For many artists, having issues with their record labels happens more frequently than you'd think. Join Wonderwall.com as we take a look at some of the most notable feuds between musicians and their labels… starting with a deal that spark the wrath of Taylor Swift. We've got a ton of bad blood here, folks. In 2019, after finding out that music manager Scooter Braun had acquired her former label, Big Machine Label Group — which controls the masters to her first five albums — Taylor, who left Big Machine for Universal Music Group in 2018, penned a lengthy Tumblr post denouncing the deal. She claimed that label founder Scott Borchetta had denied her a fair and reasonable chance to buy back her own work despite her having "pleaded" to find a way to own it. She also made it clear she was no fan of the label's new owner. "Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it," Taylor wrote alongside a screenshot of Scooter with clients Justin Bieber and longtime Taylor nemesis Kanye West on a computer "bullying me on social media when I was at my lowest point." With the acquisition, Scooter now owns and controls almost all of Taylor's music catalog, from "Taylor Swift" to "Reputation" — a fact that later inspired Taylor to announce plans to re-record her entire back catalog. Keep reading for round two (and three) of Taylor vs. Big Machine, plus see more stars who've feuded with their record labels…
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Taylor Swift vs. Scooter Braun, Scott Borchetta & Big Machine Records
Taylor Swift and Big Machine Label Group publicly fought again in November 2019 when Taylor accused new owner Scooter Braun and Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta of blocking her from performing her own songs at the 2019 American Music Awards, something she ultimately was able to do after the drama blew up publicly. Yet another flare-up occured in April 2020 after Taylor caught wind of Big Machine's plans to release an album consisting of some of her live performances. "This release is not approved by me," said Taylor. "It looks to me like Scooter Braun and his financial backers, 23 Capital, Alex Soros and the Soros family and the Carlyle Group have seen the latest balance sheets and realized that paying $330 MILLION wasn't exactly a wise choice and they needed money. In my opinion … Just another case of shameless greed in the time of coronavirus. So tasteless, but very transparent." "Live from Clear Channel Stripped 2008" was released on April 23, 2020.
While she's since made a glorious comeback, singer-songwriter JoJo was long embroiled in a grueling battle with her former label, Blackground Records. At 13 in 2004, JoJo (real name: Joanna Levesque) released debut single "Leave (Get Out)" followed by her self-titled debut studio album, which included hit singles "Baby It's You" and "Too Little Too Late." She first sued her former label and Da Family Records over her recording contract in 2009 — and was only released from it in 2013. The settlement marked the end of a four-year span during which she was unable to release new music while her back catalogue was unavailable to purchase or stream. Despite her early success — she became the youngest solo artist to hit No. 1 — the "Joanna" singer believed her label didn't push her music because of the way she looked. "I ended up getting put with a nutritionist that had me on a 500-calorie-a-day diet, and I was on these injections that make you have no appetite," she told Uproxx. "I was like, 'Let me see how skinny I can get, because maybe then they'll put out an album. Maybe I'm just so disgusting that no one wants to see me in a video and they can't even look at me'," she recounted. "That's really what I thought."
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Dr. Dre vs. Death Row Records
In 2015, Dre. Dre won his legal battle against Death Row Records regarding unpaid funds earned from his album "The Chronic." A judge ruled in favor of Dre, stating that the label did not have the rights to digitally sell and profit off the 1992 album. "For years, Death Row Records forgot about Dre when they continued to distribute his music digitally and combined his hits with weaker Death Row tracks in an attempt to evaluate the stature of their other artists," Dr. Dre's attorney, Howard King, said in a statement. "We are gratified that the federal court has unambiguously declared that Death Row has no right to engage in such tactics, and must hold all proceeds from these illicit distributions in trust for our client." As a result, the rapper received 100% of the online profits.
Dixie Chicks vs. Sony
In July 2001, the Dixie Chicks became embroiled in an 11-month feud with Sony Music Entertainment. The band, which consists of members Natalie Maines, Martie Erwin Maguire and Emily Strayer, filed a $4.1 million lawsuit claiming that Sony was responsible for "systemic thievery," having failed to pay $4 million in royalties owed to the group for their first two releases, 1998's "Wide Open Spaces" and 1999's "Fly," from Sony's Monument Records imprint. The Grammy-winning trio eventually settled in June 2002 and signed a new contract with Sony that included a $20 million bonus.
Kesha vs. Dr. Luke & Sony
In October 2014, Kesha sued music producer Dr. Luke claiming he had "sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused" her. In addition to seeking compensatory damages, the suit sought to end Kesha's contract with Luke, who ran the Sony imprint Kemosabe Records, and give her permission to work with other labels. Luke (real name: Lukasz Gottwald), countersued her for defamation and breach of contract. The first big development came in February 2016 when a judge denied Kesha the ability to record new music separate from Sony Music, and Luke, while the suit continued. Given that Kesha had entered into agreements with Luke's company and not directly with Sony, it claimed that legally, it was unable to terminate her contract. In February 2020, a New York Supreme Court judge also ruled that Kesha had defamed Luke when she sent a text to Lady Gaga that accused the producer of raping Katy Perry, which Katy and Luke both denied. Kesha was also ordered to pay Luke's company $374,000 related to late royalty fees.
*NSYNC vs. Lou Pearlman & BMG
After leaving BMG and manager Lou Pearlman to sign with Jive Records, *NSYNC found themselves embroiled in a nasty legal battle. BMG ended up filing a $150 million lawsuit against Jive and members Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Lance Bass, Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone in October 1999 that stifled the band's ability to release new albums through any label other than RCA Records, which was owned by BMG at the time. *NSYNC hit back with a suit of their own amid a dispute with Lou Pearlman and Trans Continental Records, who they claim committed fraud and breach of contract and fiduciary duty — in other words, Lou and his company did not have the group's best interests in mind. A settlement was reached in late 1999.
Backstreet Boys vs. Zomba Recording Corporation
*NSYNC wasn't the only boy band that had legal troubles back in the day. In 2002, the Backstreet Boys sued Zomba Recording Corporation, the parent company of Jive Records, for $75 million. The music group, which consists of members Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter, AJ McLean and Brian Littrell, claimed that the company use contractual loopholes to hold up the release of their fourth album, which caused them to lose millions in touring revenue, and prioritized launching Nick's solo career over its obligations to the boy band. The lawsuit also claimed that Zomba made Nick "produce, release and promote a solo album at the expense of his involvement with the band." The group later released a statement that further clarified their grievances with the label. "We are committed to the Backstreet Boys, and we will protect our group from anybody or anything that tries to break us apart," the statement read. "We are disappointed that our long time label Jive Records has attempted to irresponsibly exploit our group."
Prince vs. Warner Bros.
Despite signing a lucrative $100 million deal with Warner Bros. in 1992, Prince ended up feuding with the label. He wanted the ability to release music as frequently as he pleased, in addition to being able to own the original masters for his albums — two conditions with which the label was unwilling to comply. The 1992 contract included six albums with the ability to release up to one new album per year, a 25% royalty rate and a $10 million advance per album prior to its release. The deal also turned Prince's Paisley Park Records into a joint endeavor that was distributed and funded, in part, by Warner Bros. Prince, however, was ultimately dissatisfied with the deal. "He really wanted to release the music in a way that was inconsistent with the contract," said Prince's attorney, Gary Stiffelman. "He wanted to put out an album whenever the urge struck him, and it could be a three-song album or a 70-song album." The "Purple Rain" star eventually settled with Warner Bros. and left the label in 1996.
Linkin Park vs. Warner Bros.
After the record-breaking success of their 2000 debut studio album, "Hybrid Theory" — which later went 11-times platinum and became the bestselling rock album of the 21st century — Linkin Park battled their label, Warner Bros. In April 2005, after being asked to perform at the New York Stock Exchange after Warner Music Group launched its initial public offering on Wall Street, the band criticized the company's cutbacks and doubted its ability to properly promote the business. As a result, the band refused to work on future albums for the label and requested they be released from their contract. By December 2005, however, an agreement was reached — Linkin Park ended up staying with Warner Bros. after signing a renegotiated, multimillion dollar deal with improved terms that included a higher royalty rate.
LL Cool J vs. Def Jam Records
Despite joining the label in 1984 as its first artist, LL Cool J hasn't shied away from voicing his opinions about Def Jam Records. For starters, the "I Need Love" rapper thought the label failed to properly promote his 2006 album "Todd Smith" and believed that it told radio stations to withhold airplay. However, JAY-Z, who served as the label's president during the time, denied LL's accusations. "I address a lot of issues I have with the record company, but I kept it business. It feels good to speak my voice," LL said via MTV. "People are listening. These guys fail to realize that when you talk about Def Jam, you're talking about my legacy. Everything that ever happened at Def Jam is my legacy." It seems LL eventually made his peace: In September 2019, he reportedly signed a new deal with Def Jam after leaving the label in 2008 following the release of his twelfth studio album, "Exit 13."
Goo Goo Dolls vs. Metal Blade
Back when they were just an unknown band from Buffalo, New York, the Goo Goo Dolls were given their big break when record label Metal Blade signed them in 1987. However, following the release of their commercially successful album "A Boy Named Goo" in 1995, the band found themselves in a grueling legal battle with Metal Blade regarding unpaid royalties. The trio eventually renegotiated their deal and moved to Metal Blade's parent company, Warner Bros. They would go on to release their critically acclaimed 1998 single "Iris," which was nominated for three Grammys, for the "City of Angels" soundtrack.
Courtney Love vs. Vivendi Universal Music Group
In 2000, Universal Music Group reportedly sued Courtney Love over five undelivered studio albums. Courtney ended up countersuing the label, stating that it mistreated artists and made $40 million from album sales from her band Hole while members only received $2 million in royalties. They later reached a settlement: UMG would waive any rights to Courtney's future recordings as well as give her full ownership of unreleased Hole music. Courtney and others involved in the estate of her late husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, also agreed to let UMG release new Nirvana packages, which included a compilation album and unreleased track.
Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor vs. Universal Music Group
In 2007, Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor accused his record label, Universal Music Group, of exploiting customers. In a statement posted online, Trent put the label on blast after learning about the substantial retail markup of the band's album "Year Zero." "As the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer even more," he wrote. "The ABSURD retail pricing of 'Year Zero' in Australia. Shame on you, UMG. 'Year Zero' is selling for $34.99 Australian dollars ($29.10 USD). No wonder people steal music."
Former Destiny's Child members LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett claimed that they only found out they were booted from the girl group after watching the music video for "Say My Name" and seeing two new members — Farrah Franklin (who has since left) and Michelle Williams — lip-syncing the parts they'd recorded for the track. LaTavia and LeToya went on to sue original group members Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Rowland as well as manager Mathew Knowles (Beyonce's father) and their label, Sony Music, alleging defamation, breach of contract, libel and fraud. The suit claimed that Mathew tried to gain guardianship of LaTavia and LeToya, did not reveal information regarding finances with either them or their parents and replaced them without their knowledge. A settlement was reached in July 2002.
Johnny Cash vs. Columbia Records
In July 1996, Columbia Records made the decision to drop iconic country singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. The decision came 26 years after the label had initially signed him to a lucrative contract in 1960. After generating hits like "Ring of Fire," "Daddy Sang Bass" and "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," in addition to earning eight No. 1 albums in a span of eight years, the label stopped promoting Johnny, believing that his albums were no longer selling well. Johnny reportedly found out he'd been dropped after reading about it in the local newspaper.