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Taylor Swift doubles down on PE pushback, cites toxic masculinity

Taylor Swift again criticizes private equity firm The Carlyle Group in her acceptance speech at Billboard’s 2019 Women in Music event.

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Taylor Swift is not shaking off her private equity woes anytime soon.

In an acceptance speech for her Woman of the Decade Award at Billboard’s Women in Music 2019 event on Thursday night, Swift emphasized the pressures related to being a woman in the music industry.

Nearly 10 minutes into her speech, the pop star pivoted to a music rights battle that originated in June when Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings acquired Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group for a reported $300 million—a deal that included the master rights to Swift’s first six albums.

In a tweet last month, Swift criticized Braun and Borchetta, along with private equity firm The Carlyle Group, which made a minority investment in Ithaca in 2017, prior to the Big Machine deal.

Braun at the time responded in a public Instagram post, stating that Swift was making herself unavailable to negotiate as his family faced threats:

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A post shared by Scooter Braun (@scooterbraun) on



A post shared by Scooter Braun (@scooterbraun) on

And on Wednesday—a day before Swift’s speech—Carlyle co-CEO Kewsong Lee told CNBC: “I’ve got every confidence in the world that it’s going to turn out to be a successful investment ... She’s an incredibly talented performer and wonderful artist.”

Bad blood boils over

Both Braun and Carlyle returned to the spotlight in Swift’s Billboard speech. The celebrated singer also called out two other investors in the deal: George Soros’ family office and 23 Capital, a London-based specialty financing company.

Onstage, Swift said:

“Lately there’s been a new shift that has affected me personally, and that I feel is a potentially harmful force in our industry ... And that is the unregulated world of private equity coming in and buying up our music as if it is real estate,” Swift said. “After I was denied the chance to purchase my music outright, my entire catalog was sold to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings in a deal I’m told was funded by the Soros Family, 23 Capital and The Carlyle Group.”

As part of a statement emailed to PitchBook, a spokesperson for 23 Capital said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on specific details relating to the Ithaca/BMLG deal, however we are keen to highlight that our global team of music and entertainment specialists work across the music industry to support creativity and flexibility.”

Carlyle declined PitchBook’s request for comment; attempts to reach a Soros Fund Management executive via email were unsuccessful.

Swift then called into question the reputation of the players involved, claiming they did not contact her team or perform due diligence on the deal to the extent they should have. The singer was not delicate in condemning the “toxic male privilege” that she said helped enable Braun to buy her music:

“The definition of the toxic male privilege in our industry is people saying ‘but he’s always been nice to me’ when I’m raising valid concerns about artists and their rights to own their music,” Swift explained. “And of course he’s nice to you. If you’re in this room, you have something he needs.”

Though the deal was not a leveraged buyout, Swift continued to blame private equity as the driving force behind the loss of her music rights.

“The fact is that private equity is what enabled this man to think ... that he could buy me,” Swift said. “But I’m obviously not going willingly.”

Swift is not out of the woods yet. In order to reclaim ownership of her own music, the singer has reportedly said she plans to re-record her old hits in November 2020, which she says she is contractually allowed to do. It’s safe to say that when she looks back to December 2019, she’ll have some new songs to sing, too.

Featured image via Eva Rinaldi/CC BY-SA 2.0

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    Written by Eliza Haverstock
    Eliza Haverstock was a PitchBook writer covering venture capital, startups, and private equity.

    A graduate of the University of Virginia where she majored in history and economics, she’s also a native of the Washington, DC, area. Previously, Eliza worked as a news editor for her college paper, The Cavalier Daily, and interned as an industrials reporter for Bloomberg in New York.
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