It feels like more often than ever before, we’re witnessing celebrities both embarrassed and outright incensed by criticism. We've grown accustomed to attacks by hordes of fans, clap backs, and (their infamous cousin) the dreaded Notes app apology on our social media feeds. It's simple: when a celebrity is upset or scorned, they can post about it. And no matter how vague or detailed their argument, a famous name can count on their followers to fill in the blanks. Give the loyalists a dilemma, a name, and 20 minutes to play detective, and you will probably get what you want—or, at least, you can cause enough of a ruckus online for the media to pick it up and the rest of the world to either spread or acknowledge a hashtag (or petition) dedicated to the redemption arc.
Social media has, over the last decade, grown into a writhing entity incapable of sitting still and capable of impacting change through pressure. At this point, it’s important to recall that this isn’t the first time Swift has used social media to vent about her peers: She publicly addressed Kim Kardashian-West and Kanye West during their very public 2016 feud, claiming Braun orchestrated Kardashian-West's illegal phone recording of a conversation in which Swift gave West permission to use a derogatory lyric in his song “Famous”: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous." The lyric, of course, alludes to the origin story of Swift and West's beef: the infamous mic-grab during Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Swift also alleges Braun set up Kanye's unsettling music video for “Famous,” featuring a wax-casting of Swift, surrounded by many other celebrities in Kanye's orbit, calling the video (which also features Chris Brown lying next to Rihanna, both naked) "revenge porn...which strips my body naked". Swift also recalls how she felt when Bieber posted a screenshot of himself FaceTiming with West and Braun in 2016 on Instagram with the caption, "Taylor Swift what up;" a distinct, albeit juvenile, harassment.
Social media’s instantaneous power means musicians feel like they may not be able to "sit this one out," or like they may need to debate the validity of Swift's bullying claims. When Swift accused Braun of "incessant, manipulative bullying" (alongside his clients and associates for years), she essentially gave the green light to fans and fellow musicians to unleash hell, behind a screen and a hashtag, of course (#IStandWithTaylor). Swift didn't come with receipts, and she didn't need to. All she had to do was what she's already done on her albums for more than a decade; provide a glimpse inside her heart, no matter how justified it may be.
Fans are now the ones keeping celebrities in check, through follow policing, or regularly investigating their social media accounts and whether or not their favorite is following someone (in this case Braun), or liking or commenting on specific posts.
Exercising your thumbs and posting in 2019 is the easiest way to address an issue when the whole world is watching you. Fans are now the ones keeping celebrities in check, through follow policing, or regularly investigating their social media accounts and whether or not their favorite is following someone (in this case Braun), or liking or commenting on specific posts. Fans put pressure on celebrities to take sides, post vulnerable accounts of their own, and remain on the right side of history—and more importantly, remain liked. Speaking out not only earns celebrities points with fans online (some will simply have "no choice but to stan") but it can also shield celebrities from criticism, which many are unwilling to weather. Since Swift’s allegations, musicians may have talked to their teams to orchestrate statement—or in Braun's most successful client Ariana Grande's case, recanting one (Grande deleted an Instagram Story congratulating Braun for his purchase following the unrest). It's all about what makes you look good, and celebrities can succeed through even minor participation when it comes to social media.
Is it even worth reading Borchetta's version of events or has the damage been done? Do we believe Swift? Are we sure this isn't a game? Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time Swift has misrepresented the truth for her own benefit. She was, after all, caught in a pretty boldfaced lie with Kim and Kanye in 2016 that remains difficult to refute, despite the legality of Kim's recording. And since Kim's infamous "World Snake Day" tweet—which inarguably pointed a metaphorical middle finger Swift’s direction—we've collectively accepted Swift as a snake because she's our snake and we love her for it. Swift, always self-aware, has acknowledged her reputation many times, dressing in full snake attire and recently featuring snakes turning into butterflies in her new music videos for “LOVER” (2019). She's also savagely pointed to public opinion in previous songs like "Look What You Made Me Do", "Bad Blood", and "Better Than Revenge".
Borchetta claims his deal wasn't an-album-for-an-album, either, but that they were "working together on a new type of deal for our new streaming world that was not necessarily tied to 'albums' but more of a length of time." Borchetta also includes a friendly text from Swift, dated November 2018, in which the singer alleges she's far more concerned with her future and, though she wanted to own her Masters, needed to focus on the "bigger picture." Swift told Borchetta, "I had a choice whether to bet on my past or to bet on the future and I think knowing me, you can guess which one I chose." In the same text, Swift admits she's leaving for Republic Records and UMG and wishes Borchetta well. He wishes her well, too.
Did Scooter Braun promote the bullying of Taylor Swift over the last decade, causing her pain and discomfort? Maybe. Did Swift then manipulate the internet to get what's hers? Maybe. It's entirely plausible Swift would have never spoken out about what she thinks of Braun if he hadn't acquired her Masters and left her with what she felt was the only remaining choice—the utilization of her army. And how wrong can call-outs be if they urge people to pay attention to a subject—in the case, the maze that is music contracts and the industry’ #MeToo reckoning—that matters? There is a reason why court of law traditionally has two sides, with two lawyers, a judge and a (hopefully) objective jury. Even then, the legal system manages to mess up often. Our collective stray from objectivity and our willingness to assume the popular opinion instead of deducing from the facts is a strange, new symptom of online culture in 2019 and the introduction of the only two camps that matter: good and bad. I wonder if celebrities' uncensored public outcry, and the subsequent fallout, is the new normal. Because what celebrities do, we can all do—celebrity behavior helps identify what's acceptable for us ordinary folk and what's not, and always has. And if this trend continues to rise in prominence, we'll all be airing out our dirty laundry, both personally and professionally, for the world to evaluate. The results may get messier than we’d like.