When Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was released back in April, it was a watershed moment in the music industry.
Scooter Braun’s controversial purchase and later resale of the masters of Taylor Swift‘s first six albums in 2019 opened up new conversations about the treatment of artists and the ownership of their music. In 1992, George Michael sued Sony for what he described as ‘professional slavery’, accusing them of failing to promote his sophomore album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 when he tried to take control of his own image. Although their circumstances were significantly different, both Swift and Michael signed away their careers as teenagers without even realising, with Michael stating at the time that “effectively, you sign a piece of paper at the beginning of your career and you are expected to live with that decision, good or bad, for the rest of your professional life”. He lost his court case, as his deal was deemed as being equal to the industry standard for other big artists – Swift, however, has taken matters into her own hands, and not only appears to be winning her own battle but changing the industry as she does it.
By re-recording her albums, Taylor has ensured that she gets her share of the profits when her versions of the songs are played; but this drastic move is about so much more than money. She can play a more significant part in the decisions that are made about the usage of her music in other recordings, from TV advertisements to her own televised appearances. But, crucially, she now owns the music that she’s spent her whole life making – music which fell into the hands of a man she accuses of having bullied her on social media when she was “at her lowest point” alongside Kanye West and Justin Bieber.
So far, only one of the re-recordings has been released, but it has been extremely well-received by fans. Each song is more-or-less the same as the original, but the maturity in Taylor’s voice these days seems to offer a new perspective – they are sung by an adult woman who can retrospectively look back on her immense successes, rather than a teenager about to be catapulted into stardom. The addition of the ‘From The Vault’ tracks – songs she wrote at the time that didn’t make the final cut – brings so much excitement with it, not only from a commercial perspective but from a nostalgic one. She is uniting her newer fans who can experience the album for the first time in all its glory with those who remember life back in 2008, when you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing ‘Love Story’ or ‘You Belong With Me’, no matter how old they are now.
In a statement on Tumblr when her masters were originally sold, Taylor told the world of her ambition that “hopefully, young artists or kids with musical dreams will read this and learn about how to better protect themselves in a negotiation”. This is already evident in Olivia Rodrigo’s insistence that she owns her own masters as her career begins to take off, and doubtlessly she will not be the last artist to think of Taylor when negotiating their own contracts.
Taylor’s re-recordings are a bold, unapologetic statement of her own artistry, and it seems that the singer has really only just begun her reinvention of the music industry.
Watch the video for ‘Love Story (Taylor’s Version)’ here: