Taylor Swift Accepts Artist of the Decade Award with Powerful Speech at 2019 AMAs
After performing a medley of six of her hits, Swift took the stage to deliver an emotional speech.
“I cannot believe that it’s Carole King who gave me this award. My parents are here tonight. They would listen to Tapestry and all your other records when they were in high school, and then they took those records, packed them in boxes and took them to college with them. Then, when they met and they got their own house they took those records and brought them there, and then when they had my brother and I they played those records for us,” Swift said, opening up about how King inspired her as an artist.
“And I just remembered, when I fell in love with music, it was right around the time I realized how marvelous it was that an artist could transcend so many phases and changes in people’s lives. You taught me that that’s a possibility,” Swift continued.
Swift added: “All any of the artists, or really anyone in this room wants, is to create something that will last. Whatever it is in life. And the fact that this is an award that celebrates a decade of hard work and of art and of fun and memories, all that matters to me is the memories that I have had with you guys, with you the fans over the years.”
Swift went on to gush over her fans as she wrapped her speech: “Guys … we’ve had fun incredible, exhilarating, extraordinary times together. And may it continue. Thank you for being the reason why I am on this stage, from the very first day of my career until tonight. I love you with all of my heart. Thank you for everything. Thank you AMAs. Thank you … just thank you. I’m so lucky to get to do this.”
Before accepting her award, Swift hit the stage to perform some new songs and some classics, including “The Man,” “Love Story,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Blank Space,” “Shake It Off” (during which pals Camila Cabello and Halsey joined her onstage) then her latest hit “Lover,” at which point dancers Misty Copeland and Craig Hall performed an interpretive routine.
When Swift started her speech, she thanked her onstage collaborators: “First of all, I want to say that getting to share the stage with misty Copeland and Craig Hall and Camila Cabello and Halsey and all those amazing dancers tonight was absolutely in so many ways a dream come true so I just … that performance was even more fun than I hoped it would be.”
Check out PEOPLE’s full AMAs coverage to get the latest news on one of music’s biggest nights.
King, 77, welcomed Swift onstage after a glowing recap of the young star’s incomparable career.
“Over the years I’ve known some great songwriters and I’ve also known some great singers and performers. It’s rare to see all those talents in one person. But that defines Taylor Swift,” King said of Swift. “She is one of the only modern pop artists whose name appears as the sole songwriter in her song credits. Her lyrics resonate across the generations, her songs touch everyone and her impact around the world is extraordinary. The past decade has been incredible for this brilliant artist and the best is yet to come. Let’s take a look at some of Taylor’s excellent work. Ladies and gentlemen, your artist of the decade: Taylor Swift.”
“Her body of work is indisputable,” AMAs executive producer Baz Halpin told PEOPLE on Thursday. “She performed, I think, four times in the last 10 years and they’ve been some of our best performances. There are many great artists there, but Taylor just seems to be a head above the rest.”
On Sunday, Swift broke Michael Jackson’s record of 24 AMA wins, and she already holds the record in the artist of the year category with four previous wins.
Swift released her seventh studio album, Lover, in August. “This album is very much a celebration of love, in all its complexity, coziness, and chaos. It’s the first album of mine that I’ve ever owned, and I couldn’t be more proud. I’m so excited that #Lover is out NOW,” she tweeted at the time.
Earlier at the AMAs, Swift performed a medley of some of the biggest hits from her career following a public feud with her former label Big Machine Label Group and Scooter Braun (who acquired the label earlier this year).
While Swift and Braun, 38, have been at odds ever since he purchased BMLG and her back catalog, their issues once again surfaced with a vengeance last week after the singer shared a message on Tumblr accusing Braun and the CEO of BMLG, Scott Borchetta, of blocking her from performing her pre-Lover hits (which were recorded while under contract with BMLG) at the AMAs.
“I’ve been planning to perform a medley of my hits throughout the decade on the show. Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said that I’m not allowed to perform my old songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I’m allowed to next year,” she wrote.
Check out PEOPLE’s full AMAs coverage to get the latest news on one of music’s biggest nights.
The singer also revealed she has been working with Netflix on a documentary about her “life for the past few years,” but that Borchetta and Braun — who purchased BMLG for $300 million earlier this year — have “declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project.”
According to Swift, Borchetta tried to negotiate and offered to let her perform and use her music if she agreed not to re-record “copycat versions” of her old songs and “stop talking about him and Scooter Braun.”
However, the superstar reiterated her criticism of the business partners and urged her fans for help.
“The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished,” wrote Swift. “Please let Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun know how you feel about this.”
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Hours later, BMLG responded in a statement on their website and denied Swift’s allegations, accusing the star of “false information.”
“As Taylor Swift’s partner for over a decade, we were shocked to see her Tumblr statements yesterday based on false information. At no point did we say Taylor could not perform on the AMAs or block her Netflix special,” the statement read. “In fact, we do not have the right to keep her from performing live anywhere. Since Taylor’s decision to leave Big Machine last fall, we have continued to honor all of her requests to license her catalog to third parties as she promotes her current record in which we do not financially participate.”
The label went on to claim that they had “worked diligently” to try and have a conversation with Swift, concluding with, “To date, not one of the invitations to speak with us and work through this has been accepted.”
A spokesperson for Swift responded with another statement, reiterating that “Scott Borchetta, CEO and founder of Big Machine Label Group, flatly denied the request for both American Music Awards and Netflix,” and alleged BMLG owes the singer “$7.9 million dollars of unpaid royalties over several years.”
Then on Monday, BMLG announced to PEOPLE in a statement that Swift was cleared to perform her early hits at the AMAs, saying, “Recording artists do not need label approval for live performances on television or any other live media. Record label approval is only needed for contracted artists’ audio and visual recordings and in determining how those works are distributed.”
Braun — who manages stars including Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande — broke his silence on his dispute with Swift during the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce State of the Entertainment Industry Conference on Thursday. Later, he shared a lengthy message on Instagram revealing he has been receiving “death threats” amid the drama.
“Since your public statement last week there have been numerous death threats directed at my family,” he began. “This morning I spoke out publicly for the first time saying I wouldn’t participate in a social media war. However, I came home tonight to find my wife had received a phone call threatening the safety of our children, as well as other threats seen above.”
Braun later claimed that his attempts to contact Swift over the past six months “have all been rejected.”
“While some on your team and many of our mutual friends have tried to get you to the table, all have had no luck,” he wrote. “It almost feels as if you have no interest in ever resolving the conflict. At this point with safety becoming a concern I have no choice other than to publicly ask for us to come together and try to find a resolution. I have tried repeatedly through your representatives to achieve a solution but unfortunately, here we are. The game of telephone isn’t working.”
“I will make myself available whenever works for you,” he concluded. “Many have told me that a meeting will never happen as this is not about the truth or resolution but instead a narrative for you. I am hopeful that is not the case. I’m right here, ready to speak directly and respectfully. But if you would prefer to make large public statements while refusing to work towards resolving things amicably then I just pray that nobody gets seriously hurt in the process. I continue to wish you the best and hope we can resolve this.”
A rep for Swift has not yet responded to request for comment.
The 2019 American Music Awards are broadcasting live on ABC from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 8:00 p.m. EST.