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Taylor Swift's return to TikTok shows even the world's biggest stars still need the app

Dan Whateley   

Taylor Swift's return to TikTok shows even the world's biggest stars still need the app
  • Taylor Swift is back on TikTok despite a feud between the app and her label Universal Music Group.
  • The artist's song catalog returned a week before her new album rolls out.

Taylor Swift is back on TikTok.

The pop star's music, along with tracks from hundreds of other artists like Drake and Olivia Rodrigo, was pulled off the app at the end of January amid a contract dispute between her record label Universal Music Group and the ByteDance-owned company. The purging of songs later expanded to Universal Music's publishing arm, hitting a wide swath of performers around the world.

The move has been particularly troubling for artists who are releasing new music this year. TikTok is an essential promotional tool for performers and record labels. Music fans use the app to find new songs, and user-generated trends can help old and new tracks break into the Billboard 100. UMG artists can still post videos on TikTok, but they can't use their own tracks, making it harder to push a new album. In the meantime, marketers have been using other short-video products like Instagram reels to promote songs.

The TikTok-UMG feud isn't over. The two parties are waiting each other out, to win favorable licensing terms and prove once and for all who needs each other more. And yet, Taylor Swift's music made it back onto the app this week, a few days before she's set to release her new album "The Tortured Poets Department."

As Variety reported, Swift owns her own masters while still being repped by UMG, creating a window for her to negotiate her own terms with TikTok. The label, which declined to comment on the record to Business Insider, seems to have acquiesced to allow Swift's music to reappear. TikTok did not respond to BI's comment request.

Swift's return to TikTok shows that even the industry's biggest stars still need to use the app to help a new album take off.

The megastar has 283 million Instagram followers, nearly 100 million monthly Spotify listeners, and around 57 million YouTube subscribers. A single social-media post from the 34-year-old performer can send her "Swifties" fan base into a frenzy.

And yet, Swift's team made the move to port her content back over to TikTok, seemingly undermining the bargaining position of UMG during its TikTok fight.

Swift has a track record of doing things on her own terms. She bypassed Hollywood studios to work directly with AMC for the film release of her Eras tour, for example, which earned over $250 million at the box office globally. Her 2023 Eras tour was an economic force on its own, adding $4.3 billion to the US's gross domestic product, with similar economic spikes projected in countries like Singapore and Australia as she continues her tour internationally this year, per Bloomberg.

The TikTok-UMG fight is inspiring more artists to take control of their music

For artists and producers, having the ability to assert independence in an industry controlled by a few major labels is critical, music producer Chauncey Hollis Jr., known professionally as Hit-Boy, told BI.

Like many artists, Hit-Boy, who works with UMG's publishing arm, saw some of his music pulled from TikTok earlier this year. It strengthened his resolve to take more control over his music going forward.

"It is just kind of frustrating in that sense where I'm literally spending my money to create and have these platforms to promote and push what I'm doing, and it's like I have no control over it," he told BI. "What else can they strip away from the artist's ability to be seen and heard? We don't know. What's important is to just know that regardless of what happened, you have to just create your own platforms and the people that rock with you, they're going to come."