Taylor Swift performing in a sparkly silver business suit, imposed over a background of hundred dollar bills.

Why Taylor Swift (The Business) Gives Me the Ick

I believe there are three Taylor Swifts in the world: the person, who frankly, none of us know; the artist, whose music I adore (even if my girl Courtney Love doesn’t); and the massive corporate machine that manages it all—let’s call that Swift Co. We’re here today to talk about that Taylor Swift.

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Like all corporations in a post-capitalistic hellscape, Swift Co. is engaging in some gross things, and they should be addressed. A little bit of history, if you’re not deep into Swiftie culture like I (unapologetically) am: In 2018, Swift signed with Universal Music Group, and her business has gone downhill since, despite her professional success.

Another point of order: For many people, it’s not just about the music when you like Taylor Swift. It’s about the community the music builds. I have made many amazing friends simply from the initial fact we considered ourselves Swifties. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have met these people, and it’s all due to her music. Just like some people like to represent their favorite sports team, some of us like to buy her physical media (and overpriced hoodies) to express our appreciation for her art and serve as an external signal to others. It’s a way to create an instant connection and let someone know you support the same team.

However, Swift Co. is extremely competitive, and in order to crush album sales and dominate the music industry, the company has gotten into the habit of releasing multiple variants of the same album in order to secure the number one slot. For her latest release, The Tortured Poets Department, there are four variants of the album, sold both as CDs and vinyl, not to mention the cassette. Each version has a bonus track, exclusive to that variant. Her last release had a whopping 35 physical versions. 35!!

Let’s dissect that for a moment, shall we? Yes, I get it. No one is forcing anyone to buy the albums, and this is absolutely a champagne problem. (Although keep in mind if you buy an album digitally, it’s only a lease. Physical media is the only way to truly own what you buy.)

However, the way these variants get released is gross. Initially, they are offered during a limited time frame, impressing on fans that you must buy now in order to get the version, ignoring the fact they basically always come back later. Secondarily, by doing it this way, the store forces you to pay shipping each time. So if you ordered each variant as it came out because you fell for their trick of scarcity, you ended up paying $32 in shipping. Her team won’t allow you to combine shipping costs on multiple orders. Sometimes, they’ll let you cancel your order when these albums come back (narrator voice: they always come back) in order to combine costs, but many times, they won’t. It really feels like the company is fracking fans for every last cent, with no care towards long-term sustainability—both for fans and the climate. Why is the cost of admission so high simply to listen to music you love?

Her order fulfillment via UMG is so atrocious that over the Christmas season, they failed spectacularly—so much so that they ended up refunding anyone who didn’t get their orders in time, still shipping the merchandise, and offering a store credit for the total amount of their order, too. Most likely to stave off legal action. Want to try to talk to someone about a failed order? Good luck. Her team’s response times are notoriously awful.

Here’s the thing: It’s 2024. We’re all used to needless consumerism, nonexistent customer service and corporations that are terrible for the environment. (Just look at Swift’s private plane carbon emissions!) The problem I have is reconciling the music that has created a wonderful community for me, and gives me so much enjoyment, with the corporation that is behind that art operating as if we’re all a cog in its machine instead of loyal fans.

Swift Co. is capable of doing better. I just wish they were committed to it as well.

(featured image: Taylor Hill/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, TMS)


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Author
Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.