Taylor Swift: Re-rerecording, re-releasing and reclaiming

Taylor Swift: Re-rerecording, re-releasing and reclaiming

Taylor Swift recently announced on Good Morning America that the re-recording of her album, Fearless, is now complete and will include never heard before “songs from the vault”.

On 12 February, Swift released her new re-recorded version of her single ‘Love Story’, which she renamed as Love Story (Taylor’s Version) – a pattern her upcoming re-recorded albums will similarly follow with the re-recording of her 2008 album being called Fearless (Taylor’s Version). Fans were also treated to her new album cover.

While this is exciting news for Swift’s fans, these re-recordings are a consequence of her leaving Big Machine Records back in 2018. Following the split, Big Machine Records sold her back catalogue of music at the label to music manager Scooter Braun – manager to artists such as Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. The sale included all albums from before Swifts 2019 album Lover.

All of Swift’s albums from Lover onwards are under her proprietorship thanks to her record deal with Universal Music Group/Republic Records, which grants her ownership over any music she records for the label. This means that also Folklore and Evermore are albums which do not have to be re-recorded, as she owns the rights to them.

In a 2019 interview with Good Morning America, Swift explained: “My contract says that starting November 2020, so next year, I can record albums one through five all over again.” This will allow her some agency and ownership over the music she created when she was younger, even if it’s not the original masters. This clause means that Swift does not lose complete control over her most formative years in the music industry and fans can invest in music that she rightly owns.

While inconvenient, re-recording her older music is a clever solution for a complex situation that has been orchestrated by music industry giants to separate an artist from their art.

Scooter Braun tried bargaining with Swift through a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which Swift refused to sign. “My legal team said that this is absolutely not normal, and they’ve never seen an NDA like this presented unless it was to silence an assault accuser by paying them off,” she said.

“He would never even quote my team a price. These master recordings were not for sale to me,” Swift added.

Swift also encountered difficulty when she was scheduled to perform at the 2019 American Music Awards. In a Twitter post, she explained how her former record label was forbidding her from performing any music that she had made at that label, which then they denied.

These actions by Big Machine Records are just one example of the legal and moral issues Swift has had to endure since her music was sold to Scooter Braun, who was also Kanye West’s manager – a long time antagonist in Swift’s music career and life.

Swift’s ongoing fight with Braun for ownership is indicative of a wider issue that young artists face when they enter the industry: misogyny. Not only did Swift enter the music business at a young age, but she also has had to endure being a woman in a patriarchal establishment that favours and overtly respects men more than their female counterparts. These patterns of misogyny have been evident throughout the careers of other artists such as Rihanna and most recently Britney Spears, as seen in the frighteningly exposing documentary Framing Britney Spears.

Spears is currently in a legal battle to remove her father as her conservator, which means he would no longer be able to control her personal life and finances. The documentary contextualises the misogyny Spears faced in the mainstream media and highlights the events that led to her conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement.

Rihanna has also experienced sexism as the media has always held a microscope to her love life, focusing more on her relationships rather than her achievements. Not only did Rihanna experience an abusive relationship, but she then had to deal with the details of her abuse being published in the media. To make matters worse, images of her abuse were leaked online by the LAPD.

These examples of sexism towards women in the music industry transformed my perspective on Swift’s fight for her music. When the public fight between Braun and Swift first occurred, I initially thought the issue came down to money, but as the situation has developed, it became clear that there is a wider problem at play.

Women in the industry are required to work harder, look prettier and produce more music to reach the same level of recognition that men receive. Evidence of this can be found in the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s third annual Inclusion in the recording studio? report. The report highlighted that from 2012-2019, across 800 US single chart hits, only 21.7% were women and only 14.4% of 2019’s leading songwriters were women. This snippet of research gives an insight into a business that thrives and grows off the success of female artists such as Ariana Grande and Beyonce, yet does not make space for new female artists, songwriters or producers to showcase their work.

Most recently, people on Twitter pointed out the difference in production and standards between male and female half-time show performances, notably The Weeknd’s Superbowl performance compared to previous female performers.

Inequality within the music industry can be seen through the fact that despite Kanye West’s Twitter rants, his ongoing support for Donald Trump, interrupting Swift’s acceptance speech at the Grammy’s and then calling her a “bitch” in his song Famous years later, he was never cancelled in the way Kim Kardashian tried to cancel Swift.

Imbalance can be seen again through the trending of #GrammySoMale. In 2018, after a male-dominated night at the Grammy’s, #GrammySoMale was trending on Twitter, to which the Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow responded by saying “[women] need to step up.” This is a laissez-faire attitude to a problem that is his responsibility to resolve. Instead of accepting the criticism, he used his power and authority to make women the issue despite the fact that 2018 was a breakthrough year for female artists such as Sza and Lady Gaga. This inequality is evident again when looking at the fact that in 2018, Alessia Cara was the only female artist to receive a solo Grammy on the awards telecast that night.

Another example can be seen through Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s 2004 Superbowl performance whereby Timberlake exposed Jackson’s nipple. Jackson was then banned from attending the 2004 Grammy’s, whereas Timberlake was allowed to attend and was invited to perform at the Superbowl again.

These are only a handful of examples that demonstrate the disparity of the standard of work expected from men and women not only in the music industry but in society as a whole.

Taylor Swift’s re-recordings are an opportunity for her to reclaim her work. Ideally, the sale of her music should not have happened in the first place but re-recording her old work and branding it as Taylor’s Version is a significant step for women and young artists in the industry.

Swift sharing her experiences publicly and being transparent about the problems she has encountered with record labels and industry giants, is a lesson and warning for other artists.

Swift’s refusal to sign an NDA with Braun and putting in hours of work to reproduce old music is a message to people both in and outside of the industry, that she will no longer tolerate abuse or bullying, especially from those trying to intentionally trap her into deals which only benefit them. It is not only a healthy step for her as an artist but also as a woman who has faced regular criticism which usually stems from systemic sexism.

Indeed, sexism has been prominent throughout Swift’s career. Her music has regularly received attention from the media, less for its brilliance or artistry and more for speculation on which ex she is writing about. She challenged this rhetoric herself in an interview with 2Day FM where she stated: “No one says that about Ed Sheeran. No one says that about Bruno Mars. They’re all writing songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love life, and no one raises the red flag there.”

However, there is a silver lining for both fans and Swift herself. We can now listen to an updated version of Swift’s old music, which although may not sound exactly the same as her original recordings, it does give audiences a nostalgic trip down memory lane. She may have matured from her youthful, lighter southern drawl in her earlier records, but Swift is talented in modernising her music whilst staying true to her country roots.

This process also opens up an opportunity for Swift to record previously unreleased music and to utilise special content as an incentive for people to listen to her new re-records rather than her original masters. So far, we only have Love Story as a reference for what we can expect from her re-recorded albums, but if Taylor’s Version of the song is anything to go by, her fans are in for a treat.

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