In case you do not live under a rock, there is a good chance you have heard of Taylor Swift and a better chance that you have listened to at least one of her songs. Love her or hate her, she has made waves in the music industry over the past two decades, branching out and succeeding in multiple genres. If you search the song ‘Love Story’ on Spotify, you will find two versions of what seems like the same song, except one of them says ‘Taylor’s Version.’
What is ‘Taylor’s Version’, and why did Taylor Swift decide to re-record albums and songs that topped the charts and won her countless accolades in their time? The answer is simple: she did it for ownership. The albums and songs might have her name next to them, but every single one of her songs was owned by her record label, which meant that they had control over how her songs were used. Her former label, Big Machine Records, constantly denied her the right to buy her masters from them and sold them to Ithaca Holdings, owned by music manager Scooter Braun (a name closely associated with Justin Bieber). He then sold her masters to another company, Shamrock Holdings, in 2019. It was considered an extremely shocking move, considering Braun has publicly bullied and ridiculed Swift. Every time you play a Taylor Swift song from her first few albums, money goes into Braun’s account. Thus, Taylor Swift decided to re-record all six albums so she could own them and control how they were used.
This here seems like a conflict of power and control. Still, the way that the gendered dynamics played out throughout this struggle shines a more profound light on how institutions such as media industries are structured to favor men. Swift has often talked about how women in the industry are seen as puppets to be controlled, from political views to physical images and, as it seems, even artistic autonomy. But how does feminism play into this? If we break it down, this was a case of two men using legal procedures to exploit a young woman’s work and strip her of autonomy. Braun’s legal team also pressed Swift to sign an NDA that would prevent her from discussing him negatively, which Swift’s legal team described as silencing “an assault accuser by paying them off.” Instead of opting for the easy way out, Swift decided to risk it all and re-record all six albums, believing they would do well commercially.
Taylor Swift’s song ‘The Man’ voices her frustrations about being a successful woman in a male-dominated industry pretty well, and it is a song worth listening to. Having been scrutinized from the age of 19, constantly attacked by the press, and being shamed for ‘writing songs about the multiple men she dates,’ reclaiming her music is also a way of reclaiming herself.