At midnight on April 9, I opened Spotify and started searching and constantly refreshing the page. Then, it showed up: “Fearless (Taylor’s Version).” The new album is full of re-recordings of songs from the original “Fearless,” the song “Today Was a Fairytale” from the soundtrack for the movie “Valentine’s Day” as well as six unreleased “songs from the vault,” some of which I may or may not have found on YouTube in middle school. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” showcases Taylor Swift’s now-mature vocals and includes a few, very subtle lyrical changes, such as in her songs “White Horse” and “You Belong With Me.” Hearing the whole re-recorded album for the first time was extremely nostalgic, and it makes me more excited — if that’s even possible at this point — for the release of the other re-recorded albums.
Releasing the re-recordings is not just for the sake of nostalgia, or to show the improvement in Swift’s vocals. It is for a much deeper reason — for Swift to own and have control of her masters.
For her first six albums, Swift was with Big Machine Records. When she left in 2018, she signed on with Universal Music Group, a label which would allow for her to own all of the albums she created with them. On the other hand, the deal made with Big Machine Records did not allow her to own the albums she created, thus leaving her self-titled debut, “Fearless,” “Speak Now,” “Red,” “1989” and “reputation” in the hands of Big Machine Records, and subsequently Scooter Braun, a music manager who bought Big Machine Records. Although Swift tried to buy back her masters, this was to no avail.
Apart from not receiving benefits for her own work; controlling what third-parties, such as movies and TV shows, use her music; and being limited in what she can sing during public performances, when Swift lost ownership of her masters, she lost ownership of her life’s work.
Put it this way: Imagine working on something extremely important to you for, give or take, 10 years and then, even though you offer to pay an exorbitant amount of money for it — it’s your life’s work, after all — this is not a possibility. To you, your work is priceless; to the people who now own it, your work is merely something with a price tag and nothing more.
This is essentially what happened to Swift’s masters, which is why it was so important for her to be able to re-record her music. These albums contain very personal songs that she has clearly worked very hard on. By re-recording her older albums, she once again owns her life’s work.
The fight is not unique to Swift either; unfortunately, it is one that many musicians face. Prince was a long-time advocate for artists owning their own music; he fought for a long time for the right to own his own music and celebrated a victory when his label, Warner Music Group, renegotiated his contract. Other artists who have fought for their masters include The Beatles, Kesha, Kelly Clarkson, TLC and Ciara.
More artists should be able to own their masters, their life’s work. The fact that so many artists have fought for their masters, and not all of them have succeeded in that fight, shows how deeply flawed the music industry is.
Swift re-recording her older albums is her rightfully taking back her music. Like the other artists who have fought for their work, she has every right to own the music she has poured her heart into.
“I’ve spoken a lot about why I’m remaking my first six albums, but the way I’ve chosen to do this will hopefully help illuminate where I’m coming from. Artists should own their own work for so many reasons, but the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really knows that body of work,” Swift wrote in an Instagram post on Feb. 11, when she announced the upcoming release of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version).”
“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” is beautiful and clearly shows her immense growth from the original “Fearless” from 2008. However, the importance of this re-recording goes beyond that; it is also the first album she re-recorded, the first group of songs she took back. And that is so immensely important.