Taylor Swift is on top of the world, but critics say she’s done some sketchy things to get there.
The country crooner-turned-pop star has forged a wildly successful career that’s been boosted by her many high-profile feuds, legal battles, and seemingly endless innuendo. She’s been accused of copying other artists, yet ferociously gone after others for allegedly riding her coattails. She’s been criticized for her squad of models and criticized for supposedly ditching that squad for a boy. From her controversial views on feminism to her questionable dating habits to her headline-making business deals, let’s take a closer look at the shady side of Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift capitalizes on her relationships
Though she insists in interviews that she doesn’t like to talk about her personal life, Swift definitely profits on the speculation. According to countless celebrity sites, most of Swift’s exes have made their way into her singles.
Singer Joe Jonas supposedly inspired Swift’s “Forever and Always” after he broke up with her in an infamous 27-second phone call. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal is rumored to be the man behind most of Red, including “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Harry Styles is allegedly the beau behind “I Knew You Were Trouble” and much of 1989, especially “Style” and “Out of the Woods,” in which she references “two paper airplanes flying” (like Styles’ necklace that Swift wore while they were together) and a snowmobile crash he was in while they were together.
Though Swift never officially confirms or denies the dirt, she often scatters hints, like bread crumbs, in liner notes and interviews, knowing full well that fans will follow the trail.
Some of Taylor Swift’s muses have called her bluff
Though Swift has played coy about the inspiration behind her songs, some of her alleged muses have fired back.
Musician John Mayer told Rolling Stone he was “humiliated” by “Dear John.” He said the track “made me feel terrible, because I didn’t deserve it… It was a really lousy thing for her to do.” He added, “I never got an email. I never got a phone call. I was really caught off-guard.” Mayer also noted, “I think it’s kind of cheap songwriting. I know she’s the biggest thing in the world, and I’m not trying to sink anybody’s ship, but I think it’s abusing your talent to rub your hands together and go, ‘Wait till he gets a load of this!’ That’s bulls***.”
Swift responded by telling Glamour that Mayer was being “presumptuous” about the track’s inspiration. (Okay, Tay, whatever you say.)
Mayer isn’t alone in his gripes. Jonas also claimed Swift manipulated the facts regarding their breakup to drum up sympathy at the expense of his reputation. “For those who have expressed concern over the ’27 second’ phone call,” he said (via People), “I called [Swift] to discuss feelings… Those feelings were obviously not well received. I did not end the conversation. Someone else did. Phone calls can only last as long as the person on the other end of the line is willing to talk.”
Her awkward reactions at award ceremonies
Despite winning almost everything all the time, Swift puts on a seemingly awkward faux shocked face when she wins an award. The only time she appears genuinely shocked is when she loses to someone else — just look at the sneer she threw at Adele during the 2013 Golden Globes and her embarrassing reaction when Daft Punk beat her for album of the year at the 2014 Grammys.
Swift candidly addressed the latter in an interview with Grammy Pro (via Billboard). “When they announced the album of the year winner it was like, ‘And the album of the year goes to…Reeeeeandom Access Memories, Daft Punk!’ And they really dragged out the ‘reeee. And for a second, I kinda thought we had it,” she said. “I remember not going to after-parties. I went home and I cried a little bit, and I got In-N-Out Burger and ate a lot.”
Seriously? That sounds a little dramatic for someone who has clearly received a gigantic amount of critical affirmation throughout her career.
Does Taylor Swift engage in slut-shaming?
In Taylor Swift’s song, “Better Than Revenge,” the singer attacks a woman who she thinks stole her boyfriend. Rumor has it the song is about actress Camilla Belle allegedly stealing Jonas from her (which Jonas vehemently denies). Swift sings, “She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think / She’s an actress / She’s better known for the things that she does / On the mattress.”
However, one could surmise that Swift has no issues “stealing” guys when it’s convenient. In her video for “You Belong With Me,” she lures the football star away from his girlfriend, and, according to the Daily News, she allegedly began secretly dating DJ Calvin Harris while he was still attached to his ex, model Aarika Wolf.
By the way, years later, Belle finally appeared to clap back at Swift over those biting lyrics by siding with Katy Perry in a Twitter feud. (More on that in a minute.)
She had a barely legal boyfriend
In July 2012, Taylor Swift was feelin’ 22 … with a guy who had just turned 18. Conor Kennedy turned 18 on July 24, 2012, and he and Swift were first spotted getting cozy on July 31, 2012.
When asked if she “kidnapped” Kennedy, Swift scoffed to Rolling Stone (via E! News), “You can’t kidnap a grown man… The way I look at love is, you have to follow it, and fall hard, if you fall hard. You have to forget about what everyone else thinks.”
Not that Swift seemed to care, but folks also had a lot to say when the songstress bought a $4.9 million beach house near the Kennedy estate in Cape Cod, allegedly just to be close to him. Say what you will, but we should probably mention that after these two broke up, Swift sold that pad for a cool $1 million profit.
Taylor Swift: celebrity wedding crasher
When Swift was dating Kennedy, she was accused of crashing a family wedding with him against the bride’s wishes. Kennedy’s cousin, Kyle Kennedy, was tying the knot with Liam Kerr, and Kyle’s mom, Victoria Gifford Kennedy, reportedly didn’t want the singer to attend.
Victoria told The Boston Herald (via E! News), “[Conor and Swift] texted me an hour before the wedding and asked if they could come… I responded with a very clear, ‘Please do not come.’ They came anyway… I personally went up to Ms. Swift, whose entrance distracted the entire event, politely introduced myself to her, and asked her as nicely as I could to leave. It was like talking to a ghost. She seemed to look right past me.”
Swift’s camp denied the claims, but Today show host Kathie Lee Gifford, who was at the wedding, insisted the incident happened exactly as Victoria described. On her show, Gifford said (via E! News), “It’s the bride’s day, and that was Vicki’s other concern. ‘This is my daughter’s day and I would appreciate it if you would not come.'” Gifford added, “I was out in the hallway, [Swift] was waiting, standing around, and he came out, took her by the hand and they left.”
Her confusing feminist ideals
Swift stirred up a hornet’s nest of criticism when she tried discussing feminism in a 2012 interview with The Daily Beast. “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have,” she said. “I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.” Critics thought she’d missed the point by suggesting some sort of male standard to try to meet.
Swift’s views on feminism are also conflicted when examined through the lens of her interactions with other women in the entertainment industry. When comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wise-cracked about her dating life at the Golden Globes in 2013, Swift quoted Katie Couric (who was actually quoting Madeleine Albright) in Vanity Fair, telling the mag, “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t support other women.” Two years later, Swift’s words rang hollow when her “Bad Blood” video — reportedly inspired by Swift’s hatred for another female artist (more on that in a minute) — won video of the year at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Essentially, critics argue that Swift touts feminism as part of her brand only when it benefits her directly. Need more examples? She tweeted, “We need feminism in 2015,” when a tabloid ran a bogus headline about her that she didn’t like. At the 2016 Grammys, she made it clear that she was proud to be the first woman to win album of the year twice, but accepted her Grammy for 1989 on a stage full of only male collaborators. She privately helped Kesha fund her legal battle against Dr. Luke, but never made a public statement of support. In January 2017, while musicians such as Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Ariana Grande, and Rihanna were all attending the Women’s March, Swift tweeted her support … after the fact.
Taylor Swift was accused of stealing a lyric
In November 2012, singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson expressed his distaste for a lyric in Swift’s “All Too Well” that was very similar to a line in his 2003 song “I Saw.”
In “All Too Well,” Swift sings, “And I’ll forget about you long enough / To forget why I needed to.” In “I Saw,” Nathanson croons, “I’ll forget about you long enough / To forget why I need to.” While this could, of course, be a coincidence, Swift had previously revealed that she was a fan of Nathanson, even scribbling lyrics to his song “Queen Of (K)nots” on her arm for a July 2011 performance, according to Spin.
On Oct. 24, 2012, Nathanson wrote in a since-deleted tweet (via Spin), “She’s definitely a fan…and now she’s a thief.” On Nov. 2, 2012, he tweeted, “So far, my favorite thing about today is the wave of @taylorswift13 fans calling me a prick on Twitter for writing “I Saw” in 2003.”
Swift has not commented on the lyrical similarities.
The timing of Taylor Swift’s relationships is suspicious
For all her scorned woman songs, Swift has allegedly broken at least two hearts to date: those of Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston. Swift and Harris split after more than a year of dating in early June 2016, and she and Hiddleston were spotted together just days later.
What’s more, Swift may have hitched her star to Hiddleston before her relationship with Harris was even over. The DJ was reportedly miffed when PDA photos of Swift and the Avengers star went viral right after he and Swift broke up. A source told E! Online, “Calvin was very suspicious that Taylor was cheating during their relationship. He just didn’t know with whom. He feels like these pictures confirm his suspicions, and it changes everything. He is so angry and feels betrayed. He is convinced that Taylor was cheating with Tom while they were still together.”
An insider also told The Sun, “The timing of this looks very bad for Taylor. There was an obvious connection with Tom at the Met Gala [in May 2016]—you can see that in the video of them dancing together… It feels pretty disrespectful to be moving on to someone so public so quickly.” (Some speculated that Swift flaunted her fling with Hiddleston to distract from the drama brewing between her and Kanye West–more to follow on that.)
By September 2016, Swift and Hiddleston were through. She soon began dating actor Joe Alwyn, though that romance was reportedly kept under wraps for more than six months.
Did Taylor Swift reneg on a songwriting agreement with Calvin Harris?
During Swift and Harris’ relationship, he released the massive hit “This Is What You Came For,” featuring Rihanna, but it wasn’t until after he and Swift broke up that Swift supposedly demanded a songwriting credit for the track.
After the split, it was revealed that Swift had used the pseudonym “Nils Sjoberg” in the credits on the song to prevent the media from harping on the couple instead of the craft. When Harris was asked if he would collaborate with Swift, he remained true to their alleged agreement and told Ryan Seacrest, “You know, [Swift and I] haven’t even spoken about [collaborating]. I can’t see it happening though.”
After the breakup, Swift’s publicist released a statement notifying the world that Swift co-wrote the song. Why didn’t Swift just say so from the get-go? TMZ reported that “her squad [was] sick of Calvin trashing Taylor and feel he should be thanking her for quietly giving him a smash hit.”
To add insult to injury, more than a year later, Swift featured a gravestone of “Nils Sjoberg” in her music video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” That’s subtle, and not at all petty, Taylor.
She seems obsessed with taking down Kanye West
Remember when Kanye West interrupted Swift at the 2009 VMAs? She certainly does. Swift wrote a song about it called “Innocent” and even keeps a framed photo of the incident in her home.
At the 2015 Grammy Awards, Tay and Yeezy finally mended fences, or so we thought, until West released The Life of Pablo in 2016. In the first verse of “Famous,” he raps “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that b**** famous.” The video that accompanies that song includes a Swift look-alike lying naked in bed next to West. You can’t make this stuff up, and we wouldn’t blame Swift for taking offense, except West’s wifey, Kim Kardashian, claims Tay signed off on the song. Say what?
According to Kardashian, West and Swift discussed the song’s lyrics. “It was funny because [on the call with Kanye, Taylor] said, ‘When I get on the Grammy red carpet, all the media is going to think that I’m so against this, and I’ll just laugh and say, ‘The joke’s on you, guys. I was in on it the whole time,'” Kardashian told GQ. But Swift didn’t laugh when she won album of the year at the Grammy Awards. She “completely dissed my husband just to play the victim again,” said Kardashian.
Swift’s camp denied Kardashian’s claims, until the reality star released video footage of Swift on the phone with West while he was in the studio. At that point Swift promptly released a statement saying, in part, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I have never asked to be a part of, since 2009.”
But Swift is arguably keeping this narrative very much alive, as evidenced by the first track off her 2017 album, Reputation. As you may recall, Kardashian was robbed of jewels at gunpoint and bound in a bathtub in October 2016, and West suffered a mental breakdown in November 2016 and canceled his tour. In 2017, Swift apparently found it appropriate to reference a “tilted stage” (West’s tour had featured a tilted stage) in her debut track, “Look What Made You Made Me Do.” In the video for that song, she sits in a diamond-filled bathtub, which many took as an allusion to the circumstances surrounding Kardashian’s life-threatening experience.
Taylor Swift’s questionable Apple Music deal
In 2014, Taylor Swift removed her entire catalog from all streaming services ahead of her 1989 album release. In June 2015, she specifically called out Apple Music for its streaming revenue model, claiming it was unfair to not pay artists for streaming their music during the service’s 90-day trial period.
Apple Music changed their tune days later, and so did Swift, tweeting (via E! News), “After the events of this week, I’ve decided to put 1989 on Apple Music…and happily so. This is simply the first time it’s felt right in my gut to stream my album. Thank you, Apple, for your change of heart.”
Swift inked a huge business deal with her former foe that included an exclusive 1989 World Tour documentary. According to Billboard, Swift’s decision was “a business-as-usual move for an artist and label who are wringing every ounce of sales and promotional benefit out of anyone willing to meet them halfway—or so.”
In April 2016, Swift also starred in commercials for Apple Music, leading many to believe the entire exchange was an elaborate stunt between both powerhouses.
She tries to silence her critics
On Sept. 5, 2017, a blog called PopFront posted an essay criticizing Swift for not speaking out against white supremacists who view her as an Aryan icon. Variety reported that Swift’s legal team contacted the blog’s editor, Megan Herning, demanding that the blog be removed and accusing the writer of defamation. The letter also claimed to be an official denouncement of white supremacy from Swift, but Swift’s attorneys also demanded copyright protection to keep the letter private … which would mean Swift never really publicly denounced white supremacy, which was the point of the entire blog post.
The American Civil Liberties Union published the letter in its entirety, as well as a letter of its own that took subtle jabs at Swift’s own song titles. Verbiage included, “criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off” and “applying these fundamental constitutional principles to your four ‘hideous falsehoods’ shows that not even in your wildest dreams can they constitute defamation.”
Herning wasn’t alone. Several other writers tweeted about having to amend or remove stories Swift’s team found offensive.
Taylor Swift sued the man who made her career possible
Swift sued the man who taught her how to play guitar … because he said that he taught her how to play guitar. According to the Daily News (via Refinery 29), her legal team sunk its teeth into Ronnie Cremer, demanding he shut down his website, ITaughtTaylorSwift.com
“I almost feel like they were trying to bully me a little bit,” Cremer told the press. “I’m not giving back the domain name. I mean, GoDaddy sold it to me.”
Swift herself claimed in a 2009 tour DVD that computer tech Cremer “taught [her] a few chords” and that she was self-taught from thereon. Cremer claimed he gave her guitar lessons for more than two years.
“I would like to develop [the website],” Cremer said. “It’s really not going to be a for-profit website. I’ve got nothing to sell on it. It’s going to be an informational website that basically lets people know what really happened.”
Did Taylor Swift ditch her squad for her man?
So much for girl power. After marketing herself as a squad leader for 1989, it seems that Swift was no longer putting her platonic friends first by the time Reputation rolled around in 2018.
An anonymous exiled squad member told Grazia (via Elle) in March 2018, “Celebrity friendships are weird. You don’t see each other for forever, and you accept that, but Taylor’s gone off-grid in a big way since meeting Joe [Alwyn] … I even heard about people getting requests not to mention her in interviews. It’s hard when that’s all you’re asked about, but Taylor is hypersensitive. I guess you have to be high-maintenance to become the biggest pop star in the world.”
A second source said, “Taylor’s been keeping a low profile, but there hasn’t been a big fall-out. She was stung by claims her squad was elitist and prefers to spend time with close friends one-on-one at the moment. Since meeting Joe, her priorities have shifted, and everyone’s hoping for her sake that it works out. If it doesn’t, she may find herself having to make some awkward reparations.”
Swift’s legal team is apparently swift to threaten lawsuits if anyone so much as references her work.
In September 2015, Allison Kilkenny, host of the Citizens Radio podcast, revealed on Twitter that Swift’s team sent her a cease-and-desist letter after she discussed the song “Wildest Dreams” on air. The song was never actually played on the show, but Kilkenny’s then-co-host reportedly recited some of the lyrics on the show.
In February 2015, Billboard reported that Swift’s team threatened legal action against fans who used the phrase “this sick beat” on Etsy items. One seller said, “We originally made the item for fun, we love Taylor and we had friends that love Taylor. We never intended for it to be a profit-making item. The cost of the item covered shipping costs, and production costs with very little left over.”
Though Swift’s copyright and trademark claims made major headlines in 2015, her habit of targeting anyone who dares to have an idea similar to hers doesn’t seem to be a new thing. The Nashville Post reported that in 2009, Swift’s “merchandise enforcement team” targeted 24 people who allegedly violated some of her unknown and unspecified trademarks. She won an injunction against 16 of the 24 defendants.
Her ‘Delicate’ video wasn’t exactly original
Despite her insistence on protecting her own trademarks, Swift may not care much for respecting others’ work.
Swift has worked with director Joseph Kahn on all the music videos for Reputation, despite his constant trolling of her fans and somewhat creepy obsession with the singer. One of those videos was for “Delicate,” in which Swift, clad in a formal gown at a red carpet event, becomes invisible and dances around Los Angeles.
Critics quickly noticed the dramatic similarities between the “Delicate” video and a 2016 Spike Jonze-directed ad for the fragrance Kenzo World starring Margaret Qualley. In the ad, Qualley dances and makes many of the same facial expressions as Swift, leaving a formal event to let loose on her own. Even the choreography is similar, though the classically trained ballerina’s moves are much more sophisticated than Swift’s.
According to Page Six, a fashion PR guru shaded Swift’s video in a since-deleted tweet: “Listen Tay, I feel you. It’s hard to stay fresh. Call us, we can help.” A source close to the singer defended Swift, telling the tabloid that “Delicate” was different because it had “a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
Swift and Kahn never commented on the seemingly copycat clip, but the singer quickly released a second video for “Delicate” that features her just singing alone in a one-take video for Spotify.
Taylor Swift’s verified fan system may be gouging her most faithful Swifties
Leading up to her Reputation world tour, Taylor Swift enlisted in Ticketmaster’s “verified fan” system, which many loyal Swifties (as well as critics) interpreted as a ploy to make more money. In the program, as The Guardian reported, an algorithm determines whether or not a ticket purchaser is a true fan or a bot or scalper. Whoever the algorithm determines is a “verified fan” is given a priority spot in line to get tickets over anyone else.
This doesn’t sound terrible in theory, and any move that puts tickets in the hands of fans over resellers and bots is great, but there’s another element at play here that left a bad taste in some Swifties’ mouths.
The issue is with how fans had to prove their loyalty. Purchasing copies of Swift’s Reputation album — up to 13 times each — hedged their bets, as did posting about the singer on social media and watching her videos online. Alternative Press called the maneuver “nothing more than a transparent cash grab,” while Jezebel pointed out that Swift’s wealthier fans (who could ostensibly afford to buy a ton of her albums and merch in multiples) had an advantage over those with less money in the bank but just as much passion for her music.
Taylor Swift wasn’t fond of Scooter Braun buying her masters
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Taylor Swift left Scott Borchetta’s record label, Big Machine, for Republic Records in November 2018. On June 30, 2019, Borchetta (pictured above) revealed to The Wall Street Journal that he sold Big Machine — including the masters of Swift’s first six albums on the label — to Scooter Braun, who used to manage Kanye West. Swift responded by writing a livid Tumblr post, accusing Braun of “manipulative bullying” through his association with West and Kim Kardashian. She slammed Borchetta for refusing to sell her back her masters unless she released six more albums, and alleged that he never informed her of the sale to Braun. Borchetta claims he texted her before the news broke and that her father, Scott Swift, who he claimed was a shareholder in Big Machine, was informed a week earlier.
Taylor’s rep denied this, telling Variety, that “Scott Swift did not participate in [the shareholder meeting],” which reportedly had strict privacy rules that Taylor’s dad supposedly wanted to avoid so that he wouldn’t “be required to withhold any information from his own daughter.” The rep additionally claimed, “Taylor found out from the news articles when she woke up before seeing any text from Scott Borchetta, and he did not call her in advance.” Insiders told the site that a “proxy” for the Swifts dialed into the meeting.
Justin Bieber accused Taylor Swift of bullying Scooter Braun through her fans
After Taylor Swift blasted Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, a slew of stars jumped to her defense, including Iggy Azalea, Jack Antonoff, Martha Hunt, Todrick Hall, Halsey and even Spencer Pratt. However, not everyone was on Swift’s side. Scooter Braun’s biggest success story, Justin Bieber, wrote a lengthy missive to Swift on Instagram, apologizing for the screenshot of a video call with Kanye West and Braun that he posted in August 2016 that Swift claimed Braun used to “bully” her. He also intimated that he believed Swift wrote her Tumblr blog to elicit “sympathy,” adding, “[You] also knew in posting that your fans would go and bully Scooter.” And bully they did, with some Swifties even getting suspended for allegedly posting Braun’s home address on Twitter. (The address and accounts associated with it have been deleted, but Swifties are still discussing the matter on the microblogging platform.)
At least two others accused Taylor Swift of bullying
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Scooter Braun’s wife, Yael Cohen Braun, gave Taylor Swift a severe scolding on Instagram after the singer slammed her husband. “Don’t blame him because Kim caught you in a lie, it’s embarrassing, I know — but adults own up to their mistakes,” Yael wrote, in part, adding, “We learn and grow from them, we don’t divert blame and blur the lines of reality to suit our needs.”
A member of Big Machine’s board of directors, Erik Logan, also accused Swift of both hypocrisy and outright lying about the sale of Big Machine to Braun, and fiercely defended Scott Borchetta from her attack. He wrote in a since-deleted letter on Twitter (via The Daily Mail), “Somewhere you have told a story to yourself that you have the right to change history, facts and re-frame every any story you want to fix with any narrative you wish. But, as someone who has been by Scott’s side from before you were born, I’m not going to sit on the sidelines and allow you to rewrite history and bend the truth to justify your lack of understanding of a business deal. The facts will come out, you will be proven wrong and people will begin to see that the world you perpetuate, only through your lens, is NOT reality.” Logan added that Swift is “the real bully” and accused her of lashing out because her “power is fading” and her “shine is dull.”