Disclaimer: This had been weighing on my mind since the Taylor Swift’s “Trademark-gate” but after Refinery29 published this, I figured it didn’t need another edit and should just be posted.
The young ingénue takes the stage, marveling at the scene before her. “Is this real? Are they really clapping for me?” The words are written on her face and the affect produces more screams of adulation. But there at the patent and trademark office is a document certifying the very words that would be sung next assuring she the ingénue would receive returns on these words. She’s a pop machine. A carefully crafted and skillfully nuanced machine, but a machine nonetheless. We all know who I’m talking about. The news of Taylor Swift’s decision to trademark some of her some lyrics like “This Sick Beat” and “Party like it’s 1989” made people uncomfortable. It turns out, people forgot she is first and foremost a business woman.
Branding is the first step to the Pop Machine model. Hers is an accessible one where not only she is awestruck at her success, she will council you on your breakup and braid your hair while you draw hearts around the class cutie’s yearbook photo. No matter how relatable she is or appears to be, the ingénue is in reality, a powerful businesswoman. It’s just that instead of the polished perfection that is the queen diva of refreshing drinks or the cotton candy California princess, she is the girl next door. The marketing may be different, but they’re still extremely similar empires that employ legions of people in various capacities and rely on your support. Pop is manufactured. It’s commerce masquerading as art at its worst and universally accessible art at its best. Pop is a business.
In a world where making a living as a musician is nearly impossible, the successful ones know it is as much about your business acumen and merchandise sales as it is the music. As Vox points out, “One of the dominant income sources for many artists — whether they’re top sellers like Swift or tiny singer-songwriters — is merchandise sales.” No matter how much Swift brands herself as a girl making music in her bedroom for herself and her cats, she needs to pay the rent. She and her cats know that if she plays her cards right and trademarks everything from “This Sick Beat” to “1989,” she could ensure that she never needs to work again a day in her life. From a business perspective, she’s merely taking advantage of the fact that no one ever thought to do it before putting such a calculated move in opposition with her public persona.
When your shtick is accessibility but it comes out that you’ve trademarked “This Sick Beat” and countless other song titles, the effect is more than a little off-putting. This is not to decry Taylor Swift in any way as she is worth more money than I’ll ever see, let alone have. But, those who fell under the spell of the sweet ingénue must now acknowledge that sweet or not, the girl knew what she was doing. It’s not wrong, but it is factual. Beyoncé has never let us forget that she is a performing machine. She is her own brand as is Katy Perry. They may be lovely people, but they are still powerful and successful business women with empires built on what they can deliver us. To forget that is only to set oneself up for disappointment. Swift is much the same way, she just does it under the guise of sugar, spice and trademarked “sick beats.”