You can say what you like about Taylor Swift, feel what you like too, what you cannot take away from her are her talent and her brains.

She is as passionate about music as she is about artists’ rights and quite frankly, the industry has gouged so many artists that it’s time someone stood up for them.

culture boxAfter announcing recently that she was not putting her new album ‘1989’ on Apple Music, Swift did an about-face yesterday and tweeted that she would be happy to do so. Before long, mainstream news services had the story. Swift and a few other independent music groups and labels had managed to pressure Apple into paying not just them, but all artists during a free trial of its new streaming music service.

Standing up to Apple and making it bow is a big deal for artists, especially independent ones who do not have the backing of a studio. Of course you might want to argue that Apple is offering music lovers a free trial. But the point is this, it’s not Apple’s music; the music belongs to its creators who must be the ones to decide if, when and how it’s used.

To date, that’s Swift – 2, industry – 0. You probably remember that Swift had pulled all of her music from Spotify around October last year and drawn some amount of flak for doing so. This was after she had said in an Op-Ed printed in the Wall Street Journal earlier that artists should value their art and make sure they were being paid for creating it.

“I’m always up for trying something. And I tried it and I didn’t like the way it felt. I think there should be an inherent value placed on art,” Swift wrote in the opinion piece.

Twist it or turn it, that statement is right on the money. And as has been said in this column countless times, artists have to place value on their creative capacity. It is work. It is taxing and sometimes stressful. It is time consuming. But more importantly, every time an artist creates, he or she puts a part of him/herself into that creation. And these are the reasons why creativity must be valued.

Taylor Swift’s worth as at this year stood at US$200 million. Folks might be thinking, ‘Oh she could afford to not be paid. She won’t miss a few thousand here and there’. But here’s the thing, the minute artists go down that route, their work loses value – both intrinsically and creatively. Swift knows this. So she is not going there. She gives back, but it is what she chooses to give and not what greedy producers, promoters and others want to take.

So when she sings, “Got nothing in my brain//That’s what people say… I never miss a beat//I’m lighting on my feet//And that’s what they don’t see… I’m dancing on my own//I make the moves up as I go//And that’s what they don’t know…,” the words to her hit song “Shake it Off”, its’ clear the lyrics are saying more than they appear to.

Beyond the catchy lyrics, funky pop music and even the self-deprecating laugh as she sings them is the mantra that she intends to shake it off and move on with her music.

As we said earlier, you can hate the woman, but you have to admire her acumen.

Now if only Guyana had a few Taylor Swifts to stand up to those who pretend to but don’t give a heck about local artists. The culprits know themselves. They talk a good talk but the minute they have two tin cups to knock together – as we say in local parlance – they rush to bring a foreign artist to headline it.

Even the local clubs are doing it – bringing foreigners for one-night intimate performances. It seems local talent is only good enough for supporting acts and for charity. As Taylor Swift says, “fakers gonna fake,” they don’t believe in the local acts and their ability to draw a crowd so that their usual congratulations to locals bringing out new music has a certain condescension to it. It says you’re good, but not good enough.

We appreciate that fans want diversity, but promoters don’t even want to seem to give them that. Year after year, it’s the same stream of mostly Jamaicans, tipping onto the stage, while for local acts the struggle is real. If they had coin, they would be in a position to shake it off when promoters approach them to be ‘also performers’ or for a once-a-year gig. But they need the exposure and they have to eat. Nevertheless, it’s a shameful situation and one that needs to end.

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