Eliza Levinson recaps the week in streaming.
This week on the internet (and in real life), Rebecca Black (of “Friday”) is back (and hot), Tierra Whack says she’s “done doing music,” Azealia Banks released a new song called “F**ck Him All Night” about a tryst she says she had with Kanye West, France’s Cannes festival kicks off and buzz begins about Annette, a new film starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard wherein (among other things) Driver sings while “simulating oral sex.” Is he sexier for this? Some will say yes, but I adamantly say no. I will not be taking questions at this time.
Meanwhile, Bumble says it’s opening a “safe space” restaurant, that boat finally left the Suez Canal, and people in Texas delivered a bone-chilling rendition of the national anthem.
In my wild and precious life, I secured my visa and with it, my attention span, meaning I could finally depart from mindless reality TV: I finally saw Judas and the Black Messiah and the 2020 Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana(a wild combo), started bingeing a Lizzie McGuire-type German TV show called Berlin Berlin and finished a German melodrama called Ku’damm ‘59 (the sequel to an equally entertaining DE melodrama, Ku’damm 56). Plus, I bought my first-ever Cameo: a birthday message from RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6 queen Vivacious (and her signature styrofoam head, Ornacia) for my best friend.
Female pop stars: everybody wants some
Last weekend, Jia Tolentino and Ronan Farrow dropped a feature on the reality behind Britney Spears' abusive conservatorship for The New Yorker. In it, a bleak portrait is painted of one of the most famous women in pop music: a life of forced isolation from family and friends, psychological abuse, constant betrayal, financial manipulation, and physical restraint. Days after the article and about two weeks after Spears’ own explosive court testimony, Samuel D. Ingham III stepped down from his position as a lawyer on Spears’ conservatorship case. On the same day, Spears’ manager, Larry Rudolph, resigned after working with the artist for 25 years. In a letter to Spears’ co-conservators (her father, Jamie Spears, and Jodi Montgomery, who has been appointed by the court), Rudolph wrote: “It has been over two-and-a-half years since Britney and I last communicated, at which time she informed me she wanted to take an indefinite work hiatus. Earlier today, I became aware that Britney had been voicing her intention to officially retire. … As her manager, I believe it is in Britney’s best interest for me to resign from her team as my professional services are no longer needed.”
Thinking about Britney’s conservatorship, I was reminded of Taylor Swift’s recent announcement that she’s rereleasing her 2012 smash album, Red. In fact, Taylor plans to rerecord and -release all of her albums from between 2005 and 2018, when she was signed to Republic Records at Universal. During the first 13 years of Taylor Swift’s career, she was repped by Big Machine, meaning that BM owned the “masters, or original recordings,” of her work. As Raisa Bruner explains for Time, this in itself isn’t unusual: “Changing labels, carving out more agency, updating contract terms –– these steps are par for the course for a successful artist. People change, and so do the contracts that govern them.”
During Taylor Swift’s time at Big Machine, her discography became the lion’s share of the company’s revenue stream. In 2018, an unnamed source told Variety that “Big Machine … derived as much as 80 percent of its revenue from Swift’s music.”
But then, things took a turn for the dramatic: in June 2019, Big Machine was sold to Ithaca Holdings, which is owned by the Jeff Bezos of pop music, Scooter Braun. Braun is known for managing superstars like Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and Demi Lovato, and — probably most centrally — collaborating with known rival of Swift, Kanye West. (TL;DR: West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs, then included the line about being responsible for Swift’s celebrity in his 2016 track “Famous,” and a figure made to look like a naked Swift lying in bed in the song’s music video; the Swift camp stated that she was unaware of the song before its release; Kim Kardashian — West’s now ex — posted a video of West on the phone with Swift getting her permission to reference her in the song; aspersions cast, etc).
When the company was sold, Swift stated, she was “never given an opportunity to purchase her masters before” the acquisition, explained Erin Vanderhoof for Vanity Fair. The day the acquisition was announced, Swift took to her Tumblr, writing, “This is my worst-case scenario.”
In a Vox article explaining the controversy, Constance Grady breaks it down like this: when Braun bought the rights to Swift’s masters, that meant that he has “the actual record she made in the studio in 2009, and all the copies of the song[s] that exist in the world — on YouTube, on Spotify, on iTunes, on CDs — are copies of that record.” Because of that, the owner of the original recording has the sole right to “make, sell, or distribute copies” of the recording, and “anyone who wants to make a copy of the recording must ask for permission from the owner of the master rights.”
In November of last year, Braun then sold off the “master rights” of Swift’s first six albums for $300 million. Since then, Taylor rereleased her 2008 album Fearless earlier this year in a move Carl Wilson for Slate called “both business stunt and conceptual art.”
Taylor Swift is far from the first musician to fight over the rights to their music: Prince’s decision to change his name (briefly) to “an unpronounceable glyph” was the icon’s response to longstanding battles over his recording contract with Warner Bros, which came to a head over his frustration with not being able to own his master recordings — the same issue Swift would have with Big Machine decades later. By changing his name, Prince reportedly thought, “his record contract might not be enforceable.”
As Raisa Bruner writes for Time, “Artists regularly chafe against their record label contracts... But rarely do they go through the hassle of re-recording and re-releasing old work.” Today, Kanye West, Rihanna, and Jay-Z have been able to negotiate means of acquiring their masters, but these iconic musicians are in the minority of those able to make such moves.
The motivations behind Swift’s rereleases are less clear. In Time, Raisa Bruner speculates that “her hope, it seems, is to override those archival works with these new versions,” while Carl Wilson in Slate pictures Swift’s rerecordings as “self-consciously meta-narrative.”
As he writes, “What the original Fearless had going for it was the fresh energy of a young woman finding the voice to express her immediate experience and connect it to the experiences of millions of listeners. What Fearless (Taylor’s Version) offers fans, aside from the purported pleasure of helping Swift stick it to Scooter Braun, is a wistful revisiting of that breakthrough through the frame of the intervening 13 years and the listener’s personal attachment to the arc of her creative and personal life since then.”
~Catch up on Dirt~
- W. David Marx shines a light on obscurity, voyeurism, and the internet
- Hannah Ziegler opens the door to the industry of bedroom pop
- Daisy Alioto exposes the truth behind “imperial magazine editors”
— Uh-huh: Elvis stans rejoice, Cinedigm and Elvis Presley Enterprises are teaming up to make a free, Elvis-centric streaming channel launching early next year. The channel will feature music from Elvis and other musicians, as well as exclusive “archival content and specials.” — Pop musician The Weeknd is teaming up with Euphoria’s Sam Levinson (no relation) on writing and starring in an upcoming HBO show, The Idol –– Rob Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride) has revealed he’s making a “10- to 13-episode” TV show about Trump and Putin, to be called The Spy and the Asset — The soundtrack of Seinfeld will be released as a 33 track album — “Science YouTuber” Derek Mullerhas defied Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye (and the laws of physics) with the speed of his homemade wind-powered car —Basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Ron Shelton, and Peter Guber are working on a drama TV series about Negro League Baseball for Apple. The show will focus on the biography of Leroy “Satchel” Paige — Courtney Love has accused Olivia Rodrigo of “stealing” the cover art from Hole’s 1994 Live Through Thisfor the artwork promoting Rodrigo’s new concert film, Sour Prom —Lil Nas X is releasing his first-ever full-length album, Montero, which he announced with a Marvel Comics-inspired trailer last week
— after a long day of work, nothing soothes quite like the content of @blackforager (aka @alexisnikole on TikTok), aka the subject of this recent New Yorker profile — “Britney Spears: In The Zone And Out All Night,” an MTV special about a night of surprise concerts by Britney Spears in New York in 2004 (plus a cameo from drag icon Lady Bunny!) — Madonna performing Vogue at the 1990 MTV Awards — a funny TikTok of huskies howling — been brushing up on my German with Netflix’s Ku’damm 59— By Eliza Levinson