By Hailey Harris (’24) | May 10, 2021
In the past month, you may have heard about Taylor Swift’s new, or not-so-new, album. Swift’s decision to re-record her sophomore album Fearless nearly 13 years later is one that comes with a long back story and a lot of courage.
n 2005, a year before her debut album when she was an unknown artist, Taylor Swift signed a contract with Big Machine Records, assigning the studio recording rights to her first six albums in exchange for a cash advance. As a result, although she still owns the copyrights in the musical arrangement and lyrics of her songs, Swift does not own any of the studio recordings of the songs she recorded from 2005 to 2018. After 2018, Swift signed with a new recording label, Universal’s Republic Records, making sure that she owned the studio recording rights to all of her future music. However, the story spirals downwards from here.
In 2019, Big Machine Records was acquired by Scooter Braun, a name you may recognize from his management of other pop stars such as Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and Ariana Grande. Although it was a smart financial move for Braun, since all streaming revenue from Swift’s studio recordings of her first six albums will go to him, the action sparked a public feud. Swift called Braun a bully and publicly objected to his exploitation of her studio recordings. Her solution was to create new studio recordings of her songs and release them under her full ownership. It sounds simple, but it was tedious to do. Swift is not the first artist to suffer from contractual obligations, but she is one of the first to go through the long process of redoing all of her prior work.
Her first re-recording, Fearless (Taylor’s Version), was released on April 9. The record included six new songs that were not featured on the album in 2008. These songs are called “From the Vault” songs. At first listen, the tracks may sound just like her old ones. Most of the lyrics are the same with her voice slightly more mature a decade later. The underlying purpose of this album is what makes it so exciting. Taking a stand against corporate ownership of artistic rights in the music industry and paving a new path for artists to benefit from their own work is no easy feat, and Swift did it all with this album.
And in true Taylor Swift fashion, there are loads of hidden details that represent how Swift has changed from the 19-year old breakout star to the 31-year old worldwide superstar. Even her album cover has her wearing “Romeo’s” shirt from the famous “Love Story” music video, perhaps hinting at the fact that Swift did not need a man to rescue her but rather she can do it herself. She drops the word “baby” in a couple songs showing she has found a new, better, and more genuine love. Significant speculation about her next re-record abounds with Swift even tweeting out that she is currently in the studio. No matter what album she chooses to re-record next, Swift never fails to deliver fantastic music.