Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Empowering Force of Taylor's Version

Victoria Pedraza | 10/14/2023



Taylor Swift is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the most successful singers in the world. Right now, she’s at the height of her career, which is pretty impressive considering she’s been in the music industry for eighteen years, having signed with Big Machine Records in 2005, at the age of fifteen. Here’s the thing, in that process, she signed away the ownership of the master recordings for her first six albums, in order: Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010), Red (2012), 1989 (2014), and Reputation (2017).


Masters are the first copy of any given song, from which copies will be made for streaming, CDs, etc. Despite begging for the chance to buy her masters herself, Swift was instead offered the opportunity to “earn” them back, how? By signing on for six more albums, and getting one of the old ones back for each new one she turned in. Knowing that Scott Borchetta was planning to sell Big Machine Records at some point, Swift declined, instead singing with Universal Music Group, with the understanding that she would own her subsequent albums.


At this point, Swift resigned herself to the eventual sale of her old albums but was horrified when, in 2019, the label, and with it, Swift’s life’s work was sold to Ithaca Holdings, owned by Scooter Braun.


Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun


“All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years. Like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it. Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked,” wrote Swift on Tumblr, after learning of the sale.


Scooter Braun is a big name in the industry, a manager (or former manager) to many stars, including Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and Kanye West. According to Swift, he’s been bullying her for years, so when he was suddenly the owner of her music, it was her worst-case scenario. And she wasn’t willing to let it go. For her, these weren’t just the songs that made her successful, they were over a decade’s worth of the diaries, set to music. 


The Importance of Taylor's Control Over Her Music

Taylor Swift has written or co-written every single song in her discography, which means that, though legally she didn’t own the master recordings, she does own the publishing rights. So after a certain amount of time has passed, she can legally rerecord them. And because her deal with Universal Music Group specifies that the masters to the albums she creates under their umbrella belong to her, once rerecorded she owns those albums, significantly devaluing the ones bought by Scooter Braun in 2019. It’s a power move.


Taylor Swift's ongoing battle for ownership of her music showcases her resilience in the face of industry challenges. Taylor's Version signifies her reclaiming control over her art, emphasizing the significant role a woman's agency plays in asserting control over her creative endeavors.


The Significance of Re-Recording Her Music


Re-recording her albums isn't merely an artistic choice; it's a strategic move by Taylor Swift to regain control over her narrative and artistic expression. This act underlines the power a woman gains in shaping her story and image, a pivotal aspect of empowerment for women in the music industry.


So far we’ve had three rerecordings, differentiated from the originals by the subtitle Taylor’s Version, Fearless and Red in 2021, and Speak Now in 2023. Tomorrow, October 27th, we’ll get the rerecorded version of 1989.


Apart from new vocals, music, and artwork, Taylor has added value to her versions of these albums, by releasing songs “From the Vault”, meaning songs that were written during that album’s “era” but not included in the final product. So fans get to hear old, familiar songs, as well as songs that are new to them.


The Feminist Themes in Taylor's Music


As Taylor has grown, so too have her ideals, evolving into a fervent embrace of feminism. Her journey through the music industry has exposed her to the pervasive gender disparities and biases that permeate society. These experiences have ignited a passion within her to challenge and dismantle traditional gender norms through her art.


In her lyrics, we hear her powerful voice echoing the frustration and resilience of countless women who have been unfairly judged and underestimated solely because of their gender. Lines like "They’d say I hustled, put in the work. They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve" reflect her yearning for a world where her accomplishments are acknowledged without the cloud of gender bias.


The lines, "I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man," encapsulate the exhaustion and exasperation that many women face while striving to break barriers in male-dominated fields. Taylor grapples with the harsh reality that society often affords men easier access to success and recognition, leaving women to constantly question their own efforts and potential, burdened by the unfair comparisons. Below are some more examples of this kind of lyricism:


“Ladies always rise above, ladies know what people want, someone sweet and kind and fun. The lady simply had enough”


“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy. What about that? And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry.”


“Who knows if I never showed up what could've been. There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen. I had a marvelous time ruinin' everything.”


“And we see you over there on the internet, comparing all the girls who are killin’ it. But we figured you out, we all know now, we’ve all got crowns. You need to calm down.”


Through these lyrics, Taylor articulates the daily struggles and frustrations faced by women, including the anger that stems from gender-based experiences, the pressure to tolerate male conduct without objection, the critiques endured by empowered and ambitious women, and the relentless comparisons often made between women.


The Impact of Taylor's Version on the Music Industry


Taylor's Version marks a potential turning point within the music industry, presenting a unique opportunity to revolutionize the dynamics for women artists and beyond. By choosing to reclaim and re-record her own music, Taylor Swift is sending a resounding message that artists should have control over their creative output and the rights to their own art. This bold move sets a powerful precedent, urging fellow musicians to similarly take charge of their work, thereby amplifying the crucial importance of agency and ownership, especially within an industry historically dominated by male influence and control.


In an industry where artists often find themselves entangled in complex contracts and legal frameworks, Taylor's re-recording initiative becomes a beacon of empowerment. It emphasizes the significance of artists reclaiming their narratives, regaining control over their intellectual property, and ultimately determining the destiny of their art. This can have a transformative effect, particularly for women artists who have historically faced challenges in asserting their rights and influence in a landscape where gender biases have been prevalent.


By challenging conventional industry norms and showcasing her ability to successfully navigate the re-recording process, Taylor Swift paves the way for a more equitable and artist-centric future. This can inspire a wave of artists to demand fair treatment and ownership of their creations, especially women who have often been subjected to unequal treatment. Taylor's Version serves as a catalyst for change, highlighting the strength and resilience of artists, particularly women, in shaping a new era where creativity is celebrated and artists are empowered to control their own musical legacy.


Takeaway


Taylor's Version transcends the act of merely re-recording her music; it symbolizes a seismic shift in the music industry's power dynamics, especially for female artists. Taylor Swift's journey in reasserting control over her art represents a landmark moment in the ongoing struggle for agency and ownership, particularly for women in an industry historically marked by inequality and exploitation.


In choosing to revisit and re-record her past works, Taylor showcases not only her artistic prowess but also her determination to navigate the complexities of an industry that often favors labels and corporations over individual creators. This resilience becomes a beacon of hope for artists, especially women, who aspire to reclaim their narratives and take charge of their own musical destiny.


At the stroke of midnight, as the clock ushers in a new day, I'll be diving headfirst into the captivating world of Taylor Swift's 1989 Taylor's Version. It's a delightful anticipation, akin to reuniting with an old friend after many years, one whose company is deeply cherished. The familiar melodies and lyrics of the songs that I first encountered nearly a decade ago will invoke a sense of nostalgia and the excitement of rediscovery.


Yet, intermingled with this familiarity are the novelties – the lyrics of the new songs, unknown and waiting to be explored. It's a journey of uncharted territory, where Taylor's words and melodies will guide me through unexplored emotions and experiences. These new compositions hold the promise of speaking to my present self, mirroring my growth and aspirations over the years. They're like blank pages of a diary, ready to be filled with emotions, reflections, and connections that resonate deeply within my soul.


This midnight listening ritual isn't just about reliving the past; it's about embracing the past, present, and future simultaneously. It's about cherishing the evolution of both the artist and the listener, acknowledging how the music has shaped and continues to shape our lives. I'm eager to welcome the rush of emotions, the waves of memories, and the fresh insights that 1989 Taylor's Version is poised to bring, reigniting my love for Taylor's artistry and reigniting the magic of music.


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