By Kevin Rutherford
Ever have it happen in high school where your teacher royally pissed you off and you just had to say something? Imagine for example that your English teacher insists giving a test own on the very same day when half the class is already cramming for multiple other chapters-spanning major exams in other classrooms. It is unfair to everyone in the class.
After days of deliberation during which you and your friends try to no avail to push back the test, you’re no closer than you were to getting a fair shake—that is, until the most popular kid in class, the smartest, most-loved kid who could fail the test and still be valedictorian, speaks up. In their loving opinion, they don’t think it would be beneficial to neither them nor the rest of the class, especially with the big football game coming up, to do things the teacher’s way.
The teacher acquiesces immediately and without question.
It’s funny because when she started out, Taylor Swift was not seen as the cool kid. She wasn’t the popular one. Her whole schtick was the everygirl who sat on the bleachers at the football game, cheering on the hunk and staying by his side as a friend and confidante while he went for the head cheerleader, blind to what was beside him.
In that past life, Swift may have been among those crying out for fairness, begging for her rights as an artist, bartering for compensation. Now she’s the head honcho, arguably the biggest pop star in the world as of 2015. We report on her every move, each statement, even who’s she’s hanging out with via Instagram. And that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with her meteoric rise to stardom.
What is interesting is how Taylor Swift wields her influence, whether it’s by removing all of her music from Spotify, withholding 1989 from TIDAL, pulling off a massive album rollout, or actually selling 1 million copies of an album in a week in a non-album-focused climate. So when the former country bigwig penned an open letter to Apple over the weekend condemning Apple Music‘s decision to not pay out royalties to its artists, writers and producers for the first three months’ free trial, her panning of the “shocking, disappointing” decision to do so was about as high-profile a scolding as the company could get—and again, given her thoughts on Spotify, certainly not out of left field.
Except then Apple changed its tune. Immediately.
This isn’t a problem; Apple Music paying royalties during that first three-month period is necessary. We’re talking one of the giants in tech, one that almost certainly has the capital to eat the costs of the service for the first three months while the plebes are blissfully spinning Taylor Swift music old and new. A free trial doesn’t suddenly eliminate costs for everyone involved.
But why did it take Swift to make the game-changing statement when it’s been known for a bit now that Apple Music was planned to go down this way at first? Especially when she’s not the first to speak up?
In a statement on June 18, the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) said it was “hopeful” that a deal could be reached providing better compensation for artists sharing their music the Apple Music platform. Digital Music News posted on Wednesday the contract for indie labels on Apple that pointed out the lack of compensation during the trial period. Beggars Group was pissed. Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon didn’t get it. Artist groups across the world, in addition to A2IM, expressed their frustration.
And yet, who did Eddy Cue, the Apple senior vice president of Internet software and services, credit for the change of heart?
“We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists,” he tweeted late Sunday. “Love, Apple.”
Swift and indie artists. But Swift first and foremost, certainly, and only after said artists had been complaining since the contract was tendered (and for even longer, if you count other gripes about various streaming services).
“When I woke up this morning and saw what Taylor had written, it really solidified that we needed a change,” he said. “And so that’s why we decide we will now pay artists during the trial period.”
Was it indeed Swift’s letter that “solidified” the decision, a statement that implies Apple was mulling over a change after the indie outcry pre-Swift Tumblr word salad? Or did the complaints fall on deaf ears until the big bad “Bad Blood” singer said something? Don’t wanna lose Taylor, after all, right?
It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Many artists and labels lambasted Spotify previously, citing its unfair payouts for users of their free version, among other problems. Look back and that’s been an undercurrent of a talking point since before the service even launched in America. But once Swift made her Grand Tumbl, the conversation got hotter, and certain artists like Aldean followed suit.
Not fully a bad thing; it’s a fair argument that an artist of Swift’s stature speaking out can be the spark that’s needed to make real change. If Justin Vernon lobbies, few may bat an eye when it comes to the higher-ups. Taylor Swift swoops with a similar endgame in mind? Now we’re talking.
It’s unfortunate that this is what it takes to make the change, that it’s the popular kid in school—the one who may be affected the least—who suddenly causes the administration to pull an about-face.
Swift and her closest contemporaries should speak up when they feel that they and artists on a lower level of fame and financial well-being are being slighted, but when the wrongs are righted instantly once the star of the show is upset while the cast further down the bill have been demanding change for days or weeks, how much of the battle has actually been won?