Taylor Swift tangles with Apple … and comes out on top

The pop star wrote an open letter to the tech behemoth — and got exactly what she wanted within 17 hours

Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

When Forbes announced its annual list of the world’s most powerful women last month, it was no coincidence that Taylor Swift — the youngest person on the list — wasn’t simply praised for her status as the biggest pop star in the world or her lasting influence on popular culture, but also for proving to be an “incredible businesswoman.” Ever since she decided at 15 years old to break out of an artist development deal with RCA Records so she could launch her career with her own written material, she has apparently been incapable of making a wrong business decision. That’s why it comes as no surprise that the 24-year old was able to force Apple, one of the world’s most powerful corporations, to make a very public about-face with a simple but pointed open letter. Swift threatened to pull her album “1989” from Apple’s new music service over royalty payments.

Swift’s beef with online music streaming services began in November last year, when she decided to pull all of her music from Spotify, as she felt that the free tier of Spotify wasn’t fairly compensating artists, telling Yahoo Music, “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.” It was a risky move — as she was the first major artist to do so, while streaming has increasingly become a highly popular way for people to consume music, passing CDs in terms of generated revenue and causing album sales to drop to historic lows. So Swift went all in and won big time: 1989 sold more copies in its opening week than any other album in the 12 years before and became the best-selling album of 2014 (by far — by February 2015, the album had sold more than 8.6 million copies worldwide).

Her music remained available on other streaming services — Beats Music, Rdio, and Google Play All Access, and most recently Tidal — as those all only allow listeners who have a paid subscription to hear specific artists.

It was clear that there was going to be trouble when Apple Music walked in, and announced that its new music streaming platform would be available for a free, three-month trial, during which the streamed artists would not amass any royalties. So Swift took to her Tumblr to say she found the move “shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.” She added that it was “not about her,” but about “the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field … but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs” and concluded, “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

It was a Tumblr post heard around the world, and a mere 17 hours later, Apple’s Senior VP Eddy Cue took to Twitter to clear up any bad blood with Taylor and announce that Apple would compensate artists during the three-month free trial. He told Billboard, “When I woke up this morning and saw what Taylor had written, it really solidified that we needed to make a change.” The decision didn’t actually come out of thin air, of course, as The Guardian suggests. Over the last week, several independent labels (worth about a quarter of the global market) stood up for their rights and announced they wouldn’t be doing deals with Apple until the company agreed to pay them during free trials. But it seems obvious that Taylor’s star-power and outspokenness pulled the billion-dollar company over the line.

Her power move earned her praise from people from all over the musical spectrum — everyone from new boyfriend and DJ Calvin Harris to Elvis Costello (calling her “our future president”), to Questlove and even Gene Simmons from KISS.

Other people, impressed by the pop star’s problem-solving skills, took to Twitter asking if she could help assist with their problems as well — from making Apple delete the Stocks app and improve battery life, to resolving the general issue of “man buns,” to helping with the price of gas and college tuition, and even un-canceling some TV shows. Sounds like she has some Tumblr writing to do!

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