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Taylor Swift: reclaiming her story.

First released in October 2012, Swift’s fourth studio album showcased every painful aspect of a splintering romance, and most of all, someone frantically trying to piece themselves together with the remnants of a thousand scattered moments. Now, nine years after its initial release, the album is being rerecorded by Taylor herself to regain the rights to her own music. And indeed, after building an empire of intricately personal songs, should selling her story really come so cheap?

For those not familiar with the situation, here’s a short recap:

Swift signed to Big Machine Records in 2005, when she was 15. After rocketing to radio-play heights, the contract expired in 2018 and crossed into the pop stratosphere with sold-out stadium tours throughout six albums. She then switched labels to Universal’s Republic Records, where, in her new contract, Swift made sure to secure ownership of her future masters. People change, and so do the contracts that govern them. Big Machine still owns the masters, or original recordings, of her first six albums, as is typical with many recording deals.

Still, Big Machine sold to private-equity group Ithaca Holdings, owned by powerhouse music manager Scooter Braun. He then sold her masters to another company, Shamrock Holdings, for a reported $300 million in 2019. Braun’s move was smart on a business level: Swift’s master recordings reap profits whenever the songs are streamed or bought. What’s definitely worth noting is the feud that shook the internet when Kanye West released not only the song Famous with the lyrics, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” The controversy was further amplified when Kanye released the music video - which included the nude likenesses of multiple celebrities, including Swift - without their permission.

Following this: Shit. Hit. The. Fan - like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked, countless cases of cyberbullying, most remarkably (and repeatedly) from Scooter Braun’s clients such as Justin Bieber and Kanye West. Understandably, Taylor slammed the previously mentioned sale publicly and promised to rerecord the original six albums, this time with the masters under her own control. Anyone who hits play on an old version of Swift’s early songs right now will still pay into the bank of Braun. Still, Taylor is taking back what is rightfully hers and offers the ultimate middle finger to the bureaucracy of the music industry.

Photo: Beth Garrabrant

Now, this brings me to the re-release Red. Not much has changed; her re-recordings are, so far, faithful to their originals - with subtle production updates and a newfound maturity in her voice. What has changed is the intention behind it. Red also takes on a new life with neverbefore-heard songs from what she calls her vault, making the album just over two hours long and well worth sticking with till the last second. Not only is it beautifully coloured with the passing of time and messy experience lacing every word with inevitable maturity, but it is also catharsis in every sense of the word. Every single song holds the naivety and clusterfuck of feelings of a 22-year-old, but with the passing of a decade, there’s a newfound edge seeping from every word.

What genuinely makes me emotional is how Taylor offers not only herself but her listeners a reclamation of our own stories. Speaking from my own experience, and I do believe many others will relate, I turned my back on Taylor Swift during my teens. I went from being a Swiftie, a lover of her music and her strength and grace, to having my young love tainted by the words of misogynists and, eventually, leaving it behind altogether. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the years, but it all crashed down on me like an avalanche last year with the release of Folklore and eventually Evermore. I never made the conscious decision of despising Taylor. Still, with every bitter remark I heard uttered about her by (mainly) men and tabloids, I was convinced she was a maneater and someone who did not deserve anything other than the horrid words spewn at her.

Red was, in fact, the last album of hers that I got the chance to appreciate before losing touch. Hearing it anew as a 23-year-old raging feminist, compared to hearing it as a naive 14 year-old on the brink of turning on one of my favourite artists thanks to deep-rooted sexism, is something I thought I was prepared for, but alas, here I am, sobbing with the album on repeat. I genuinely believe that the aforementioned disregarding of my own enjoyment of Taylor’s music was the first time misogyny truly sank its vile claws into everything I was and stood for. Listening to the album now feels like reclaiming parts of myself previously lost in the hands of men who knew what they were doing, controlling women, pitting us against each other.

Keeping with the theme of a disregard of self, I have to mention the All Too Well short film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien, shot on 35mm film with cinematography by the brilliant Rina Yang.

The next part contains spoilers from the short film.

I was genuinely nervous to watch it, knowing from the lyrics that it would contain elements that I have awful memories tied to. A sequence subtitled “the first crack in the glass” comes after the O’Brien character lets go of Sink’s hand during a dinner party with his friends. The fight that follows in the kitchen is emotional, with O’Brien yelling, Literally, a moment that Idon’t even fucking remember, that you’re like fucking holding me hostage over. It’s insane. Despite having seen (and loved) Dylan in countless roles over the years, I’ve never felt this profoundly rooted hate towards any of his portrayals before (which is a good thing, after all). As someone who’s grown up experiencing emotional abuse such as gaslighting (manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity), this scene utterly shattered me. I felt my lungs seize up and choked on tears threatening to spill. Still, I felt most sincerely seen as the film wrapped up, especially in Sadie’s bone-chillingly sincere performance. Such is the power of Taylor Swift’s poetic universe; it rips you open, digs up the damnable lie that the past is the past, showing us every version of ourselves – before gently placing the broken shards back together in a beautiful mosaic, hands bleeding, and even then, still on her tallest tiptoes, spinning in her highest heels, she’s shining just for you.

Written by Eirunn Oppheim


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