Taylor Swift has spoken of the psychological damage of her feud with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and lambasted the music industry over its treatments of young pop stars, in a new interview with Time, which has named her their person of the year.
After a year in which she has been at the centre of cultural conversations for her massively lucrative Eras tour, Swift spoke damningly of what she sees as a short-termist approach by record labels to replace, rather than nurture its stars. “By the time an artist is mature enough to psychologically deal with the job, they throw you out at 29, typically,” she says. “In the 90s and 00s, it seems like the music industry just said: ‘OK, let’s take a bunch of teenagers, throw them into a fire, and watch what happens. By the time they’ve accumulated enough wisdom to do their job effectively, we’ll find new teenagers.’” She said her solution was to change style with each new album project: “I realised every record label was actively working to try to replace me. I thought instead, I’d replace myself first with a new me. It’s harder to hit a moving target.”
She was particularly critical of Big Machine, the label she released her first six albums with and which she accuses of keeping her on a tight artistic leash. “Every creative choice I wanted to make was second-guessed,” she said. “I was really overthinking these albums.”
That working relationship ended in huge acrimony, with Swift opposed to the transferral of ownership of the Big Machine albums to music manager Scooter Braun, with whom she had clashed. “My masters were being sold to someone who actively wanted them for nefarious reasons, in my opinion,” she told Time.
Braun has not commented on the interview, but has previously said “a lot of things got lost in translation” in the deal and the circus around it: “I thought it was unfair, but I also understand, from the other side, they probably felt it was unfair, too.”
Swift’s animosity towards Braun dates to when he managed Kanye West. West released a song, Famous, featuring the lyric: “I made that bitch famous”, referring to a previous spat between the pair. Swift publicly opposed the Famous lyric, but was criticised after Kim Kardashian, West’s then-wife, leaked a phone call recording between West and Swift in which Swift seemed to have approved the song. A longer version of the video vindicated Swift by showing she hadn’t approved the “bitch” line.
The feud dominated the tabloid press and social media for years, and damaged Swift’s reputation (which she alluded to with the title of her sixth album). “My career was taken away from me,” she says in her Time interview. “You have a fully manufactured frame job, in an illegally recorded phone call, which Kim Kardashian edited and then put out to say to everyone that I was a liar. That took me down psychologically to a place I’ve never been before. I moved to a foreign country. I didn’t leave a rental house for a year. I was afraid to get on phone calls. I pushed away most people in my life because I didn’t trust anyone any more. I went down really, really hard.”
Kardashian has not commented, but said in 2020: “Nobody ever denied the word ‘bitch’ was used without her permission … I never edited the footage (another lie) – I only posted a few clips on Snapchat to make my point”, adding that Swift “forced me to defend [West]”. Kardashian also said in a 2016 interview that Swift “totally gave the OK” to the line.
Swift spoke proudly about 2017’s Reputation – which was seen by some as a failure on release but is now much championed by Swift fans – calling it “a goth-punk moment of female rage at being gaslit by an entire social structure”.
Elsewhere in her Time interview she discusses her much-scrutinised love life with NFL player Travis Kelce, the ongoing project to re-record her Big Machine-era albums, and addresses the comparisons between her Eras and Beyoncé’s Renaissance tours, which have both produced popular concert films. “Clearly it’s very lucrative for the media and stan culture to pit two women against each other,” she says.
More broadly, she said the current popularity of female pop stars – 2024’s Grammy nominations are dominated by female artists – was cheering. “If we’re going to look at this in the most cynical way possible, feminine ideas becoming lucrative means that more female art will get made. It’s extremely heartening.”