Was Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’ re-recording even worth it?

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You belong with me.

That’s exactly how Taylor Swift feels about the songs that she wrote and recorded for Big Machine Label Group over six studio albums — from her 2006 self-titled debut to 2017’s “Reputation.”

But after Swift failed to negotiate a deal to buy her masters (the original recordings) from high-profile music manager Scooter Braun, who purchased Big Machine and its assets in 2019, she decided to embark on a journey to reclaim her music.

“Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy,” Swift wrote in a 2019 Tumblr post. “Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.” (The masters are no longer in Braun’s hands, either, after he reportedly sold them to an investment fund for more than $300 million last year.)

Taylor Swift won the Album of the Year Grammy in 2010 for her original "Fearless" LP.
Taylor Swift won the Album of the Year Grammy in 2010 for her original “Fearless” LP.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

A defiant Swift vowed to re-record and reissue all of her Big Machine catalog, and she’s getting started with Friday’s release of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” a new studio take of her 2008 blockbuster that won her the first of her three Album of the Year Grammys.

But besides the six previously unreleased tracks from the vault— including guest appearances by Maren Morris (on “You All Over Me”) and Keith Urban, whom Swift opened for in the “Fearless” era — there really isn’t much new about it.  And that’s exactly the point.

Painstakingly faithful to the original album — including all 19 songs from 2009’s “Fearless (Platinum Edition),” plus her 2010 hit “Today Was a Fairytale” — this is designed to keep all future streaming and download revenue for this music right in Taylor’s pocket.

As a business move, it’s a shrewd one. But with such negligible changes in the arrangements and production that it’s hard to tell the difference, it’s a creative retread for an artist who just had a radical reset with last year’s “Folklore.”

The cover of "Fearless (Taylor's Version)"
“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”
Photo credit: Beth Garrabrant

But this is a project made for the principle of it — and no doubt Swifties will support their woman. Although Swift is probably the first superstar to re-record an entire album so similarly as a means to reclaim it, she isn’t the first to fight for the rights to her music. Here are some other A-list acts who took ownership of their tunes:

Prince

“Record contracts are just like — I’m gonna say the word — slavery,” the late legend told Rolling Stone in 2015. And he famously protested his contact with Warner Bros. Records by writing the word “slave” on his face and then changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. He eventually secured ownership of all future recordings after his mutual parting from the label in 1996.

Jay-Z

Savvy businessman that he is, Jay-Z won ownership of his masters as a condition of signing a new contract with his then-label Def Jam. Even after he left and launched Roc Nation, his masters eventually reverted back to his control. And now his company, Tidal, exclusively streams his music online.

Metallica

The heavy-metal gods signed a deal with Warner Music Group in 1994 that returned rights to all their master recordings in 2012. Then they launched their own label, Blackened Recordings, which now handles all of Metallica’s releases.

U2

Bono and company acquired the masters to all of their work with megabucks backing from Live Nation, with whom the band signed a 12-year deal in 2008.

Rihanna

After creating her own imprint under Roc Nation in 2015, Rihanna managed to acquire the masters of all her previous albums from her former label Def Jam. Go, RiRi!

Frank Ocean

Purchasing his masters and buying out the remainder of his contract from Def Jam, Ocean won the right to self-release his 2016 album “Blonde.”

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