Why Universal Music Group has removed music including Taylor Swift from TikTok and what could happen next

Taylor Swift is just one of many artists whose music will no longer be available on TikTok. (Credit: Getty Images) Taylor Swift is just one of many artists whose music will no longer be available on TikTok. (Credit: Getty Images)
Taylor Swift is just one of many artists whose music will no longer be available on TikTok. (Credit: Getty Images) | Getty Images for TAS Rights Mana
Has TikTok muted your video? Sounds are disappearing from the social media app as Universal Music Group pulls millions of songs from TikTok amid royalty dispute.

Music is beginning to disappear from TikTok, with songs from artists such as Taylor Swift and Harry Styles now being removed from the platform.

It’s after Universal Music Group (UMG) and TikTok failed to reach an agreement over new contractual terms, including royalty payments and the use of AI. Since the deal ended on January 31, the record label has started removing millions of songs from the social media platform.

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TikTok app users will now no longer be able to make videos using music from the hundreds of artists signed to UMG, which includes stars such as Drake and Adele all the way down to emerging artists who use the platform to promote their music.

So, why has UMG removed its music from TikTok?

On January 30, as the end of Universal Music Group’s contract with TikTok approached, the record label published an open letter to the social media platform.

In this letter, UMG addressed concerns surrounding TikTok’s ever increasing influence as well as raising what they call “critical issues” surrounding online safety, the protection of humans from AI and fair compensation of artists and songwriters.

UMG accused TikTok of using “intimidation” tactics to force the label’s hand into accepting a deal which would pay artists and songwriters a “fraction” of the rate offered by other platforms.

“Ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music,” the label stated.

All music under Universal Music Group will be removed from TikTok. Image: GettyAll music under Universal Music Group will be removed from TikTok. Image: Getty
All music under Universal Music Group will be removed from TikTok. Image: Getty | AFP via Getty Images

The contract between UMG and TikTok has since expired, prompting both companies to begin removing Universal’s vast catalogue of songs from the platform.

Music from the label is no longer available to app users and since Thursday TikTok has been “muting” audio on already existing videos in order to avoid any potential copyright infringement. There is no way to say how many videos on the app could be affected by this move, and the removal process is expected to take days.

In recent years TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company Byte Dance, has become a powerful marketing tool, helping to launch the careers of many up and coming artists.

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Lil Nas X was propelled into mainstream recognition when his single Old Town Road went viral on TikTok and the same can be said for artists such as Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion, whose songs became runaway successes as the result of TikTok trends.

TikTok said that UMG’s decision was “disappointing”, and that the label has “chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent”.

What artists are signed to Universal Music Group?

While UMG’s music is being removed from the platform, it’s likely that TikTok users will begin to notice a slightly thinner offering in the app’s music library.

Universal Music Group is the largest music company in the world, and owns labels including Interscope, Geffen, Island, Def Jam, Capitol, Motown, Verve, Republic and more, and it also has an extensive music publishing division for songwriters which could complicate matters further.

As such many TikTok favourite artists will be affected by UMG removing its music from the app.

Music by Harry Styles will no longer be available on TikTok. Music by Harry Styles will no longer be available on TikTok.
Music by Harry Styles will no longer be available on TikTok. | AFP via Getty Images

From Taylor Swift to Noah Kahan, here are some of the biggest artists under UMG:

  • Taylor Swift
  • Bad Bunny
  • The Weeknd
  • SZA
  • Adele
  • Steve Lacy
  • Drake
  • Billie Eilish
  • Kendrick Lamar
  • Rosalía
  • Harry Styles
  • Ariana Grande
  • Justin Bieber
  • Adele
  • Coldplay
  • Post Malone
  • ABBA
  • Billy Joel
  • Britney Spears
  • Carly Rae Jepsen
  • Glass Animals
  • Imagine Dragons
  • Jason Derulo
  • Maisie Peters
  • Mariah Carey
  • Megan Thee Stallion
  • Nicki Minaj
  • Renee Rapp
  • Sabrina Carpenter
  • Olivia Rodrigo
  • Troye Sivan
  • Noah Kahan
  • Greta Van Fleet
  • Kim Petras
  • Yung Gravy

UMG also have deals with K-Pop giants such as Stray Kids and NewJeans.

How will artists and songwriters be impacted by this?

The impact that TikTok has had on the music industry in recent years is massive.

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The app is where songs such as Drivers License by Olivia Rodrigo took off, launching her into stardom, and is the reason why tracks such as Dreams by Fleetwood Mac and Vienna by Billy Joel have been revived.

However, Universal says that by pulling music from TikTok they are protecting artists.

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The letter said: “We will always fight for our artists and songwriters and stand up for the creative and commercial value of music.

“We recognize the challenges that TikTok’s actions will cause, and do not underestimate what this will mean to our artists and their fans who, unfortunately, will be among those subjected to the near-term consequences of TikTok’s unwillingness to strike anything close to a market-rate deal and meaningfully address its obligations as a social platform.

“But we have an overriding responsibility to our artists to fight for a new agreement under which they are appropriately compensated for their work, on a platform that respects human creativity, in an environment that is safe for all, and effectively moderated.”

The move has already prompted discussion among artists, many of whom have built an audience and fanbase on TikTok.

Noah Kahan's Stick Season first went viral on TikTok in 2020. Picture: Arturo Holmes/Getty ImagesNoah Kahan's Stick Season first went viral on TikTok in 2020. Picture: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images
Noah Kahan's Stick Season first went viral on TikTok in 2020. Picture: Arturo Holmes/Getty Images | Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

American singer songwriter Noah Kahan is currently at the top of the UK singles chart with his song Stick Season, which first went viral in 2020 when he posted a snippet on the app. Now signed under UMG, he posted a video on TikTok to address the label’s decision.

In the clip, he says: “I won’t be able to promote my music on TikTok any more … I’ll probably be OK, right? I’ll probably land on my feet, right? Right?”

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On the other side of the spectrum, some artists are expressing their dislike of TikTok. Rap producer Metro Boomin shared on X: “I love the creativity and appreciation the kids show for the music on TikTok but I don’t like the forced pandering from artists and labels that results in these lifeless and soulless records.”

Will UMG return to TikTok?

What happens next will depend on Universal and TikTok reaching an agreement.

At the moment, TikTok will likely have to be more strict in monitoring its content for copyrighted material in order to avoid potential legal action – but there are a number of grey areas.

With the number of artists signed under UMG, the label is in a strong position for now.

App users expect a wide selection of content, whether that's when scrolling or creating, and having videos appearing with no audio could soon pose an annoying issue. However, not every musician is signed under UMG and there will always be music available on TikTok – even if the selection isn’t as great as it once was.

One big issue for UMG could come if artists signed under the label face issues promoting their music as a result of this decision - which seems to already be happening.

It isn’t the first time a situation like this has occurred, either. In 2008 Warner Music Group pulled out of its licence agreement with YouTube, meaning that music videos from artists such as Metallica and Madonna were no longer available, before it was renewed nine months later.

As TikTok have said in the past “music is at the heart of the TikTok experience”, so it will be interesting to see which party compromises first.

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