The Genius behind Taylor Swift’s re-recordings (Taylor’s Version) - Hypebot (2024)

As Taylor Swift continues to dominate music globally, her ongoing project of re-recording her discography to take control of their masters is making a big splash in the industry and among her fans.

by Third Bridge Creative of Chartmetric Blog written by Vrinda Jagota, aThird Bridge Creativecontributor.

Whether she’s hiding dozens ofeaster eggsin a single music video or inviting her most dedicated fans tosecret listening sessions, Taylor Swift loves to embark on elaborate self-mythologizing projects. Her (arguably) most involved and successful project to date has been re-recording her first six albums, which she originally released between October 24, 2006, and November 10, 2017. She’s already released four of what she’s calling her “Taylor’s Versions” (also known as “TVs”) —Fearless, Red, Speak Now,and1989— with fans wildly debating and speculating about when the re-recordings of the remaining two,Taylor SwiftandReputation, will be shared.

Taylor Swift became the first artistsigned toScott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group in 2005 and released her first six albums with them. In 2018, she joined Universal Music Group/Republic in adealthat allowed her to own the masters, or original recordings, of her future releases. However, the masters of her previous releases were left in the hands of her old label, meaning Swift had no control over the usage of her back catalog. Borschetta offered her the option to earn back those rights via new album releases, but Swift didn’t take the deal,claiming she knewthat the label would be sold. It turns out she was correct.

In 2019, Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdingsreportedlypaid Borchetta$330 millionto buy Big Machine Label Group and, with it, the rights to Swift’s masters — though Braunhas claimedthat he tried to meet with her and offered to sell herback her catalog. In 2020, Braunsoldthe masters to an investment fund, Shamrock Holdings, for over $300 million, which Swift described as her “worst case scenario”in a blog post. However, because Swift is the primary songwriter on all the songs, she has publishing rights over the melody and lyrics. In other words, she can re-record them and receive royalties when the new versions are streamed, sampled, or used in films or advertisem*nts as she owns those masters. Since 2021, Swift has re-recorded four of the six albums Braun bought, leaving only her debut self-titled album andReputationto go.

This project is happening while Taylor Swift is at a career-high. In 2020, she releasedfolkloreandevermore, two critically acclaimed, introspective folk albums that sharply contrast the campier pop of her preceding records,ReputationandLover. These two later projects re-established her as a poetic storyteller with a knack for character writing and a sharp attention to detail.

Not only is she in complete control of her masters for these releases, but shealso negotiated a conditionthat states that if Universal Music Group sells its Spotify shares (the label has a 3.5% stake in the streaming service), some of the money from the sale will go to all UMG artists. That money is “non-recoupable,” which means it won’t count towards the money the label gave them as part of their advance. As Voxput it, this deal means that “the label’s Spotify money will go directly to its artists, right away.”

After five years away from the stage, she has also put together a tour which, like the re-records, revisits each era of her career thus far. TheEras Tourhas been wildly popular: it is projected to gross$2.2 billionin North American ticket sales. The tour’s opening night brought in as much revenue for businesses in Glendale, Arizona where it took placeas the Super Bowldid when it was hosted in that same stadium the month prior. And, asBillboardwrote, the week that the tour began, on-demand US streams increased by 50%. They continued to rise and were up to 83% increase by the eighth week of the tour. The Eras Tour movie alsohadthe biggest concert film opening weekend ever, beating out films like ​​Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé,andOne Direction: This Is Us, bringing in an estimated $126 million globally on its opening weekend. And, thanks to the attention it got as the second song in her Erasset, herLovertrack “Cruel Summer” is her 10th No. 1 single, charting five years after it was released.

The Genius behind Taylor Swift’s re-recordings (Taylor’s Version) - Hypebot (1)

All this hype certainly helps draw attention to Swift’s re-recordings, two of which had been released by the time she startedThe Eras Tour. But even if she wasn’t on tour, Swift could always depend on her fanbase, one of the most ardent and organized in the pop music landscape, to rally behind anything she does. They have always been eager to support her, especially becausethey seethe re-recorded projects as a female artisttaking controlover her work and her legacy. Taylor makes it especially easy on fans: the re-recorded albums are sonically very similar to the originals, so they serve as neat replacements. She’s also gotten support from institutions like iHeartRadio, who has agreed only to stream the re-recorded versions of the albums (thoughInsiderrecently found that they have broken that promise). So, does all the hype and fan support translate into streaming and sales numbers? Are the re-records replacing the original versions in terms of public consumption?

Fearless (Taylor’s Version), April 9, 2021

Fearlesswas Swift’s second studio album. She was already moving away from making strictly country music, though you could still hear banjo and mandolin in the mix. It is full of fairytales, larger-than-life romance, and shimmering crushes. As Hazel Cills wroteforPitchfork, on this record, Swift “took her teen self seriously and demanded others do the same.”

Fearlesswas the first re-recording Taylor did, and thefirst re-recorded albumto ever hit No. 1 on theBillboardcharts. The new version, released on April 9, 2021, had 291k AEUs in its first week, while the original had 6k units, which was a decrease of 19%.In the following year, the original only got 242,000 new AEUs, not even reaching the number the re-recording reached in week one. When the original was released in 2008, it had 535k AEUs in the first year.

As with the other three releases, the Spotify popularity of the original version ofFearlesshas remained lower than that of the re-recording.Fearless (Taylor’s Version)debuted with a Spotify popularity index of 95 in comparison to the original’s 71 on the same date. The two are now at 91 and 71, respectively.

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Red (Taylor’s Version), November 12, 2021

Though she was famously upset that she didn’t win the Album of the Year Grammy forRed(a lossthat inspired herto write1989, a debatably more sonically consistent album), her fourth studio album is widely regarded asoneof herbest. Its re-recording also has the highest popularity index on Spotify and has been deemed the strongest re-record by publications likePitchfork. OnRed, she blurred country and pop and wrote some of her career’s most devastating, vulnerable songs. During this era, she wore a lot of 1950s-inspired clothing and emphasized her love of baking and crafts to convey a kind of girl-next-door persona.

Red (Taylor’s Version)sold 605k AEUs in its first week out. The original version lost 38% of AEUs that week and 40% in the 12 weeks following.In its first six months, the original version earned 351k AEUs, which means the re-record earned more (nearly twice as many!) AEUs in one week than the original did in six months, a feat thatFearless (Taylor’s Version)also accomplished.

RegardingSpotify popularity, there is the most significant gap between the original album and the re-recording ofRed. The re-record hit a popularity index of 100 within a week of its release, whereas the originals were in the low 70s. It is now at 93 forTaylor’s Versionversus 66 for the original.

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Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), July 6, 2023

Speak Now,Swift’s third studio album, was released when she had just turned 20 and moved out of her parent’s house while grappling with her transition into adulthood. On tracks like “Never Grow Up,” “Long Live,” and “Innocent,” she desperately tries to hold onto her childhood naivete, while on “Dear John” and “Last Kiss,” she details heartache and loss that forced her to grow up.

The original album’s AEUsdropped40% that week. They decreased by 59% in the 12 weeks following.Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)debuted with a Spotify popularity index of 95 in comparison to the original’s 84 on that same date. The gap increased:Taylor’s Versionhas stayed in the 90s, while the originals have fallen to the 70s. As with1989 (Taylor’s Version), it seems that the popularity of the original versions decreases as listeners start streaming and buying the re-records. However, in the lead-up toTaylor’s Version,the popularity of the original albums went up as fans prepared to hear the re-recordings.

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1989 (Taylor’s Version), October 27, 2023

1989is Swift’s fifth studio album and marked her explicit transition from country to 1980s-inspired pop and a tonal shift from vulnerability to playful nonchalance. These songs were about shaking off heartache andsatirizingher image as boy-obsessed. She cut her long hair into a sleek bob and emphasized her female friendships at this time to move away from the innocence she was channeling on her earlier records.

The re-recording made history as the most streamed album in a single day in Spotify’s history andalso becamethe most streamed album of the year within those first 24 hours. The first week it was released, perBillboard,1989 (Taylor’s Version)had 1.6 million album-equivalent units, a metric comprising physical and digital album sales, track sales, and streams. The original album had 21k album equivalent units (AEUs) the week that1989 (Taylor’s Version)was released, down 43.6% from the previous week and down 36.9% from the previous 12-week average.

Looking at the album’s Spotify popularity at the time of the release of the new project shows a similar trend. On October 27, the original Deluxe version of1989had a popularity score of 89, whileTaylor’s Versiondebuted with a score of 91. As the score of the new version rose over the next few days, the popularity of the original decreased. By November 10, the rerecording reached 98 where it has stayed since, while the original versions both dropped by one point.

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Why has this been so successful?

The most obvious answer is fan support. Swift has the kind of endlessly dedicated fans who willcamp out for five monthsto secure good concert seats. Ahead of Swift’s first re-release, fans released tutorials onhiding the original Fearless recordingson Spotify so the songs don’t play accidentally. They are especially fervent about supporting this project because Swift has positioned it as a feminist issue,writing“The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.” It’s framing that aligns with Swift’s turn towards girlboss (corporate)feminismin recent years.

A number of the re-recorded songs have gone viral on TikTok, from “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” which had been used in over 580k videos, compared to 80k videos for the original song, to “All Too Well (10 Minute Version),” which has been used in 170k posts — leaps and bounds more than the original, which was only featured in 4k posts. TikTok popularity is clearly a factor that Swift takes into account because in September 2021,when she noticedthe original version of the1989track “Wildest Dreams” was going viral on TikTok, she dropped her re-recorded version of it for fans to use on the app — a full two years before officially releasing1989 (Taylor’s Version). Her songs are no longer on the platform due to UMG’s dispute with TikTok, but her fans are alreadyfinding workarounds.

From The Vault

Every new album also contains a handful of “From The Vault” tracks, which Swift says she wrote when she made the original album but couldn’t release then. They often featurecontemporary artistslike Phoebe Bridgers, Hayley Williams, and Kendrick Lamar. She understands the appeal of these tracks, which fans see as intriguing backstories and additional context into her career: they like to speculate about why the songs were initially left off and what they indicate about her perspective. Ahead of the release of1989 (Taylor’s Version), Swiftpartnered with Googleto create puzzles that unearthed all of their song titles. The site was so popular that it crashed almost immediately.

One of thebiggest hitsamong these tracks is the 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” Though it was never a single, the song was a fan favorite and one of Swift’s favorites. She mentioned an unedited 10-minute version of the track, which became part of Swiftie lore. The track has 761 million Spotify streams, making it her 19th most streamed song ever. It has over triple the number of streams of the original version, which has 241 million.

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Off1989, her most recent re-recording, the vault track “slu*t!”debutedin the US at No. 1, receiving over 40 million Spotify streams in a week. On the US Spotify Charts, the top four tracks the week the album debutedwere songsfrom the vault.

“I Can See You,” a vault track fromSpeak Now (Taylor’s Version), also went No. 1 on the US Spotify charts, likely boosted by the aforementioned music video, which featured Swift’s ex, Taylor Lautner.

The Mastery of Taylor’sTaylor’s Versions

The re-recording project has been a huge success. Each new release has driven down streams of the original recording thanks to fan support, Swift’s popularity and ubiquity during her massive Eras Tour, interest in the new songs found on each record, social media attention, and more.

The project is so successful that it impacts the way labels write contracts. According to music attorneysinterviewed byBillboard, record companies like Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are asking their artists to wait 10 years, sometimes up to 30 years, to re-record old releases. This is a drastic increase in time from the industry standard, which isusually“five to seven years from the release date of the original, or two years after the contract expired.”

Swift is so beloved because her open-hearted, keenly perceptive songwriting speaks to universal feelings of longing, heartache, and loss. She is also skilled at packaging herself as a product. Her changes in aesthetic, sonic direction, and persona with each new album have given listeners countless access points to relate to her music. Through the re-record project, she has returned to these eras from a new, adult perspective. Listeners can reflect on how she has changed while still revisiting all the moments that made her who she is now. She has taken one of her key strengths — her branding and self-mythologizing — and doubled down on it, making the re-recordings and the Eras Tour an era in and of itself.

Alana Bonilla on 02/19/2024 in Major Labels | Permalink | Comments (0)

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