Major pop acts are finally beginning to perform with regularity after the past few years of COVID-19 restrictions. The largest recent tour announcement is arguably from pop megastar Taylor Swift, who even during a global pandemic was perhaps the busiest artist in the music industry. After her exhaustive public litigation against former manager Scooter Barnes, she began the process of re-recording her masters to reclaim full ownership of her own music, recorded three entirely new albums, and broke records consistently through it all.
Perhaps less known to those who aren’t self-proclaimed Swifties (as I am), Taylor Swift has also become a vocal feminist, GOTV organizer, and critic of Trump and his cronies.
Tweet from @taylorswift13: After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the never to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looking starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November. @realdonaldtrump
The Twitter circles that I tend to run in as a Taylor Swift fan and as a cis white female progressive political organizer have become synonymous—young, progressive, queer, and female-dominated. No longer the idealized country girl that conservative America tried to claim as their personal sweetheart, Swift relishes being seen as the champion of a specific subset of young American women: unafraid to call out the men who wronged her, livid at being undervalued and underestimated, and empowered to control her own narrative. Swift is the so-called Mastermind of the future of blockbuster pop music.
Swift has also rightfully been criticized. Recently, she caught flack for being one of the largest polluters in the world, primarily thanks to the overuse of her personal jet. She is also, by the very nature of being one of the world’s biggest acts, by definition a brand—one set up for financial consumption at the hands of mega-corporations. Still, Swift is popular—and also low-key progressive, even if she is capitalism-emboldened. Even when basking in the fruits of her enormous wealth, Swift can not help but be in the middle of yet another political discourse.
Tweet from @AOC: Daily reminder that Ticketmaster is a monopoly, it’s merger with LiveNation should never have been approved, and they need to be reigned in. Break them up.
Swift's previous tour, scheduled for 2020, was fully canceled due to the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. When she announced her Eras Tour last month, fans instantly began making plans. Shortly after the announcement, Swift added more dates, given the clear demand.
Ticketmaster set up a “Verified Fan” process for Eras Tour tickets. Capital One cardholders were offered an early presale, and Ticketmaster account holders with a Capital One card set as the default payment were given a Verified Fan portal—essentially a Captcha to ensure tickets would be sold to living human beings—where prospective Swifty ticket-buyers could skip the line.
But the process of becoming a Verified Fan, which consisted of signing into your Ticketmaster account and choosing three dates, did not actually guarantee you were a Verified Fan. Ticketmaster randomly selected who among the Verified Fans would be given a pre-sale link, who would be on a waitlist, and who would simply not be verified for the presale.
What happened next was mayhem.
The pre-sale began on Nov. 15, and fans (present company included) were met with—at best—a Ticketmaster queue that stated there were “2,000+” people ahead of them in the queue. The site crashed, booted people off, and made it virtually impossible for millions of people to get tickets.
As Billboard reports, Ticketmaster’s reputation—already not great—was sentenced to death by a thousand cuts:
So many attempts — 14 million, to be exact — flooded Ticketmaster’s website on the day of the presale that the company’s site experienced major technical difficulties, causing some Swifties to walk away without securing a single ticket, even though they had previously been sent a special “Verified Fan” presale code by Ticketmaster. Hours later, the company posted a statement saying that it had been unprepared for the “historically unprecedented demand” Swifties exhibited that day, and postponed other Eras Tour on-sales scheduled for that day.
Although 2 million tickets were sold during the presale, 3.4 billion ticket requests were made. On Nov. 17, Ticketmaster canceled all Eras Tour ticket sales. That move, in addition to the shoddy handling of sales that were completed, has compelled the Swift fanbase to action. As AP reports:
Meanwhile customer complaints mounted over high prices and poor service, and prominent members of the U.S. Congress backed public pleas for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Ticketmaster on antitrust grounds.
This isn’t the first Ticketmaster trainwreck, and it likely won’t be the last. If you look up Ticketmaster on Wikipedia, the bulk of their entry is a list of controversies they have been involved in—from anti-competition claims spearheaded by Pearl Jam filing a complaint with the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) in 1994 to Ticketmaster deceptively charging customers $9 a month for a “rewards program” to shadowy partnerships with ticket resellers. That brief overview brings us to the latest public debacle.
The 2010 merger between LiveNation and Ticketmaster was completed to much uproar. Activists were swift to file a complaint to the DOJ to combat the merger. In recent years, we have seen similar actions with the AT&T and Time Warner merger of 2018 and the Disney and Fox merger of 2019. All of these consumer and industry complaints were unsuccessful in the anti-trust trials, highlighting the weak nature of the DOJ at preventing the monopolies large digital and media entities can claim while still technically operating inside the law.
The anti-trust laws and litigation wing of the DOJ is weak. Meaning that when the DOJ tries to intervene with some of these mergers, it’s pretty much keeping up appearances. Congress handles the DOJ budget. Congress—on both sides, unfortunately—is beholden to corporate interests. At the end of day, the DOJ has to walk a careful line. The argument that the DOJ should be making is that, following a merger of this size, consumers have limited options and face steep, unregulated price gouging—and that is what we’re seeing from phone plans to streaming services to internet providers to the quality of media being pushed to those services, because there are now two major media companies making everything we consume.
Anti-trust laws were arguably at their peak in the progressive era of monopoly-busting, notably of Standard Oil in 1911 and even well into the modern era, when “Ma Bell,” or Bell Systems, was dismantled under antitrust laws in 1983. In the end, the weakening of this department and its laws all comes back to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. Nothing is ever going to be improved until corporations aren’t given unlimited donation powers. As long as Congress determines the budget of the entire federal government, and that Congress is beholden to corporate interests, we will continue to see the monopolization of American industry.
While consumers are already suing Ticketmaster over the company's abject failure to do the one thing it is meant to do, there is not an immediate route to recourse through the DOJ. The current case against Ticketmaster will make it possible to see what influence a state attorney general can have if an individual state intervenes. States could, in theory, determine that venues in a state aren’t exclusive to Ticketmaster—essentially, the state has the power to regulate the relationship between a venue and Ticketmaster. Congress could then call a congressional committee to investigate the legality of this relationship in the states that attempt to do this, and propose legislation that grants venues the right to inclusive contracts. This would be a more effective action than simply an oversight investigation from the DOJ under current antitrust laws, because, again, thanks to Citizens United, this mechanism is legally tainted by corporate interests.
So, what happens now? We don’t know. The class-action lawsuits have only just been filed, and Swifties are only just getting organized. But if we’re lucky, and millions of ticket-buying people think we could be, Taylor Swift may be the one who finally ushers in real, tangible change to America’s deteriorating antitrust laws.
Do you have a Ticketmaster horror story to share? It seems like everyone does. Don’t be shy, share it with us in the comments below. I want to hear them all.