Taylor Swift’s Ticketmaster scam is a blow to her Reputation: Rayner
The naked grasp for fans’ money — buy merch to move up the queue, sort of! — has been called a ‘tone-deaf scam’ and it undermines her carefully crafted underdog image, writes Ben Rayner.
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There’s got to be an aggregate limit to how much the world at large — or that large part of the world afflicted with an incurable, chronic weakness for pop artifice, anyway — is willing to buy into the Taylor Swift phenomenon, and we might finally be nearing it.
Taylor Swift isn’t going away anytime soon, of course. As I write these words during the early-morning hours of Tuesday, Aug. 29, the garishly “meta” video clip for her new single “Look What You Made Me Do” — a shrewd mix of winking self-satire and prickly, coded (and thus subsequently much de-coded call-outs to such tabloid-rumoured foes as Kanye West and Katy Perry that premiered to typically calculated multi-platform media hysteria during Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards broadcast — has already surpassed 50 million views on YouTube, on top of the nearly 23 million streams already logged by the audio version on Spotify and the more than 46 million looks given to the original YouTube “lyric video” since they were first posted on Aug. 24.
Yet another state-of-the-art electro-earworm from America’s reigning chart queen, “Look What You Made Me Do” is not going anywhere for a while. Nor is the unquenchable public interest in all things Swift likely to drop off completely during the run-up to the release of her sixth album, Reputation, on Nov. 10.
Swift is highly adept at keeping herself in the headlines. Many of us appear powerless to prevent ourselves from reading them.
Nevertheless, even the Swift-iest of “Swifties” are having a hard time putting a positive spin on the singer’s pre-tour marketing campaign for her forthcoming Reputation stage show: a partnership with Ticketmaster that purportedly allows super-fans to “beat the bots” to the best seats at her future concert dates by registering with a service called “Taylor Swift Tix powered by Ticketmaster Verified Fan,” divulging a bunch of personal information and participating in “unique activities that advance your spot in line” when tickets eventually go on sale for the still unannounced Reputation tour.
Those “unique activities”? By the looks of things, none more exotic than pre-ordering copies both digital and physical of Reputation from iTunes, Target and Walmart, summoning as much Taylor Swift merchandise as one can afford from the online “Taylor Swift Official Store” and then coercing as many friends as possible into doing the same for the vague privilege of jockeying “up and down” for position in the queue for “Taylor Swift tix” versus the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of other fans who will also presumably be emptying their virtual wallets into the site over the next three months.
According to a promotional video unveiling the scheme — designed, we’re told, with the intent of thwarting automated ticket-scalping software and the subsequent astronomical resale prices that find their way onto sites like StubHub — it’s “a new way of buying tickets: a better way, a fun way . . . made for you, the fans.”
Read the fine print on Swift’s website, however, and you’ll see that participating in this fun doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a crack at tickets — and that you don’t necessarily have to purchase anything at all to register for an “access code” that may or may not actually allow you access to those tickets.
Hell, the fine print isn’t even fine.
Right there at the top of the terms-and-conditions page, bolded and in all-caps, you’re told flat-out: “NO PURCHASE OR BOOST ACTIVITY IS NECESSARY TO ENTER OR RECEIVE AN ACCESS CODE. A PURCHASE OR PAYMENT OF ANY KIND WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING AN ACCESS CODE. ALL VERIFIED FANS WILL RECEIVE AN ACCESS CODE. A PURCHASE MAY IMPROVE YOUR POSITION IN LINE TO ACCESS TICKETS.”
Further down comes the admission that “code recipients are not guaranteed the ability to purchase tickets.” The scheme to thwart scalpers suddenly reads rather more like the “tone-deaf scam” industry watcher Bob Lefsetz publicly accused Swift of pulling on her most faithful followers last week.
“This is a naked dash for cash, an effort to sell albums so she can publicize how successful she is,” he wrote in one of his regular “Lefsetz Letter” email dispatches. “It’s almost a Ponzi scheme, but in this case you buy stuff you don’t really want for a chance to get what you do want, tickets, but you can’t get. The longer this charade exists, the worse it’s gonna be for her.”
True enough. Despite a smattering of praise here and there for Swift’s business savvy in the face of declining record sales and an out-of-control ticket-resale market, the general opinion out there in the social-media universe runs more closely in line with the opinion of Twitter user @adomingo2: “Taylor Swift this is f---ed up and money hungry.”
Other oft-quoted “quotable quotes” include “Given that a large section of her fans will be kids badgering their parents, this is disgraceful” and “I seriously take this Taylor Swift/Ticketmaster scam as a sign that this new album of hers is going to be absolutely dreadful.”
Oops. When you’re one of the few artists still operating at the “multi-platinum” level — Swift’s last release, 2014’s 1989, moved more than six million copies in the States and 495,000 in Canada — the optics aren’t great on such a shady gambit to juice future record sales.
Not that Swift is alone in strategically clawing her way to the top of the Billboard Hot 200. Adele muscled her way to something like 20 million in worldwide sales for 2015’s 25 by withholding the record from streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music for seven months, for instance, while Drake’s 2016 blockbuster VIEWS was initially only available for purchase online as a bulk 20-track package, ensuring that every single tune therein would make an appearance on the singles chart.
The mainstream music industry, eternally greasy, has very few hugely bankable superstars left to exploit, so exploit them it does. As Billboard itself put it in a recent evaluation of Reputation’s rollout: “Details surrounding the release point to a precision rollout designed to maximize revenues and give hardcore fans (i.e. Swifties) a myriad of opportunities to spend their hard-earned cash on their favourite artist.” The industry will take whatever it can get these days.
The most maddening thing about the current Swift/Ticketmaster controversy isn’t even its egregious, unapologetic duplicity, however. It’s that, through all of this, Swift insists upon portraying herself as a sort of underdog, as a victim of the very success and paparazzi-baiting notoriety that she has pursued with careerist vigour for the past decade.
Yes, the clip for “Look What You Made Me Do” — in which Swift revives and pokes fun at a number of her personas from video hits past to sharply comic effect — is clever and entertaining, but it’s also pretty disingenuous for an Instagram-addicted superstar prone to milking high-profile romances for material to suddenly turn her art into an ongoing lament about the agony of fame. And then to leverage that fame — after variously shilling for Target, Walmart, iTunes, CoverGirl, Sony, Elizabeth Arden, Papa John’s Pizza, Walgreens, Diet Coke, Keds and AirAsia over the years on top of selling millions of records and concert tickets — towards making even more money off the fans who put her on top.
“There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation,” she posted on Instagram recently. She might be doing that reputation some damage.
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