Thursday (Dec. 12) evening in Los Angeles, Jameela Jamil introduced Billboard’s first-ever Woman of the Decade honoree, Taylor Swift.
“Absolutely love this one, right?” Swift said of The Good Place star, asking Jamil to hold her award during her speech: “I don’t want this to slip and break because it’s so important to me.”
And that speech wasn’t anywhere near your normal awards show fluff. Swift called out the institutionalized sexism she’s witnessed in the industry over the last decade, voiced her support for Lana Del Rey as the “most influential artist in pop” and called out Scooter Braun by name for buying her music against her wishes.
“When this decade began I was 20 years old,” Swift said. “I saw that as a female in this industry, some people will always have the slightest reservations about you.” Examples include questioning “whether a male producer or co-writer was the reason for your success, or whether it was a savvy record label [responsible for your success]. It wasn’t,” she said pointedly. “People want to explain away a woman’s success in this industry.”
After Fearless won the album of the year Grammy, she said the “Swift backlash” exploded. “All of a sudden they weren’t sure if I was the one writing the songs, because sometimes I had co-writers in the room. This is what happens to a woman in music if she achieves success beyond people’s comfort level.”
As on the Lover standout “The Man,” Swift continued to call out double standards. “Have you ever heard someone say about a male artist, ‘I really like his songs, but there’s something about him I don’t like’? No, that criticism is reserved for us.”
For Swift, the solution to endless adversity is forward motion. “It comes down to this: Who lets that scrutiny break them and who keeps making great art?” she asked. “I’ve watched as one of my favorite artists of the decade, Lana Del Rey, was ruthlessly criticized early in her career, and then slowly but surely she turned into, in my opinion, the most influential artist in pop. Her vocal stylings, her lyrics, her aesthetics, they’ve been repurposed everywhere in music. And this year, her incredible album is nominated for album of the year at the Grammys.”
Then, Swift called out what she sees as unfair music business practices with regards to private equity and other people’s art. “Lately there’s been a new shift that has affected me personally, and as your resident loud person, I feel like I need to bring it up. And that’s the unregulated world of private equity coming in and buying up our music as if it’s real estate, or an app, or a shoe line.”
“This happened to me without my approval, consultation or consent,” she said, referring to the recent purchase of her back catalog by former Big Machine label head Scott Borchetta and his new partner Scooter Braun. “Scooter [Braun] never contacted me or my team to discuss it prior to the sale,” she said, noting she feels it should have been possible for her to buy her catalog before they did.
Swift didn’t let his supporters, many of whom were in the room, off the hook either, calling it “the definition of the toxic male privilege in our industry to say, ‘Well, he’s always been nice to me’… Of course he’s nice to you; if you’re in this room, you have something he needs,” she deadpanned.
In addition to naming names and calling for a discussion on private equity in the business, she urged everyone to keep advocating for female representation in recording studios, A&R departments and more.
In its bluntness, candor and refusal to play nice, it brought to mind Madonna’s headline-making Women In Music speech from 2016 as she accepted the Icon Award. Read Swift’s Billboard Woman of the Decade cover story here.