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From Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift: why are stories of artists who almost lost everything to their agents repeated so often?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Being a star is not always easy. You need to deal with public life, crazy fans and paparazzi, and the one person who should help you with that is also a problem. Yes, more artists than you imagine have issues with agents. From domain over the music to lousy management and contract breaks.

Signing off with an agent or a record means putting in their hands your career. They will be responsible for concerts, interviews, realizing albums, and controlling your work life.

Elvis Presley

Tom Parker was Elvis‘s producer, but he wasn’t always in the music career. Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk was born in the Netherlands, but went illegally to the USA, changed his name and enlisted in the Army.

In 1955, he heard about someone famous in Memphis and started to follow him until becoming his agent. The contract said that he would have half of Elvis’s profit (at the time, the common was 10% and 15%).

As the King of Rock started to grow, something called everyone’s attention, he would never leave the country, and all his concerts were under the US territory. The reason? Tom Parker couldn’t leave the country, which led Elvis to deny a 2 million dollar tour through Latin America.

As this wasn’t bad enough, Elvis started to go against his agent’s desire, making their relationship very messy. In 1969, he started his residence in Las Vegas and, for eight years, performed in the same place.

Throughout those years, he got addicted to tranquilizers, and died in 1977. After that, Tom Parker still made money upon the star, because he lost a lot with bets and did everything to keep his royalties.

In the 80s, he was investigated for his unethical work and for financially abusing Elvis. After selling one of his songs for millions of dollars, the Presley family was able to conquer the king of rock rights.

Backstreet Boys

The boyband didn’t count on the support of their record label, Zumba Recording Corporation. In 1999, the members revisited their 1994 contract and found that, if they released two albums by the pre-established date, they had rights to royalties. 

After the tour from the first album, Black and Blue, the boys were ready to get back to the studio. But Zumba denied participation because he was focused on the solo project of one of the members, Nick Carter
As the group was disappointed with that decision, they decided to break the contract, alleging that: “We are committed to the Backstreet Boys, and we will protect our group from anybody or anything that tries to break us apart”.

LL Cool J

One of the first stars from the record, Def Jam always had issues with them and never hid. According to him, the record never promoted his albums and, after releasing his LP Todd Smith, Def Jam’s actuary called the radio stations, asking for them not to play it.

The thing that impressed him the most, was that he needed to do the work of two men, composing and publicizing it, which made him unfocused on his albums. Apart from that, LL used to say he was just a man fighting with a big company, and couldn’t do anything. 

Before leaving the record, he said: 

“This is my last record on Def Jam, so the record mustn’t be just another record.” “It has to represent my legacy, be incredibly hot. All of the energy I put into building that company, it’s gonna be a great reminder to people that I did start that company with Russell [Simmons] and Rick Rubin and Heidi Smith, the secretary. I’mma get busy with it. I’mma deliver [what] I’m supposed to deliver and I’m not gonna ignore my male fans this time. I’m gonna embrace everybody. It’s gonna be real. I’m blunt, brutally honest, be frank, speak with clarity, and they gonna feel me”.

Said in an interview for MTV

Her first hit was “Tik Tok”, back in 2009, but it was only a year later that her music started making success, once she signed up with Doctor Luke, also responsible for Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. They met in 2005 when convinced her to move to Los Angeles. Once Kesha completed 18 years, she signed up to be produced by Luke, on a contract with six exclusive albums.

The first scandal involved her being drugged and rapped by her agent, after a party at Paris Hilton‘s House. She woke up naked in a hotel bed.

“I don’t know where I am. I think we had sex. I’m sore and sick. I don’t know where my clothes are. I think I have to go to a hospital.”

In 2014, Kesha officially filed a lawsuit for sexual abuse, affirming that all her work with Doctor Luke felt like a prison of abuse. The document contained information that, for ten years, Luke abused her in every way possible, almost leading to her death.

While the process was happening, the judge made it impossible for Kesha to record new songs. It was only in 2017, she gained that right back and released her song Rainbow.

Because of the judicial issues, the hashtag #freeKesha appeared on the Internet, as a way for fans to show their support for her.

Taylor Swift

Back in 2006, Taylor signed up with Big Record Machine, Scooter Borchetta, and eventually Scooter Braun company. The contract demanded 6 albums, from Taylor Swif to Reputation”. Once the contract ended, she decided to sign up with Universal Republic Records.

But her issue with Scootter was just beginning. All the music from her six albums actually belonged to the record, meaning she was not the owner of her production. If they wanted to use her song in a TV show, they could without her authorization. 

This is Scooter Braun, who bullied me on social media when I was at my worst. He’s about to own all the music I created. For years I asked and begged for the chance to own my work, instead, I was allowed to re-sign with Big Machine Records and earn one album at a time, one album for every new album I turned in“, the artist said.

In 2019, both Scootter prohibited her from performing her songs, meaning she could only sing those released after 2020. In that year, Braun asked her to sign a contract where she couldn’t talk about him and needed to share the profits, but obviously, she denied it. 

So to solve this situation, Taylor Swift decided to re-record all her six albums in Taylor Versions. So far, she owns Red, Fearless, Speak Now, and 1989 will be released in October.

The whole issue relies upon the bad and hustler agents, who want to take advantage of other people’s work. And, as dealing with judicial cases is so complicated, singers stay with their hands tied.


The article above was edited by Clarissa Palácio.

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Beatriz Gatz

Casper Libero '25

Passionate about books and music. I started writing stories for school and fell in love with writing. I also care a lot about humanitarian and Ambiental causes and, for me the best way of helping is by the information. You can talk to me here: beapiresgatz@gmail.com