By Hannah Griffiths
You may be familiar with the feeling of excitedly unwrapping a birthday present, only to realise it’s an item you already own. It’s disappointing – who needs two signet rings when you only wear one at a time? But many Swifties would be delighted to unwrap a copy of Taylor Swift’s Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), arguably a carbon copy of her 2010 album under the same name.
Swift announced she was planning to re-record her first six albums in mid-2019, shortly after revealing that her songs had been sold to American music manager, Scooter Braun, who she claimed had treated her with “incessant, manipulative bullying” during the acquisition of her songs and her feud with Kanye West. She has since re-released four of her six albums. Though the tracks themselves are identical to the originals, each has had its own new dramatic reveal, merchandise, artwork, limited-edition physical copies, and even multi-award-winning music videos. With both versions available on streaming services, Swifties can choose to listen to whichever version they prefer.
Through Swift’s open discussions about her treatment by record labels, Swift has given new power to artists themselves. Artists are becoming increasingly independent, and social media and streaming services have become the most popular platforms for sharing music directly from the artist, rendering record labels redundant. Swift has certainly sparked dialogue and change.
Songs like 2019’s The Man and 2020’s mad woman highlight her experiences with misogyny throughout her career, and her speaking out is a triumph for women in all industries. Her social media showcases a supportive community of female friends, artists, and fans rallying around her music.
Commercially, Swift’s re-recordings seem to have benefited the music industry, but it’s worth considering the precedent they set for music production. While Swift has attempted to perfectly replicate her songs, there is no doubt that the new versions are more polished. The difference is particularly noticeable in Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). The 2010 version, written by Swift, was praised for its youthful authenticity, down to the shaky breaths as she sang about breakups. While 33-year-old Swift finds it easier to hit the high notes, she lacks the original intensity of emotion. Being told to ignore its shortcomings feels like casting aside a piece of history.
This is not to speak of the only moment (so far) where Swift deviates from her original track – she tweaks a line in Better than Revenge, often accused of ‘slut-shaming’, to match her 2023 feminist stance. While (of course!) there is no issue with writing respectful lyrics, in the era of cancel culture it’s difficult to know what effect this could have on the industry. Artists now have the opportunity to re-release commercially successful versions of songs which have become politically incorrect or disrespectful.
While Swift is the first with such an extensive campaign, many others, such as Prince and Def Leppard, have re-recorded their hits, though few have matched Swift’s commercial success. Not all re-recordings have been directly influenced by conflicts with record labels – recently, Demi Lovato has released Revamped, a collection of her past hits. Unlike Swift, however, Lovato has chosen to reimagine her songs in a pop-punk style to match her newer music, adding collaborations with artists including Slash and The Maine. While Swift’s re-recordings represent progress for the commercial music industry, perhaps Lovato’s represent greater progress for music itself, offering artists infinite opportunities to reimagine and reinvent themselves without losing the past.
Crucially, though, both Lovato and Swift are capitalising on a recent media trend of nostalgia. Each re-recording announcement from Swift reminds listeners of the ‘era’ of the original album, and ‘SwiftTok’ has responded with thousands of videos reminiscing about who they were when the originals were released, and how far they’ve come since then. This is hardly restricted to Swifties – step into Jimmy’s any day of the week and you’ll hear drunk students screaming Mr Brightside, Hey Ya!, What Makes You Beautiful…all tracks over a decade old. If classics are what we still love to hear, who are we to question artists finding ways to benefit from it?
Illustration: Hayleigh McLean