Much to the dismay of my housemates, I am possibly the biggest Taylor Swift fan and have been for as long as I can recall. Her music has stuck with me through each phase of my life and each evolution that Taylor Swift has endured has somehow aligned with the phases of my own life.
When the news broke of the sale of her masters, which we wrote about here, it was heartbreaking because the music that had defined basically every stage of my life no longer belonged to the person who lovingly created it. These records hold great significance to Taylor as well as her millions of fans. To know that someone completely unassociated to those experiences now profits from them is repulsing and essentially invalidates the experiences and associations they hold. When Taylor announced she was re-recording her masters and releasing new, wholly owned versions of her work, she confirmed to her fans and the world that the invalidation of her work and the experiences of those who care for it will not stand.
The discourse surrounding the re-recordings of Taylor Swift’s masters has focused a lot on the ethical dilemma of masters’ ownership as well as the effective business strategy to isolate Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta, who now own her masters, from being able to profit from her work. What people fail to understand is that these songs and this music is Taylor Swift’s life story. It’s every diary entry, every crush, every victory and every loss set as musical poetry. These songs detail the incredible growth and triumph of a woman throughout the most formidable years and detail with incredible musicality some of life’s most personal moments. That is what makes the works of Taylor Swift so successful, the way that every person can find something to relate to in her lyrics and the way her songs turn private moments of pain into pieces of beauty intended to be publicly consumed. Songs like “All Too Well” and “Last Kiss” are ballads describing the most painful of heartbreaks and betrayals with a level of delicate intimacy the listener feels as though their own diary entries are being read back to them. Other songs like “Speak Now” and “Love Story” hold this fragile dedication to love, this feeling of hopefulness that many are afraid to admit to; the works of Taylor Swift embody and repeat sentiments only privately felt. The success of the music belongs to its honesty to the way it validates and encourages emotional processes intended to be hidden away.
The power of Taylor Swift is in her emotional availability. The first two Taylor Swift albums, self-titled and Fearless, are these stunning affirmations of teenage girlhood. They chronicle things like first loves and heartbreaks and being cheated on, which are experiences most often commodified and vilified in modern media and society. They are honest expressions of what it is like to have your boyfriend break your heart, to start high school and grow as a person when everything feels earth shattering. Then, as Taylor grows and her experience broadens, so does her music: her sound evolves and the emotional expression deepens, yet they remain just as easily accessed and understood by listeners. Albums like Red and 1989 define what it feels like to have your heart broken but later completely find yourself; Speak Now and Reputation fully embody discovering self-expression and personhood. These albums totally and fully embody phases of womanhood, often disregarding the media. By publishing these albums and speaking an unequivocal truth, Taylor Swift has been able to encourage and validate an entire generation of women in their experience of life and growth. I know for certain that I would not be this version of myself without Taylor Swift.
This sort of symbolic affirmation to her fans is most evident in the recent release of Fearless (Taylors Version). The album sounds nearly identical to its predecessor with the same content, but with more mature vocals and tidied production. Fearless is very much an album about teenage girlhood, first heartbreaks and those overwhelming emotions you experience when you’re seventeen. This stage of life is easily discredited in public spheres, with the experiences of teenage girlhood is most often discredited due to the engrained systems of misogyny and the patriarchy, but Taylor Swift’s Fearless is a stunning tribute and dedication to it. By releasing the re-record of Fearless, Taylor affirms to her fans and young girls everywhere that their experiences of adolescence is valid and worthy of representation in the media. The album focused on the experience of girlhood, and being the first album re-released is symbolic of Swift’s efforts to validate and publicize the experiences of women. Once again, it says that no one can take credit for your success or exploit your worth. By taking back ownership of this work, Taylor Swift is signaling to the world that the experiences and emotions of girlhood is valid and deserves respect, and that it cannot be taken away or diminished as many make it out to be.
As the next phases of re-recorded albums are released, Taylor Swift will once again signal to her fans and those beyond that phases and experiences of your life are valid, that they are deserving of your ownership and though they may be discredited, are worthy parts of you and your identity.