AMAs: Taylor Swift takes subtle jabs at former record label, talks complicated year
After a week and a half of uncertainty, Taylor Swift‘s return to the American Music Awards went off without a hitch Sunday, as the pop star delivered a series of impassioned speeches and performances while standing in defiance of her former record label.
To recap, on Nov. 14, the pop superstar took to social media to call out Big Machine Label Group for allegedly barring her from performing her old hits at Sunday’s AMAs, where she was honored with the artist of the decade award. A public spat between Swift and the label’s owners, Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun, ensued, with the record label ultimately announcing that she had permission to perform her entire catalog on the telecast. (Swift released her most recent album, “Lover,” on Universal Music Group’s Republic Records this past summer. It was her first label change since signing to Big Machine at age 15.)
Fans wondered how Swift, 29, would choose to address the controversy in her much-anticipated return to the AMAs. The jabs were ultimately subtle, yet pointed: Accepting the fan-voted award for favorite album – pop/rock, Swift thanked her new label for supporting her as an artist.
“This album really felt like a new beginning, and I also really love my record label, Universal and Republic,” Swift said onstage. “Thank you for being so generous to me and allowing me to make whatever music I want to make. As a songwriter, it’s so thrilling to me that I get to keep doing that.”
Later, Swift opened her artist-of-the-decade medley with her incisive feminist anthem “The Man,” which she sang wearing a stark white button-down shirt with titles of all of her Big Machine-released albums scrawled across it in bold black letters, including “Fearless,” “Red” and “1989.”
She was joined by roughly a dozen young girls in matching shirts for the song, which includes lyrics such as, “I’m so sick of running fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.”
Swift continued with a career-spanning medley of hits, including “Blank Space,” “Love Story,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “Shake It Off,” where she was backed by friends and fellow pop stars Camila Cabello and Halsey. She closed out the set with title track “Lover,” her solo-written nominee for the Grammys’ song-of-the-year award, and was accompanied onstage by ballerina Misty Copeland.
Before the performance, she was lauded by songwriting legend Carole King, who praised Swift’s gifts as a singer, songwriter and performer.
“It’s rare to see all those talents in one person, but that defines Taylor Swift,” King said. “She is one of the only modern pop artists whose name appears as the sole songwriter in her song lyrics.”
Swift, in turn, credited a teary King for inspiring her as a young girl with 1971 album “Tapestry,” which helped her realize “that artists could transcend so many different phases and changes in people’s lives.”
It was an emotional night all around for Swift, who was a typically enthusiastic cheerleader watching best new artist winner Billie Eilish and friends Cabello, Shawn Mendes and Selena Gomez perform throughout the night. She also directed much of her medley and speeches to mom Andrea Swift, who was visibly crying throughout. (Swift’s heartbreaking new ballad “Soon You’ll Get Better” was inspired in part by her mother’s cancer relapse.)
“The last year of my life has had some of the best times of my life and some of the hardest things in my life that haven’t been public,” Swift said at the end of the show, as she accepted her artist of the year award, which brought her all-time AMA wins to 25, breaking a record set by Michael Jackson.
“I want to say thank you to the fans for being something that is a constant in my life. … This year was good but really complicated. On behalf of me, my family, thank you for being there and caring.”