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Without Saying a Word, Taylor Swift Just Pulled Off the Ultimate Power Move



The superstar isn’t going to let a fight between TikTok and Universal spoil her album release.

Roughly once a month or so, we’re given another reason why Taylor Swift is one of the savviest business people on earth. First, it was her move to re-record all of her masters so that she’d own all of her own music. Then, there was the record-setting concert tour, followed by the blockbuster concert film, and a deal with Disney Plus.

The way she understands her loyal fans and the way she managed the release windows for The Eras Tour better than any Hollywood movie studio ever has is sure to be the subject of more than one graduate-level business case study. But there’s something even more impressive, and it happened without her saying a word–at least, not publicly.

First, a little backstory. In February, Universal Music Group pulled all of its music off of TikTok when the two companies could not agree on new license terms. Universal is the largest music label, representing artists like Drake, Ariana Grande, Coldplay, Adele, U2, and–of course–Taylor Swift.

Universal wanted TikTok to pay more for the use of its music. More importantly, the label wanted guarantees that TikTok will crackdown on AI-generated versions of its artists. You might remember that an AI-generated Drake song had more than 600,000 views on YouTube before it was taken down.

YouTube, in response, updated its terms to prohibit AI-generated versions of real artists, something Universal pressed for. That makes sense. If you’re a music label, you don’t want just anyone to be able to create fake songs that sound like the artists you represent since you’re not going to make any money off of them.

TikTok, it seems, wasn’t willing to pay or make any guarantees. In response, Universal made a bet that TikTok needs its music more than it needs TikTok. That part is still up for debate. Certainly, there are a lot of artists who would very much like their music on TikTok, not because they make a lot of money from it playing in the background of videos of people dancing, but because they use TikTok to share their own music. Imagine being a recording artist and not being able to make a TikTok video with one of your own songs. That’s exactly the situation every Universal artist was in–including Swift.

So, why is this happening now? That’s easy–Swift has a new album, The Tortured Poets Department, coming out in a week and there is exactly zero chance she was going to tolerate her music not being available on TikTok. Swift is nothing, if not incredibly intentional, about how she handles her brand. This is someone who has leaned all the way into delighting her fans, and she absolutely wants them to post as many TikTok videos as possible.


Okay, but why does Swift have her music back on TikTok, even though the rest of Universal’s artists do not? Well, because she’s Taylor Swift. No, seriously.

Swift has a very unique relationship with the music industry. Much of that is because she is the most successful music artist right now. Also, she has maybe the largest and most vocal fan base. That means she has power that almost no other artist has, and she’s more than willing to use it.

Also, from a practical standpoint, while Universal is her label for distributing her music, Swift retains the rights to her songs and owns all of her rerecorded masters. Basically, she can just cut her own deal. She’s not going to let a fight between two big companies who can’t get along, get in the way of her marketing plan for her new album.

It’s not entirely clear exactly what kind of a deal Swift might have cut, and she isn’t saying a word. Neither Universal nor Swift’s team responded to a request for comment for this story. However, there is a lesson for everyone here: almost all of Swift’s power in the music industry comes from her fan base. That comes as a result of constantly cultivating their loyalty through delight and surprise. Swift knows her fans and gives them exactly what they want. In return, they give her loyalty and, well, power.

When she talks to her fans, they listen. When she asks them to show up at her concerts and then pay money to see it again in theaters, and then pay more money to rent it on streaming services, those fans are more than happy to hand over their money for more of Swift. In this case, she may have pulled off the ultimate power move, without having to say a word.

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