It seems that pop’s darling of the decade has turned diva this week as it was announced that Taylor Swift had pulled her entire back catalogue of music from Spotify. Through all the initial hubub, it seems that everybody’s missed the point: this is a publicity scam, and it’s one that she’s already rehearsed. The move was practically in the DNA of 1989’s release.
Don’t be misled by her bubblegum lyrics, Taylor Swift is one of the most powerful women in the music industry at the moment. And this is in no small part due to her masterful ability to craft her public image and her intuitive grasp of PR. With solid branding, a strong, direct connection with her fanbase, and a business-savvy mind to boot, Swift is one of a very select few artists who could pull off this kind of move without direct recoil from the public. She has taken great care in positioning herself prior to the announcement through an op-ed placed in the Wall Street Journal, and this current move marks yet another step in Swift’s long game. What is clear from all of this is that Swift has vision, determination and an uncanny ability to fine-tune her public image.
Some time in the future, she may come back to Spotify – but for the moment, the recipe goes like this: engineer a row, generate ink, sprinkle in a bit of fuss and a dash of consternation; and watch as the mix bubbles sends flocks of fans to non-streaming and Apple-branded versions. In the meantime, Spotify can be guaranteed column inches, and everybody around the table is happy. Swift is a PR genius – her label ain’t called Big Machine for nothin’.
While the break-up seems drastic to some, this stunt is pulled from the pages of a classic tome. Swift’s row is as old as the hills. From Prince vs. YouTube to the Beatles vs. The World, these arguments are about creating noise and spinning a global narrative. All parties benefit from a hyped-up spat, whether it’s Coca Cola vs. Pepsi or Fairy vs. Competitors – commercial interests always benefit from visibility – It’s free advertising!
The clues to the commercial benefits of this latest move can be found in the craftsmanship that has gone into Spotify’s response to the apparent slight. At once witty, light-hearted and uplifting, the brand’s response is well thought-out, and almost a little too slickly executed. There is not the mildest whiff of a brand in trouble, but rather the assured good humour of a brand reaffirming its relationship with its public. In an open letter to Swift, Spotify reminds her of its 40 million-strong network of users, its strongly ethical stance of creating « a new music economy that works for everyone » and the fact that it pays its artists 70 % of its total revenue. The posting of a playlist urging her to return was just the cherry on the cake.
If her album Red was anything to go by, this is not the last we’ll hear of the Spotify vs. Swift pseudo-fiasco. In what could be seen as a warm-up for her latest shenanigans, Swift pulled her last album from Spotify around the time of its release, only for it to reappear again. This latest is a little like the cheeky wink at the end of the We Are Never Getting Back Together video.
“I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying, “This is it, I’ve had enough,” ’cause like
We hadn’t seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space. (What?)
Then you come around again and say
“Baby, I miss you and I swear I’m gonna change, trust me.”
Remember how that lasted for a day?
I say, “I hate you,” we break up, you call me, “I love you.”