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Taylor Swift's fans caused Ticketmaster to crash and lawmakers are demanding answers

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK, so we all know that Taylor Swift is a master at soundtracking heartbreak, but now heartbreak is something Swifties all around the world know all too well. That's right. The demand for presale tickets for Swift's upcoming tour caused the ticketing service Ticketmaster to crash, which caused fans to flood TikTok with complaints about the whole fiasco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The funniest thing is Ticketmaster gaslighting us, being like, we had no clue this many people would be buying tickets.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Guys, Ticketmaster had all these technical issues. It kept crashing, kicking people out of line.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: This presale clusterf*** was partially by design. If you wanted to make sure...

CHANG: (Laughter) And today Ticketmaster announced that the general on-sale for tickets has been cancelled due to extraordinary demand and insufficient remaining ticket inventory. OK, so to help us understand what is going on, we're joined now by NPR's Andrew Limbong. Hey, Andrew.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So we're now seeing members of Congress this week weighing in on this whole Ticketmaster meltdown. I don't know if they're Swifties, too, but let's just back up here. What exactly happened this week?

LIMBONG: OK. So I don't - yeah, I don't know if you're a Swiftie or not, but...

CHANG: Well, a little bit.

LIMBONG: This tour - OK.

CHANG: I blast her music after breakups.

LIMBONG: Well, you know that...

CHANG: Yes. Yes.

LIMBONG: OK. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But this tour is, like, a huge deal, right? She hasn't toured since 2018 because of COVID. And this tour in particular is being billed as, like, a career retrospective. So it's, like, theoretically your best shot at hearing - I don't know - like, an early hit like "Tim McGraw" or something on top of the stuff she's made since COVID. Now, the problem was that, during the presale, you know, like, you know, fans are ready to go. They got their special little codes and were all set to go, but just the sheer amount of people on the website caused it to, like, crash, slow down and kick people out of line.

CHANG: OK, so what is Ticketmaster saying about all of this? Like, how apologetic have they been?

LIMBONG: All right. So they haven't gotten back to me yet, but there's a statement on their website right now. It's very dramatically titled "The Taylor Swift On-Sale Explained." And...

CHANG: The saga.

LIMBONG: You know, it talks about - yeah. It talks about how, like, there was just an unprecedented amount of fans on top of a, quote, "staggering number of bot attacks," which strained their website during the presale. And, you know, with this cancellation of the general, I don't know. It's just like nobody knows anything. It's an incredibly frustrating and chaotic time for anyone trying to score a T-Swift ticket.

CHANG: Well, I mean, it's not just Taylor Swift, right? Like, I feel like I have been hearing a lot of criticism towards Ticketmaster lately.

LIMBONG: Yes, absolutely. Like a few weeks ago, I was one of the lucky few to cop Blink-182 tickets, you know...

CHANG: Congrats.

LIMBONG: ...At a reasonable price because, like, people were stressing out about how much they were costing. And I don't know - same, if you remember, with Bruce Springsteen fans. And that's because of Ticketmaster's relatively new dynamic pricing plan that sets aside a certain number of tickets where the prices can, like, fluctuate depending on demand. And, you know, like you said, the Swift stuff has politicians paying attention. New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell actually said that he was trying to get into the presale, too, but couldn't get through.

CHANG: (Laughter) Sorry, Bill.

LIMBONG: And Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Ticketmaster is a monopoly and its merger with Live Nation shouldn't have been approved in the first place.

CHANG: Right. Live Nation - she's talking about the entertainment company that bought Ticketmaster back in 2009. And I remember there were concerns about that merger back then.

LIMBONG: Oh, totally. I talked to Dean Budnick. He's the co-author of the book "Ticket Masters: The Rise Of The Concert Industry And How The Public Got Scalped," and here's what he had to say.

DEAN BUDNICK: If you look at it structurally, you have a company that, No. 1, has artist management, No. 2, owns venues, No. 3, has a ticketing company and, No. 4, is the largest concert producer in the world. I certainly can understand why some people would say, gee, that looks like a vertical monopoly.

LIMBONG: But - so under the Obama administration, it cleared all the regulatory hoops and even withstood some scrutiny in 2019. But, you know, there are politicians now asking the Biden administration to give this a closer look.

CHANG: So you may be too young to remember this, Andrew, but back in the '90s, when I was in high school, I remember when Pearl Jam tried to take on Ticketmaster. They'd try to book only venues that did not use Ticketmaster. I mean, couldn't Taylor Swift try to do something like that?

LIMBONG: Yeah. I mean, you just got to think about, realistically, how many places can withstand a Taylor Swift concert.

CHANG: Yeah.

LIMBONG: And, you know, chances are...

CHANG: Huge audience.

LIMBONG: ...They use Ticketmaster, too.

CHANG: That is NPR's Andrew Limbong. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.