SSince about 2018, Taylor Swift has been at the center of possibly the most fascinating contract dispute in the history of the music business since Prince. wrote “slave” on his cheek. It has been a fought conflict in public, in detail. No summary does the nuance justice, but the crux of Swift’s unhappiness is that the rights to her first six albums ran out right under her nose when her old label, Big Machine, was acquired by a man she considers an enemy: Scooter. Braun. .
Braun is Justin Bieber’s manager; More pertinently, he also directed rapper Kanye West in a time when West was tormenting Swift, another baffling tale wrapped in a double helix. The antagonism between Swift and West began when he interrupted her acceptance speech for the best female video at the VMAs in 2009. The video in question was you belong With Me – a hit from Swift’s hit 2008 album Bold. That album has now been fully re-recorded by Swift and was released on Friday.
Why? In November 2020, after months of hostilities exchanged through social media and the legal profession, Braun sold the Swift catalog to a private equity firm, Shamrock Holdings. As part of the agreement, Braun would continue to benefit from the use of Swift’s initial work on broadcast, radio, television and commercial platforms.
Swift is particularly opposed to the fruits of her youth labor going to the hands of a man she has accused “incessant and manipulative harassment“, On whose watch West made a video chillingly objectifying her sexually (other celebrities were also represented).
Swift’s radical solution is to make her first six albums worth significantly less by re-recording them, so that future uses favor her, not Shamrock or Braun. Because Fearless (Taylor’s version) – less one album and more an impressive chess move, the aural equivalent of ripping the rug off your antagonists.
First released in 2008 – 13 years ago, a favorite Swift number – Bold it was Swift’s second studio outing and first massive hit. When the album cycle concluded, she had the best-selling album in the US and a host of awards, including the Grammy for album of the year – she was the youngest winner of the award. even Billie Eilish.
It was a different world: When the album was released, Swift, just 18 years old, had recently broken up with a Jonas Brother. His songs were rooted in the country, but the foundations of his pop authorism were clear. The album’s overemphasis on romance was mitigated by Swift’s insight, which only deepened over time.
“When you are 15 years old and someone tells you they love you, you will believe it,” he sang regretfully in the autobiographical Fifteen, from the high point of view of someone who is not yet of legal drinking age in the United States. Swift’s signature improvisations were there too, Hey Stephen’s laugh, as well as the killer bridges that characterize many of her best songs, riding on the thermal of a key shift.
All this is still present, and there is more: six unreleased songs dating back to Bold album sessions plus a re-recording of Today was a fairy tale, a song that contributed to the soundtrack of the 2010 film Valentine’s Day. On Fearless (Taylor’s version)Swift has radically recreated the 2008 cover photo. Her sepia tint and the loose-fitting peasant blouse she wears strongly suggest the contemporary Swift from her 2020 soft-focus albums, Folklore Y Increasingly.
But he has strived to reproduce his original country-pop as accurately as possible, to better see Shamrock Holdings. It is a work of revenge, but also of love: Swift has rehired key contributors of the time and mixed them with members of his live band who played many of these songs live for years. Guests like Keith Urban, with whom he was touring at the time, appear on bonus tracks like That’s When.
These unreleased vault tracks are a kind of mixed bag. They are intended as sweeteners, selections from Swift’s rich vault of unreleased material, but she has carte blanche to present them as she pleases. They have ended as quiet iterations, combining the brighter and more direct singing art of the younger Swift with the watercolor production of the Folklore it was. There are exceptions: Mr Perfectly Fine can handle pastels, it’s a classic Swift song as cold as stone; Your all about me is equally rewarding, especially since it is an obvious precursor to 1989‘s Cleansed.
However, the top plays of the 19 re-recorded tracks that made up the platinum version of Bold – are a resounding success. Music verisimilitude is next to impossible, although if you were trying to sell this as a fake art, someone would eventually do it. The production can’t help but sound softer, the quality of the playing more nuanced: witness the interplay between guitar and banjo opening the new version of the title track, or in one of the album’s biggest hits, You Belong. With Me.
However, what really stands out is Swift’s vocals. He cannot reproduce his smoother, less skilled adolescent self. Plot your tones more cunningly now, an anachronism that is not a criticism. But spending time with all this youth only highlights the quality of Swift’s composition. Fearless (Taylor’s version) it is both an art project executed by chance and a strategic move that the industry will study closely for some time to come.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism