Universal relaxes TikTok boycott – but only if your name is Taylor Swift

Universal relaxes TikTok boycott - but only if your name is Taylor Swift


Taylor Swift has a new album to promote and would presumably like her fans to help by posting TikTok videos aplenty. But she works with Universal Music, which is boycotting TikTok. Worry not, however, because Universal’s big boycott no longer applies to Swift

Universal relaxes TikTok boycott - but only if your name is Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift tracks distributed via her partnership with Universal Music have re-appeared on TikTok, despite the major’s ongoing boycott of the social media platform.




TikTok users can insert Swift tracks like ‘Cruel Summer’ and ‘Cardigan’ – and Taylor’s versions of ‘Style’ and ‘Fearless’ – into their videos once again, as the musician gets ready to release new album ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ next week.

It’s not entirely clear how and why the tracks have reappeared. However – despite Universal bosses trying to play down the marketing power of TikTok as the company’s boycott went into effect earlier this year – it may well be that Swift’s team see TikTok activity playing a key part in the promotion of the new record.

After TikTok failed to agree a new licensing deal with Universal at the end of January, recordings controlled by the major were removed from the TikTok Sounds library. A month later songs published and licensed by Universal Music Publishing – that feature in recordings released by other labels – were also pulled. Universal has accused TikTok of undervaluing music, and failing to allay its concerns around AI and platform safety.

Many artists allied to Universal likely agree that TikTok should be paying more for the music on its platform. But, at the same time, the sudden boycott was rather annoying for any artist with new music to promote, and especially those who use TikTok as a key fan engagement tool.

After Swift’s acrimonious departure from her former label Big Machine, she allied with Universal on new music, including the rerecords of her Big Machine releases. That is a distribution deal, which may give Swift the contractual right to circumvent Universal’s boycott. Her publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing could also provide the same flexibility.

If so, other artists and writers with similar deals might be checking to see if they enjoy similar contract terms. Though Universal presumably won’t want too many artists getting around its boycott as it continues to try to pressure the social media firm into committing to pay more for music, while insisting no one really needs TikTok to market new releases.

Of course, with the biggest artists in the world, major labels are much more flexible, whatever a contract may say, so Swift could be an exception to the rule. And Universal Music boss Lucian Grainge presumably wouldn’t want Swift threatening to record Taylor’s Version of Taylor’s Version of ‘Fearless’ just to get it back on TikTok.