Taylor Swift Caught UMG Execs by Surprise With TikTok Move—And Refused to Reconsider

Taylor Swift surprised UMG execs
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Taylor Swift surprised UMG execs
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Photo Credit: Ronald Woan / CC by 2.0

The Taylor Swift album marketing machine stops for no one—not even Universal Music execs. A new report details how Swifties on TikTok got their music back, thanks to Taylor, regardless of the implications for other artists.

Universal Music Group pulled all of its music from TikTok in January over a dispute in royalty payments earned. Swift’s music has been used to expose low royalty payments in the past—most notably withholding 1989 from Apple in 2015 and Reputation in 2017 from Spotify. But the TikTok marketing machine is critical for reaching the 13-24 demographic—and Swift’s latest album The Tortured Poets Department is dropping on April 19.

Taylor Swift is by far the biggest star in UMG’s roster, so the return of her music is a major fracture in the ongoing battle over royalties paid. Like it or not, TikTok is critical to reaching the young adult demographic—leaving many artists frustrated their music is no longer enjoying that reach.

While Universal’s spat with TikTok is over royalties, the group has also detailed concerns about the platform’s use of artificial intelligence. In a letter to songwriters in March 2024, Universal Music Publishing Group outlined the concerns it has with TikTok’s relationship to AI.

“TikTok’s intentions with respect to AI are increasingly apparent. While refusing to respond to our concerns about AI depriving songwriters from fair compensation, or provide assurances that they will not train their AI models on your songs, recent media reports reveal…they simply do not value your music.”

“We understand the disruption is difficult for some of you and your careers, and we are sensitive to how this may affect you around the world. We recognize that this might be uncomfortable at the moment. But it is critical for the sustained future value, safety, and health of the entire music ecosystem—including all music fans.”

With UMG’s biggest artist no longer on board with this boycott, does that give the label less leverage to continue its boycott of the platform? The Swift marketing team has made it clear that the TikTok marketing campaign surrounding The Tortured Poets Department is prioritized over the current row over royalties paid to all artists.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Universal asked Swift’s team to reconsider. “Over more than a week of discussions, the label reiterated its position, laying out why it was holding firm on its stance, why it felt it was important for the industry and what is at stake. Swift’s camp didn’t budge.”

Taylor Swift is in a unique position, as her agreement with Universal allows her to strike direct agreements with other companies like TikTok. She has full ownership and control over any music she records during her contract, so if she wants the music on TikTok to support the marketing campaign for her new album—then she chooses that—not Universal Music.

Music from Lover, Folklore, Evermore, Midnights, and any of her Taylor’s Version re-recordings are returning to TikTok.