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opinion Opinion August 29, 2019

Taylor Swift clearly has no plans to re-record her catalogue [op-ed]

Taylor Swift clearly has no plans to re-record her catalogue [op-ed]
Image: Twitter / Taylor Swift & Scott Borchetta

Taylor Swift has no plans to re-record her catalogue.

Yeah, I know, she said on Good Morning America that she planned to. Kind of.

When asked if she actually intended to remake, from scratch, six albums, she replied, “Oh yeah,” and “yeah, absolutely” when asked again, explaining this six-album slog was slated to begin in November, 2020.

“I’m going to be busy,” she said. That’s the least of it.

Think of the toil. Artistically, it would be a dull and unsatisfying undertaking. The results would be muted. It would completely derail her career if she was to either forgo recording new material in order to rehash the old, or attempt to double down and do both at the same time and sacrifice the quality of both. She’d also have to cut way back on touring and promotional duties, which isn’t an option when the machine is as big as Taylor’s.

The ostensible reason for these re-recordings is that Taylor is fighting for emancipation from Scooter Braun, who bought her entire catalogue from Big Machine, the label that released and paid for the first six albums she made. In actuality, it appears to be less a business move from Taylor, and more about personal battles. Which is as fine a reason to argue and fight for anything. Especially if she truly believes that Scooter Braun saw the purchase of her masters as a personal move made by “someone who tried to dismantle” her music legacy, as she claimed.

Owning the master recordings of one of the world’s biggest artists is undoubtedly a great business move, and might just be that. But it could also be a dick move on Braun’s part – it’s impossible to know. But all this arguing about ownership and control of catalogues ignores what lies at the centre of things: the actual music.

Remaking her old works may mean that Taylor Swift can technically own the masters to a recorded version of every song she’s ever released, to roll out again however she sees fit. But songs and recordings are very separate things, especially to the types of obsessive, over-analytical fans that Taylor seems to command. These new recordings won’t replace the old ones. They can’t.

There’s an interview with Powderfinger, done around the time they released Vulture Street, where one member talks about getting ‘demo-itis’ during the recording process. which is explained as getting too attached to the way a song sounds in demo form. It’s something prone to happen due to repetition and the fact that the first iteration of any song you hear seems like the ‘proper version’ to you.

Taylor Swift re-recording her catalogue will be a curio, a ‘spot the differences’ exercise, but she would have to radically reimagine each and every song in order for it to become vital to her fans.

Faithful recreations would be a disservice, a pointless and cynical exercise. The opposite ingredients are needed.

To her listeners, even to those with only a casual interest and knowledge of her work, these re-recorded versions would seem at best slightly wrong, at worst blasphemous.

She is thirty. She was fifteen. That difference alone is jarring, especially considering the very Disney teen bend of the majority of her first three albums. It suggests she doesn’t understand where the appeal of these records lies. Of course she understands. That’s why she won’t ever do it.

Everclear rerecorded a number of their early songs. I guarantee the only way they are listened to is by accident by someone meaning to play the original version.

And what is the end game? What would be the ideal outcome for Swift if she does actually follow through and re-record six albums? If you follow the logic, the goal is to erase Scooter Braun’s control over her back catalogue, which can only be done by completely swamping and therefore negating her earlier, entire catalogue.

If her new versions are to be the versions people buy and listen to, then it is an unqualified success from that end. But it removes her entire body of work prior to Lover, makes it unseen, irrelevant, inferior. That seems like an extreme, self-defeating move to make in what is clearly a personal war between her, Big Machine, and Scooter Braun.

So here’s my theory: Taylor won’t rerecord her own albums. She never intended to. She is making a point, and by the time November 2020 hits and she has to speak again on this, she’ll have ‘come to the conclusion’ that her fans have a special attachment to her earlier albums, and to re-record them would be doing them a disservice. It will seem like an altruistic move in service of her fans, while also being a humblebrag about her music’s very real role in the formative moments of millions. Which is true. She deserves to brag.

Her point about ownership and rights and Scooter Bruan will have been made already, too, and just the threat that she could re-record them will serve as warning enough. It could actually make the value of Big Machine drop in real-world monetary terms – at least initially, and maybe again around November 2020.

So, she’s not going to do it, and never intentioned to. She might do an MTV Unplugged-style acoustic best-of collection as a compromise, but even that probably won’t happen. She will continue to record new music that chronicles her life, because that’s what she does. Her life and her music is intertwined. She isn’t going to spend years meticulously recreating songs she wrote, recorded and toured as a teenager.

Her initial reason when deciding not to buy back her masters was fairly defiant and sound.

“Owning my masters was very important to me, but I’ve since realised that there are things that mean even more to me in the bigger picture. I had a choice whether to bet on my past or to bet on the future and I think knowing me, you can guess which one I chose.”

This was a text message sent in private to her label boss, and shared by him when Taylor told a different version in which she claimed she begged for her masters. What she wrote in her text message is most likely how she actually felt about this, in a business sense.

She let the chance to own her masters go, for sound business reasons, then got upset when someone she didn’t like bought them. It’s fair enough. The idea of someone you dislike and distrust holding any power over your life’s work would be a terrible thought. It would cause you to panic, and kick out, and make a plan.

But retreading her past and detailing her future is too big a sacrifice to make. She’ll never do it. I doubt she ever seriously considered it.


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