Taylor Swift Is Back on TikTok Despite the Universal Music Group Dispute — Here’s What We Know So Far

Taylor Swift on TikTok: A screengrab on the morning of Thursday, April 11th.
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Taylor Swift on TikTok: A screengrab on the morning of Thursday, April 11th.
  • Save
Taylor Swift on TikTok: A screengrab on the morning of Thursday, April 11th.

Taylor Swift — a Republic Records/UMG-inked artist — is suddenly back on TikTok despite Universal Music Group’s high-profile removal of its catalog from the platform. So what’s going on?

The Digital Music News bat-phone was ringing off the hook this morning with some unexpected news. Taylor Swift, a marquee Republic Records/UMG artist, is now back on TikTok. No statements are being made, though the development likely resulted from negotiations between the ByteDance-owned TikTok, Swift’s team and/or UMG, with the superstar controlling her recordings and publishing under her broader Universal Music Group partnership.

The timing hardly seems accidental. The reinstatement is happening approximately one week before Swift’s forthcoming album, The Tortured Poets Department, which is slated to debut on April 19th. Swift first announced the upcoming album at the Grammys in early February.

Jumping onto the TikTok platform, Swift’s illustrious catalog is now available for short-form video shenanigans — despite Universal Music Group’s high-profile pullout of its massive catalog from the platform over licensing, royalty, and AI-related disagreements.

Tracks like “You Belong With Me,” “Lover,” and “Cardigan,” as well as “Mirrorball,” “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” “Cruel Summer,” “Style (Taylor’s Version),” “Is It Over Now? (Taylor’s Version),” “The Man,” and “ME!” are all available on TikTok and ready for incorporation into short-form videos.

Notably, several tracks appear to be missing. As you might expect, Swifties have been combing through the catalog and spotting missing tracks from albums the artist doesn’t completely control. For years, the artist has been working to re-record many of her earlier releases to secure master recording ownership—at least over the newly recorded versions.

What happens after TikTok gets banned in the U.S.?

In this comprehensive white paper, DMN Pro breaks down the likely winners and losers in the music industry — over the short- and longer terms. The breakdown spans major and indie labels, publishers, songwriters, various artist tiers, and sync platforms. If Congress hits delete on TikTok, here’s where you’ll likely stand.

Until now, Swift has successfully rerecorded all of her albums originally released before 2019, excluding her self-titled debut album from 2006 and her 2017 album, Reputation. Either way, a sizable tranche of Taylor Swift music is now on TikTok — with the viral engines of creativity revving up on the platform.

The marked shift is hardly a sign of solidarity with UMG — not to mention the broader music industry and its artists. Though here we are.

Others are also noting the glaring development. In articles published this (Thursday) morning, both Variety and Rolling Stone have pointed to the return of the Swift catalog to TikTok, though neither report offered specifics on discussions. Both sources point to a sequence of negotiations between Swift and Universal Music Group, including Republic Records, eventually leading to her music’s reinstatement.

The development comes after Universal Music Group’s TikTok standoff enters its tenth week. Digital Music News first reported on the impasse on January 30th, though many observers of the wreckage — including Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl — predicted a ‘swift’ resolution and catalog reinstatement.

Incidentally, Kyncl also reported that Warner Music Group had reached a workable licensing pact with TikTok. Though Sony Music Entertainment CEO Rob Stringer hinted that his major label could trigger a UMG-style pullout if needed. The NMPA, Downtown Music Holdings, and indie consortium Impala have supported the removals. A music industry survey by Digital Music News also found resounding approval of UMG’s position.

Taylor Swift announced her exclusive global recording agreement with Universal Music Group and its marquee Republic Records division in November 2018.

Republic became Swift’s second label following her Big Machine Label Group (BMLG) pact. Importantly, Republic wouldn’t retain ownership or control over Taylor’s master recordings. The deal spanned multiple albums and was also complemented by a separate pact with Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG).

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Importantly, Swift’s departure agreement with BMLG did not include the ownership of her past masters. However, Taylor has been circumventing those restrictions by re-recording and re-releasing her past albums as ‘Taylor’s Versions.’

Importantly, her new contract with UMG stipulated full ownership of all her future master recordings. That shift towards catalog control opens the door for more independent negotiations with mega-platforms like TikTok.

Meanwhile, TikTok is on the brink of getting banned in the United States.

The push to ban TikTok in the U.S. has escalated, with a new bipartisan bill proposed in the Senate to prohibit the app. This action follows growing concerns over national security and data privacy, citing fears of the Chinese government’s potential access to user data through ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company.

Public sentiment reflects these concerns, with recent surveys indicating that many Americans support a ban. President Biden has also signaled his intention to sign a bill that would force a TikTok sale or divestiture. However, the White House and Democrats appear to be calculating the impact among younger voters ahead of the November presidential election.

Against that backdrop, a Democratic U.S. senator suggested extending the deadline for ByteDance to divest its TikTok American operations while pointing to ongoing negotiations and complex legal challenges. The Senator emphasized the importance of addressing the risks associated with the platform’s Chinese ownership rather than rushing the process.

One hot take on the slowdown is that Biden and the Democrats want to appear tough on TikTok heading into the election but stop short of banning the app, given its immense popularity among younger Americans.

Amidst these discussions, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has denounced TikTok, hinting at possible ties to Beijing’s intelligence and propaganda efforts. He suggests the app poses a serious threat, underscoring the stance of many lawmakers calling for stringent action against the social media platform.

Adding to TikTok’s scrutiny, the Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating the app for potential children’s privacy law violations, bringing further regulatory pressure. These developments indicate a rising tide of regulatory and political challenges for TikTok in the U.S. as the debate over its operation and ownership continues.

Of course, these are all critical, time-sensitive issues for the music industry, though not top-of-mind concerns for TikTok-loving Swifties.