Image Courtesy of flickr.com
Megan Moutsatsos, Queen’s University
Edited by: Kenzie O’Day
On November 12th, 2021, Taylor Swift released her re-recorded version of the album Red, which was first released in 2012. Similarly, in April of 2021, Taylor released her version of Fearless, which previously debuted in 2008. Both albums are called “Taylor’s Version,” and they will be followed by her remaining four albums that were recorded by Big Machine Records, which Swift first signed with in 2005. Her endeavors to re-record the albums tied to Big Machine Records are rooted in her conflict with music manager Scooter Braun.
Swift’s contract with Big Machine Records expired in 2018, and she then switched labels to Universal’s Republic Records. However, Big Machine still owned the masters (original recordings) of her first six albums, which meant that they also owned the rights to make, sell, and/or distribute copies. The owner also determines who is allowed to make copies of the recordings. For example, if someone wants to use one of Taylor’s songs in a movie trailer, they need to get the permission of Big Machine Records and pay them a fee. That all changed when Scooter Braun bought Big Machine beneath his private-equity group, Ithaca Holdings, thus becoming the new owner of Swift’s albums.
When the news broke about Braun acquiring Big Machine, and thus ownership of Taylor Swift’s first six albums, Swift called it her “worst case scenario” in an emotional Tumblr post. She declared Braun an “incessant, manipulative bully”— such distaste is rooted in Braun’s support of Kanye West, a past antagonist of Swift—and he was now in possession of her masters. However, the blow was worsened by the fact that Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta had denied Swift the opportunity to buy her old masters for years, but yet sold them to Braun behind Swift’s back. Swift also berated Borchetta for this betrayal, saying that for him, “‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept.”
Borchetta’s rejection of Swift and acceptance of Braun begs the question: why? Is it because Swift is a woman? Is it because Braun is more socially connected, having worked with artists like Justin Bieber and Kanye West? Such answers are currently unknown, and they may never be obtained. But ultimately, Swift’s endeavors to re-record her albums – her deeply personal creations, are admirable. She is fighting back against the music industry’s exploitation of her work, as conveyed through Borchetta’s betrayal, through giving fans the opportunity to download “Taylor’s Version” instead of her original album recordings. By doing so, they support Swift’s, rather than Braun’s, ownership of her music. However, Swift’s re-recordings are more than just a blow at Braun: they are also a chance to take herself and fans back in time, re-releasing music that they first experienced at different stages in their lives. Therefore, “Taylor’s Version” is not an act of vengeance: at its core, it is an act of triumph.
Bruner, R. (2021, March 25). Why is Taylor Swift re-rerecording her old albums? Time. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from https://time.com/5949979/why-taylor-swift-is-rerecording-old-albums/.
Grady, C. (2019, July 1). The Taylor Swift/Scooter Braun controversy, explained. Vox. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/7/1/20677241/taylor-swift-scooter-braun-controversy-explained.