Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault and sexism. Reader discretion is advised.
Taylor Swift came into the industry at 16 years old ready to show off her country-pop twist on music with an unfortunate naivety that would haunt her for the next two decades.
In November 2020, Swift’s contract with her label, Big Machine, ended. Finally free to own her art, Swift decided she wouldn’t sign another contract with the company. She publicly railed Big Machine and the man who recruited her at 15 years old for taking away her rights to her own music.
But the company stonewalled Swift, refusing to give her the rights to her masters. Her first six albums generated too much profit for the company to give them up. This isn’t uncommon. Artists like Kanye West and Kelly Clarkson have spoken publicly about their frustrations with the industry. The sad fact is most artists don’t own their own music.
Most artists who make it to a level of fame like Kanye West and Kelly Clarkson just move forward after their contract expires and take over their own production. But Taylor Swift is not most artists.
She announced her plans to re-record all of her studio albums owned by Big Machine and file them under her own name. This unique project hasn’t yet been done by any big-name artists. Recording over a decades-worth of music and hunting down all of the other artists featured on each album is not a small task, but Swift decided the effort was worth it.
Each album Swift plans to re-record has been branded “Taylor’s Version.” The albums have the same songs, and listeners can’t tell the difference between the old and the new. Taylor’s Version comes with songs from the vault, which are tracks she didn’t release back in the day, but she’s decided to release now.
She’s already released “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” and this week swifties get “Red (Taylor’s Version)." While re-recording her masters and making her struggle public is a personal triumph for Swift, it’s also a victory for women everywhere.
The “Silence Breakers” won Time's People of the Year award. These were the women who called out big industry names for sexual misconduct. Among them is Swift. Before she announced her re-recordings, she took a DJ to trial for groping her. She sued for a symbolic one dollar. Her testimony was blunt and she made it clear her case had more to do with making a statement than winning money or fame. The public couldn’t say she was a woman lying for money or fame. She doesn’t need money or fame –– she already has it. After Swift won her dollar, she pledged to give back to survivors of sexual assault through donations.
"I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this," Swift said in a statement following the verdict. "My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard."
For Swift, the fight has always been for all women. Throughout her trial, she gave interview after interview explaining her reasoning for a symbolic trial. Her message was that even women with power, money and fame can have their bodies violated. So imagine how women without power, money and fame are treated by the judicial system.
Swift in her Tumblr post that announced her re-recordings, talked about the empowerment behind taking back her masters. She explained how women in the industry don’t have the same standing as men and don’t receive as much money as men do for the same industry accomplishments.
“[My masters being sold] is my worst-case scenario,” Swift wrote online about Big Machine. “This is what happens when you sign a deal at 15 to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty' is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says ‘Music has value’, he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it.”
“Red (Taylor’s Version)” comes out Nov. 12 at midnight. This is the second album Swift has worked to have ownership of again. Streaming her album helps Swift as an artist, and also can help female artists in the future realize they can take back their power and their masters. While Swift is the first to go through the process of re-recording and releasing all of her previous works, she may not be the last.
Stop giving Big Machine and its executive Scooter Braun money. Men like him manipulate young artists and steal their earnings. It’s hard to know what goes into making a song and even harder to figure out where the profit from that song goes. But Shifter made supporting Taylor Swift easy. Check out this playlist that only includes songs owned by Swift herself.
If you or a loved one has suffered from sexual abuse or assault, please visit RAINN or call the national sexual assault hotline for support.