On March fifth, Megan Thee Stallion posed in a tan suit, a brown belt cinching her waist, with a seamlessly silk-pressed bob. Posing with her hands on her lapels and her mouth open, you can tell that she doesn’t care about what anyone thinks of her. As she announced on her Instagram: “I’m extremely pleased that 1501 and Carl Crawford were denied the request to dissolve my court order and try to stop my music from being released,” thereby proudly announcing the new arrival of her next studio album, Suga. Meg is currently signed with Jay Z’s Roc Nation, whose lawyers helped her get her music back. Since the album’s release, tracks like B.I.T.C.H. and Savage are sweeping the Internet on music and social media platforms alike. But amid her victory, we should ask questions about why this happened. Why do artists, women in particular, struggle with licensing issues? And what happens when they lose in court?
It came as a shock to many when Taylor Swift announced that Scooter Braun had purchased licensing rights to her music against her will. A lot of people were confused about what this meant: doesn’t she own her music? And if she doesn’t, why does she care about who makes money off it? The answer is complicated.
Braun purchased Swift’s master recordings: in other words, he owns the right to allow other people to use her music from her first album all the way up to Reputation, which was released in 2017. Essentially, Braun controls the revenue streams from music Taylor Swift has made throughout her career as an artist. If you don’t own your master recordings, you don’t get a say in how your music is used. This is likely what has troubled Swift the most: she has no control over how Braun uses her music. The pop anthems we grew up with can be used in movies—whether it’s the opening score or in a scene mocking women who like her music.
This struggle in the music industry often leads to artists feeling used and betrayed. Take Kesha, for example. #FreeKesha was trending on Twitter for weeks before a series of trials against her producer, Dr. Luke. As the legal battles dragged on, people were quick to rush to either side’s defense. Some accused Kesha of falsifying her story so that she could have business leverage over Dr. Luke. Some argued that the courts were too lenient on the accused rapist. Despite the fact that the public was largely rooting for her, Dr. Luke had her accusations thrown out, and he could still win a defamation suit against her for her allegations.
As a whole, there’s one thing female artists need to know: you need to own your music. It’s important to own your master recordings, because the music industry likes to pit women against each other. When we’re all focused on who has beef with who, we pay less attention to how court systems can leave women feeling powerless. While I’m happy that Meg released her new album, she did so by a temporary restraining order. While this is a victory for women in rap, the long-term impact of taking a stand as a woman in the music industry is still uncertain.