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The Cultural Impact of Taylor Swift and the Re-Release of Red (Taylor’s Version)

If you were to look at my recent song history since Friday 12 November (Taylor’s Day) all you would see is Red (Taylor‘s Version). I have been looking forward to this album for months. One of my friends and I had a Red-themed picnic in honour of this day. I, along with many other Swifties, have been trying to get my heart broken just so I could listen to the album with a new perspective. Alas, that didn’t happen. But did I spend two hours on a spiritual journey, being transported to my 11/12-year-old self while listening to the album at 20 years old, the instant Red (Taylor’s Version) came out? Did I fight sleep in order to stay up until 2am just so I could watch the premiere of the All Too Well short film? Of course. The question, for those who don’t know, is: why? Why is Taylor Swift re-releasing albums from a decade before?

In 2018, Taylor announced that she was leaving Big Machine Records for Republic Records and Universal Music. Big Machine Records’ founder was Scott Borchetta, and they had a very good working relationship. He then sold Big Machine, which included all her master recordings, for $300 million to Scooter Braun, known for being Justin Bieber’s manager. She stated that this was one of her “worst case scenarios”, that Braun was one of many who had bullied her for years. Later, she revealed that she tried to negotiate with Big Machine to attain ownership of her first six albums, but this attempt was quashed. They stated that she could, however, go back to Big Machine Records and “’earn’ one album back at a time”, one for every new album she created. In comparison, her new contract stipulated that she would retain ownership of her master recordings on the label and that any “potential sales” of Universal Music and Republic Records’ Spotify shares would provide a distribution of money to their artists.

 “This is what happens when you sign a deal at 15 to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says ‘Music has value,’ he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it,” Taylor stated. “He knew what he was doing:  they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever.” Taylor alleged, in November 2019, that she was being prohibited by Borchetta and Braun from performing her older music at the American Music Awards and having her music in her Netflix documentary. In her speech at the Billboard Women in Music December 2019 celebration, she said: “The fact is that private equity is what enabled this man to think, according to his own social media posts, that he could ‘buy me.” Braun, in November 2020, sold Big Machine Records’ assets for $450 million to an investment film. This includes Taylor’s masters of her first six records.

Taylor, therefore, is re-recording the albums that she does not own. She believes that artists deserve to own their own work, the work they created. Additionally, re-recording her work is a means for her to partially guarantee that profits from the streams, sales and licensing of her sales, will go to her instead of whoever owns her previous work. It also devalues the old songs.

So far, she’s re-recorded Fearless (Taylor’s Version), the Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version) single, and Red (Taylor’s Version). To further incentivise people to listen to the albums, Taylor has included songs written for the albums that were never released- songs from “The Vault”. Her re-recordings are faithful to the originals, with subtle changes and more maturity evident in her voice. Red (Taylor’s Version) boasts a whopping 30 songs: the deluxe version of Red, along with songs from the Vault, and the original 10-minute version of All Too Well, a fan-favourite (along with a “Sad Girl Autumn Version”). She’s collaborated with Phoebe Bridgers (a fellow sad girl), Ed Sheeran, and Chris Stapleton on the Vault songs. Taylor has also gotten Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, her friends and producers on folklore and evermore, to work with her on Red (Taylor’s Version).

In contrast to Fearless, Red has gotten much more promo and attention. She released a short film for All Too Well, which she wrote and directed. It is exquisite storytelling, and it stars her, Sadie Sink, and Dylan O’Brien. It has long been speculated that All Too Well is about her relationship with Jake Gyllenhall, who was around a decade older than her. This has blown up, and dragged, up their relationship on social media, with many memes commenting on the scarf she left at his sister’s house- the one he’s still got in his drawer, even now.

In 2012, when the album was originally released, reviews were divided. Her mastery in songwriting was mostly lauded. However, critics also deemed her fourth album to be “mediocre”, that some of the songs were “inauthentic and awkward”, and she was written-off as a “twee singer-songwriter”. Yet, this album has been a staunch fan-favourite. Her lyricism in Red is a blend of poetry and raw emotion that has resonated with people worldwide on a very personal level. This is a talent. Red was an experiment, a “mosaic broken heart”, and a turning point for her sound. It was the bridge between country and pop, especially as her image started to change from that of  innocence to the maturity of one’s 20s.

Since Red (Taylor’s Version) was released, songs from the album have been streamed 90.8 million times. This record breaks the prior top-spot: held by Taylor with folklore, which was streamed 80.6 million times in its first day. She also broke the Spotify record for most-streamed female in a single day: her music had over 122.9 million streams on Friday 12 November, of which approximately ¾ were from Red (Taylor’s Version). With 105 000 sales in 5 days, it has broken the record for the biggest vinyl sales week in Nielsen history. The previous record was held by her second lockdown album, evermore. In four days, Red (Taylor’s Version) overpowered the original one on both social media and streaming services. The short film, with over 14 million views, became the number one-trending video on YouTube. Barely three days later, she released a music video for “I Bet You Think About Me”, a Vault song, directed by Blake Lively. 

Taylor Swift has, to put it lightly, been through a lot. There was a time where it wasn’t “cool” to like Taylor Swift, to be a fan of hers and her music. Finally, people are starting to appreciate and recognise her genius, incisiveness, and her pure, unadulterated talent. The impact she has had on her fans is unparalleled: the Easter eggs, the theories, the pure love we have for her as a person, as well as her art. Here’s to hoping the album gets the Grammy it deserved the first time around, as we eagerly await and try to decipher what the next re-release will be.

I'm an aspiring writer and editor majoring in BA English, Linguistics and Media Studies at UCT. I love literature, reading (when not prescribed), poetry and the power words carry. I'm into the academia aesthetic and I love a good cup of tea.
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