By Sophie Fennelly
Taylor Swift’s contract with her former record label Big Machine Records stipulated that from November of this year she was permitted to rerecord her first five albums (Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, and 1989), so fans have been waiting with bated breath for any information pertaining to this process. On Wednesday 2nd December, Ryan Reynolds shared a new advert for the dating website Match, and fans were quick to pick up that the version of ‘Love Story’ playing in the background did not sound like the original that they know and love. Swift confirmed later on that day on Twitter that the version heard in the background was in fact the rerecorded version, and the release of this snippet has caused excitement among fans.
The controversy over Swift’s masters goes all the way back to 2019, when it was revealed that her masters had been sold by Scott Borchetta, the former head of Big Machine Records (Swift’s former record label), to artist manager Scooter Braun, without her prior knowledge. Swift had left Big Machine Records for Republic Records after the release of her sixth album, without the ownership of her masters because Big Machine Records refused to sell them to her. Instead, they offered her the chance to ‘earn’ them back with each new album she wrote if she chose to resign with them. This means that Borchetta, who Swift has publicly referred to as a ‘bully’, was sold all the original recordings of Swift’s songs and albums, as well as the album art associated. Every time those songs are streamed or bought, the majority of the money was going to Borchetta, with Swift only receiving the royalties. In October of this year, Borchetta sold these on to Shamrock for $300 million, once again without Swift’s prior knowledge although, as stipulated in the agreement, Borchetta will still profit considerably from any money that is made off these masters.
Swift made it clear that she intended to rerecord her music as soon as possible, in order to reclaim her own music. Not only will this mean that Swift has full control over these recordings and can profit from their use, but also, depending on the similarity of the rerecorded versions to the original releases, she could potentially render the masters now owned by Shamrock redundant. This is likely to be the case, due to the loyalty of her fans, who are likely to boycott the original versions of her songs once the new ones are released.
From what we have heard of the rerecorded version of ‘Love Story’ so far, it is remarkably similar the version first released in 2008, with the addition of an eagle’s call and church bells, though these may be specific to this advert. Some fans also think that it sounds as if the lyrics have been changed from ‘baby just say yes’ to ‘baby just said yes’ in the chorus, which has sparked new engagement rumours regarding Swift and her long-term boyfriend Joe Alwyn. This follows suspicions that first arose after the release of her seventh album Lover, which has many references to marriage. However, it is difficult to say for sure just from this snippet whether the lyrics have been changed or if it’s just her accent. Although Swift’s voice has undeniably changed in the past 12 years, the return of her faux country vocal style suggests that she is trying to make these rerecords as authentic to the original as possible. This has disappointed some fans who were hoping for versions of some songs to be more similar to the alternative versions she’s performed on tour in the past. However, its similarity suggests that for Swift, this rerecord is about undermining her old masters just as much as it is about owning the new versions.
While it is great news that she is able to rerecord her old music and to own what is rightfully hers, there is no denying that this will be an enormous amount of work for Swift. She has tasked herself with rerecording 8 years’ worth of work that was based on extremely personal experiences, all of which she will have to mentally relive in order to recreate the same feel as the original versions. It is also worth noting that Swift will be unable to release her sixth album, Reputation, which was released in 2017, until November 2022, meaning that she is unable to truly own all her music for another 2 years.
Swift’s fight for ownership of her masters brings up a larger issue within the music industry of artists rarely owning their own work, often instead controlled by record labels or managers, and has the potential to set a precedent for other artists who may wish to do the same in the future. This is not the first time that Swift has set a precedent within the industry: in 2015 Swift wrote an open letter to Apple stating that she would not be making her hit album 1989 available on the streaming service because of their plans not to pay artists royalties during the free trial period, which led to them changing their policy.