time, but that wasn’t the problem. According to dancer Lockhart Brownlie, in 2012, John Mayer and two other dancers left Swift’s Red Tour and joined Perry’s Prismatic tour.

Needless to say, Swift wasn’t pleased but stayed silent – until nine months later. One of the top tracks of her 2014 album 1989 was Bad Blood and was heavily rumored to be about another artist. In an interview that year, Swift confirmed that another artist did try to “sabotage her tour,” stopping short of mentioning Perry by name. Perry responded with a scathing tweet calling Swift “Regina George in sheep’s clothing.”

The two artists wouldn’t reconcile for a few years, during which there have been several other questionable tweets and exchanges, although Swift has never publicly called out Perry by name.

In 2017, Perry dropped Swish Swish, allegedly a diss track that was a response to Swift’s Bad Blood. She addressed the controversy for the first time that same year. A year later, Perry sent Swift an actual olive branch, and the two reconciled shortly after.

Lover Lawsuit

Most streamed albums on Spotify
Credit: Statista

Swift’s seventh studio album, Lover, was received very positively and was one of the most streamed albums on Spotify, with over 3.6 billion streams in 2023. However, it’s not free of controversies.

The second lawsuit on our list concerns that very album. In 2022, a poet from Mississippi, Teresa La Dart, claimed that the design and content of her 2010 poetry book Lover had been ripped off by Swift for her seventh album’s accompanying book. La Dart believed that Swift’s alleged actions infringed her copyright and sued Swift for over $1 million in damages.

The album’s accompanying book was done in the same style as La Dart’s collection, including the same color scheme and title, according to the claimant. Swift’s legal team requested a dismissal, calling La Dart’s accusations “woefully deficient” and stating that it should have never been filed.

In July of the same year, La Dart voluntarily dropped her claim. According to Swift’s lawyers, it had few chances of success in the first place, as both creatives used popular stock elements that couldn’t be monopolized by one author alone.

Folklore Logo “Stealing” Controversy

Lover wasn’t the only album by Swift that was accused of IP violations. The release of her first pandemic album, Folklore, in July 2020, which has since set several records and become one of her most popular albums, was marked with a logo infringement controversy.

Amira Rasool, owner of “The Folklore” showroom, which specializes in high-end African fashion, accused Swift of stealing her design for the merchandise of the album based on the similarities between the merch and Rasool’s own work.

Swift publicly responded to the complaint on Twitter, offering to help Rasool’s company, and her team subsequently issued a statement confirming that the merchandise had been changed and no merch with the previous design had been shipped out.

Rasool commended the artist and her team for taking “a great first step.” As of summer 2020, they were in a conversation about the next steps.

Eras Tour Ticketmaster Mess

Taylor Swift The Eras Tour Stats
Credit: Statista

When Taylor Swift announced her sixth concert tour, The Eras Tour, in November 2022, few could’ve anticipated it becoming the highest-grossing music event of all time. However, even fewer of us could’ve predicted the pre-sales chaos that would follow.

After Swift’s announcement, fans found that Ticketmaster crashed very quickly. Some of them were locked out after the Verified Fan codes failed to work, and others lost their tickets in the sales process after waiting for hours. Overall, over two million tickets were sold, but Ticketmaster had to cancel the sale due to “unprecedented demand.”

After the crash, Swift addressed the controversy on her social media, slamming Ticketmaster. The fiasco triggered a social media backlash and several lawsuits by groups of fans. And they weren’t the only ones who noticed.

A few days after the crash, the Justice Department took note and opened an antitrust investigation into Ticketmaster for power abuse. Although Swift’s ticket sales are far from the only occasion under investigation, as the inquiry pre-dates the event, it was arguably the trigger.

The inquiry is still ongoing and has been marked by legislators quoting Swift’s lyrics on more than one occasion.

Private Jet Use

Worst Celebrities for Private Jet CO2 Pollution
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Flying is one of the least planet-friendly ways to travel, and flying by a private jet is even more so. Despite that, many celebrities insist on using them, and Taylor Swift is no exception.

According to the research by Yard, Swift’s $40 million private jet was the worst offender when it came to private jet CO2 emissions in 2022. Her private jet amassed 22,923 minutes in the air in H1 of 2022, which amounted to 8,293.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Her shortest flight was only half an hour, and the average length of her flights was 80 minutes. Other top offenders were boxer Floyd Mayweather, with 7,076.8 tonnes in emissions, and Jay-Z, with 6,981.3 tonnes.

To address the controversy, Swift’s team claimed that her jet is often loaned to other individuals, so it was misleading to attribute all these flights to her. Moreover, she claims to offset these emissions, although she doesn’t disclose the relevant carbon offsetting projects she’s participating in.

Explicit Deepfake Images

Taylor Swift AI Google Search Trends
Credit: Statista

A couple of months ago, the world saw how damaging AI deepfakes can be. Taylor Swift’s deepfake pornographic images appeared across Twitter and 4chan in January 2024.

The explicit images sparked outrage and were subsequently taken down after mass reporting from users. Eventually, X temporarily blocked users from searching for Swift’s name. However, the damage was done, and the images were seen as many as 47 million times. The topic of “Taylor Swift AI” began trending on Google in some regions, including the USA and Canada.

The abusive images prompted the CEO of Microsoft (whose AI was used to generate them) to respond by defending Microsoft’s ability to protect its users. Even the White House was alarmed by the situation and called for legislation combating sexually explicit deepfakes. To date, no such legislation exists in the US, and Section 230 protects platforms like X from liability.

Whilst Swift’s deepfake AI situation is horrifying, she is far from the only woman who’s experienced it. According to The Guardian, 96% of deepfake videos feature non-consensual pornography, which is a stark reminder of the misogyny and abuse still prevalent on the Internet.

We can only hope that with the advancements of AI, the accountability of tech companies will also advance at a comparable pace.

Is Swift’s Music Controversial?

So far, we dove into the controversies associated with Taylor Swift’s lawsuits, feuds with other celebrities, private jet use, and AI deepfakes. But we haven’t really touched upon the artist’s music and actions surrounding it, which some people deem to be controversial.

For example, before she became its most-streamed artist, Swift’s previous history with Spotify was contentious, to say the least. In 2014, she pulled her music from the streaming service over a dispute about royalties.

However, she returned to the service three years later after the Swedish company increased the amounts paid to the artists (or was it because Katy Perry was releasing Witness the same day?).

Depicting Her Love Life in Music

Most Viewed Taylor Swift Music Videos
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Taylor Swift is known for writing about her life, especially her love life, which has attracted backlash in the past. For example, in Dear John, which many fans speculated to be about singer John Mayer whom she dated when she was only 19 and he was in his 30s, she takes a few swipes at him. He wasted no time to react, claiming to be humiliated.

Mayer, however, wasn’t the only alleged inspiration for Swift’s music. For instance, her short romance with British heartthrob Harry Styles is said to have inspired the hits Style and Out of the Woods. The contentious break-up over the phone with Joe Jonas served as an inspiration for Forever and Always.

Other songs seemingly inspired by exes were more apologetic, such as Back to December and Getaway Car, believed to be dedicated to Taylor Lautner and Tom Hiddleston, respectively. And Lover was an open love letter to Joe Alwyn, alongside hits like Dress and Sweet Nothing. It’s Jake Gyllenhaal, however, who’d earned one of the longest love songs in history – All Too Well.

Is it controversial to depict your love life in music? Some would say yes. But, on the other hand, it’s a creative outlet, and should we really begrudge a woman for making money from her own creations?

Can We Shake It Off? Wrapping Up

By now, it’s super clear that the Lavender Haze singer isn’t slowing down any time soon. Despite all the controversies she’s had to face over the years, she’s thriving.

That’s not to say, though, that Swift is without problems. Certain controversies we listed, such as private jet emissions, definitely should be addressed, and more should be disclosed about the star’s efforts to offset them.

However, many of the controversies, such as the Spotify boycott and the dispute with her former recording label, were about challenging the music industry and ensuring fairness in how her work is treated and compensated.

Of course, it helps to have a strong legal and marketing team behind you when you’re subjected to such controversies. However, things like deepfake pornography are not something that anyone should ever be subjected to – famous or otherwise.

We here at TechReport hope that the situation will lead to changes in how such deepfakes are treated by the legal system and look forward to seeing tech companies being held accountable.


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