#TaylorIsFree: Taylor Swift Takes Back What’s Hers

Taylor Swift knows what her words are worth—and she’s about to show us. By re-recording her music, she is reclaiming not only her work, but also her stories, memories and words.

#TaylorIsFree: Taylor Swift Takes Back What’s Hers
In a tweet last week, Taylor Swift condemned the recent sale of her masters and officially announced that she is in the process of re-recording her early albums. (taylorswift / Instagram)

Despite being one of the biggest pop stars in the world, Taylor Swift has never had legal ownership of her first six albums. Celebrity manager Scooter Braun bought her original label group Big Machine Records, along with the official recordings of her first six albums (called her “masters”), without her knowledge in 2019. Since then, she has unofficially discussed her plans to re-record her music.

On Nov. 16, after news broke that Big Machine Records sold her masters to Shamrock Holdings, once again without her consent, she officially announced that she is re-recording her older work for release on her own terms. As she says in her song “The Lakes”:

“I’ve come too far to watch some name-dropping sleaze / Tell me what are my words worth.”

Swift knows what her words are worth, and she’s about to show us.

In a Nov. 16 tweet, Taylor Swift condemned the recent sale of her masters and officially announced that she is in the process of re-recording her early albums. This much-anticipated announcement came after Swift said in summer 2019 that she would be contractually able to rerecord her first five albums as of November 2020. Her sixth album, “reputation,” can’t be re-recorded until 2022. #TaylorIsFree was trending on social media on Nov. 1—the date Swift became legally permitted to re-record her masters.

Swift re-recording her masters is not only huge news for Swifties excited for updated versions of their favorite songs, but also a feminist victory for Swift and all female musicians. Swift’s history with Braun goes further back than his purchase of her masters in 2019: She has accused Braun of harassing and gaslighting her for years. By re-recording her music, she is reclaiming not only her work, but also her stories, memories and words.

Swift’s History with Big Machine Records and Scooter Braun

In November 2018, when Swift ended her contract with Big Machine Records—her original label company with whom she launched her career in 2005—she left behind her first six albums with then-owner Scott Borchetta. He gave her the option of staying and “earning” the rights to one of her old albums for every new album she released, or the option of cutting her losses and signing with Universal Music Group who would let her own her future albums.

So far, she has released her albums “Lover” and “folklore” under Universal Music Group, with whom she signed in 2018—knowing that Big Machine was about to be sold, and the new owner would own her first five albums.

What she didn’t know was that Scooter Braun, a celebrity manager who has bullied Swift for years, would be the new owner of Big Machine and of Swift’s entire life’s work. Swift learned of Braun’s purchase when it hit the newsstands in June 2019. She broke her silence in a tumblr post to let her fans know that this sale to Braun was made without her knowledge or consent. She also accused Braun of years of “incessant, manipulative bullying” and said that this sale was her “worst case scenario.”

#TaylorIsFree: Taylor Swift Takes Back What’s Hers
Scooter Braun, seen here in 2010, was accused by Swift of “incessant, manipulative bullying.” (TechCrunch / Flickr)

Much of Braun’s “bullying” involves his client Kanye West. West’s “Famous” music video infamously featured a CGI rendering of Swift’s naked body (among other naked celebrities), and includes the line: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” Swift did not give her official consent or approval for either the rendering or the lyric.

Not only did Swift not approve, but West and his wife Kim Kardashian leaked a doctored version of a phone call between West and Swift in which Swift seems to be consenting to the lyric. This phone call was later proven to have been edited. The full version of the phone call shows that Swift never gave full approval for the exploitative music video or for the explicit lyric. As West’s manager, Braun is considered highly complicit in these invasive acts.

Braun also allegedly tried to prevent Swift from performing a medley of her older songs while being honored as the Artist of the Decade at the 2019 American Music Awards. According to a tweet by Swift, Braun and Borchetta told her that she could only perform a medley of her songs if she promised not to re-record her songs when legally permitted to.

In her own words:

“The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished. This is WRONG. Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of these songs. They did nothing to create the relationship I have with my fans.”

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The Second Purchase

This situation has just gotten worse for Swift. On Monday, Nov. 16, news broke that “an unknown investment firm” had purchased Swift’s masters from Braun for over $300 million. In a tweet, Swift named Shamrock Holdings as the firm. Braun sold her masters without her knowledge, and after the sale she found out from Shamrock Holdings that “they had wanted to reach out before the sale to let me know, but that Scooter Braun had required that they make no contact with me or my team, or the deal would be off.”

#TaylorIsFree: Taylor Swift Takes Back What’s Hers
Re-recording her masters is the latest in a long list of Swift’s resistances against the sexist entertainment industry. (taylorswift / Instagram)

Preventing interaction between Swift and Shamrock Holdings is just the latest in Braun’s attempts to override Swift’s autonomy and her right to own her work.

Swift was initially hopeful that anyone besides Braun owning her music could be a positive opportunity for her. Unfortunately, after attempting to partner with Shamrock, she learned that Braun will still be profiting from her music even after the sale. She ceased pursuing partnership with Shamrock and will be focusing on re-recording her music in order to finally own versions of her own albums.

Re-Recording as a Feminist Act

The bullying that Swift has experienced at the hands of Borchetta, Braun and West is typical of how men treat powerful women. This summer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines with her response to Rep. Ted Yoho calling her  a “disgusting,” “crazy,” “fucking bitch.” In a public statement about the abuse, Yoho did not address Ocasio-Cortez by name, nor mention his abusive language, but talked about his wife and daughters.

Ocasio-Cortez responded:

“I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men … What I believe is that having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.

More recently, Vice President Elect Kamala Harris spoke for interrupted women everywhere when she said, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” as Vice President Mike Pence spoke over her during the October 7 debate.

Taylor Swift, too, is speaking––and she will be heard.

Re-recording her masters is the latest in a long list of Swift’s resistances against the sexism of the entertainment industry. She has faced backlash throughout her career—whether that’s being slut-shamed, sexually harassed and assaulted, or made out to be a liar. As she says in her song “I Did Something Bad”, “they’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one”––and time and time again, Swift is proved to not be the witch others make her out to be.

There is no guarantee of significant financial gain in this re-recording venture. Rather, all signs point to Swift’s motivation to re-record stemming from an authentic desire to own her music. Her original versions will still exist, and there is nothing keeping companies who want to use one of her songs in a commercial, for example, from purchasing the rights from Shamrock Holdings instead of from Swift herself. While Swift’s most ardent fans will likely support her new versions above the original versions, it’s possible that more casual fans will continue to listen to the original versions, perhaps simply because they like those versions best, or because they aren’t aware of the re-recordings (or their feminist significance).

Swift, in cutting off all creative ties to Braun and Borchetta (and now Shamrock Holdings), aims to head into her creative future unencumbered by those who have tried to hurt her in the past. And she’s off to a good start: Most recently, Swift won Artist of the Year at the 2020 American Music Awards, which is the highest honor of the night, for the third year in a row. Only two days later, the Recording Academy announced the 2021 Grammy Nominations, with Swift sweeping up six nominations.

If we can learn anything from her narrative, it is that female artists deserve the right to own their work, and they must be believed, protected and supported.

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Julia Cornick is a senior at Smith College, majoring in Spanish and the Study of Women & Gender. She is from Atlanta.