I N S I G H T – M U S I C
You are right! The old Taylor is back to the phone right now by re-recording her old albums and taking millions of her fans back to the nostalgia of 2008. Recently, Swift has re-released the whole album with some new from-the-vault tracks. The point to be noted here is that the old songs are not re-mixed or presented differently. In these re-recordings, the lyrics and music style did not change that drastically; instead, it is Swift’s business that has shifted. There is a long explanation behind this sudden change and hence, without further ado, here is why she re-released “Fearless” and why we will also be getting new versions of Taylor’s first five albums.
The dispute with Big Machine Label
By winning a Grammy for Folklore as it became the year’s best album, we can see how Swift has successfully transformed from a country songwriter to an Indie-pop artist. But underneath this transformation, there is an artist who has been trying for years to own her method of production and distribution of art.
At the tender age of just sixteen, Taylor Swift had joined Big Machine Label but with a heavy heart left in 2018, and with it, her first five albums. About this decision, she said, “I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, [the CEO of Big Machine] Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future.”
In June 2019, a man called Scooter Braun, who works as a music manager for mainstream artists like Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, and Ariana Grande, became the new owner of Taylor’s previous recording company Big Machine Label. Hence, he also owned the masters for Taylor’s first six albums. Masters are the original recording of songs. That is why, by owning those, Scooter owned the entirety of Taylor’s old music. So any and all earnings from Swift’s old tracks will only go into Braun’s bank account.
If the matter was not disturbing enough this far, it escalated for the fans when they realised that Braun was also the manager of Kanye West and Justin Bieber, with whom Swift had beef in the past. Alongside them, Braun had previously bullied Taylor Swift, and hence the idea of this filthy man owning her work of years is just unacceptable.
The outcome of the dispute: Her version of her past
All these were some major setbacks for Swift’s career, but it did not stop her from fighting for her rights. In August 2019, Taylor went on Good Morning America to reveal that she is re-recording her old albums that got sold.
“My contract says that starting November 2020, so next year, I can record albums one through five all over again. I’m very excited about it because I just think that artists deserve to own their work. I just feel very passionately about that.”
In November 2020, she kept her words and started working on re-releasing her albums. She won an American Music Award as she was the artist of the year, and she accepted it from a recording session. Her speech included, “The reason I’m not there tonight is I’m re-recording all of my old music in the studio where we originally recorded it.”
And from that, we are here now, in April 2021, with the new Fearless album officially released.
Even if you are not a Swiftie, you must agree that this move by Swift was a powerful one. As it brings a dark side of the music industry into focus– artists, no matter how powerful brands they are associated with, are vulnerable to exploitation. No matter how shiny any organisation looks from the outside, if it’s headed by manipulative and cunning men like Braun and Borchetta, it will fall into the pit of injustice in no time.
Many other musicians face issues with their recording label regularly. Take, for example, the 2020 outburst of Kanye West where he said he needs “every lawyer in this world” to take a look at his contractual issues with Universal Music Group, the parent company to his label G.O.O.D. Music and Def Jam Recordings. Like Taylor Swift, he wanted to buy his recordings, claiming they diminished his efforts by several contracts he signed. If such influential artists face these regularly, just imagine the situation of new artists who do not possess prominent placements of proper guidance.
Every artist to these labels are described as “a business, a startup with limited equity to portion out to labels, publishers and other stakeholders” by TIME magazine. Given this definition, as the business grows, the artist is left with a smaller section from the circle of labels-publishers-stakeholders. Swift’s step allows us to emphasise that every artist should have rights to their own work. Whether the result is a hit or miss, owning its profits should be the creator’s general right.
And that is why Swift went ahead and took the extra step of re-recording her songs, as to why the songs that are very personal to her will be owned and sold by someone else?
Tasnia is a proud Slytherin who loves binging on poetry and graphic novels in her free time.