Taylor Swift rose to fame with songs pouring her heart out while discussing everything from feeling left out at school, to her first major heartbreaks, to her relationship with her mother, Andrea. With eight studio albums under her belt, she became the best-selling digital artist of all time, the artist with the most American Music Award wins, and the first female solo artist to win the Grammy for Album of the Year twice. Today, she only owns two of those eight albums: 2019’s Lover and 2020’s folklore.
For her first six albums, like many artists, Swift didn’t own control of her masters, or the studio recordings of her songs. Despite writing or co-writing every single song she has ever released, she only maintained publishing rights, which give her the authority to decide whether her songs can appear in movies, TV shows, etc. For example, she allowed the mysterious Jack Leopards and The Dolphin Club to cover her 2017 song “Look What You Made Me Do” to soundtrack a Killing Eve episode.
In November 2018, Swift announced via Instagram that she was joining Republic Records with a contract that allows her to own her master recordings, along with paying other Republic artists more money from Spotify shares. She closed the post by extending “heartfelt thanks” to Scott Borchetta, who signed her to his label, Big Machine Records, after seeing her perform at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe in November 2004. She released her self-titled debut album in October 2006, and stayed with the label through her November 2017 album reputation.
News broke in June 2019 that entertainment mogul Scooter Braun, best known for managing Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, purchased Big Machine Records for $300 million, making him the new owner of Swift’s first six albums. Swift quickly took to Tumblr to share her disappointment, writing, “This is my worst case scenario. […] When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to.” Borchetta fired back with a blog post accusing Swift of turning down a request to perform at the 2018 March For Our Lives event, which Swift later called “unbelievable” in an interview with Rolling Stone.
The conflict worsened in November 2019, when Swift accused Braun and Borchetta of preventing her from performing a medley of her past hits at the American Music Awards, as well as not letting her include her old music or concert footage in her then-unannounced Netflix documentary, Miss Americana. The Big Machine team denied this and accused Swift of owing them millions of dollars, which her manager later refuted. Swift went on to sing hits like “Love Story” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” in her AMAs performance, which began with a statement on Big Machine’s ownership of her work.
Swift opened up about her fight for her masters on Tumblr in late June 2019, just under two months before releasing Lover, the first album she owns the masters to. She explained, “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.”
In an interview with CBS This Morning in August 2019, Swift announced her intention to “absolutely” rerecord the albums that Big Machine retains the rights to, as well as denouncing the seemingly fake friendship between Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun. She also told Good Morning America that she would be able to rerecord her first five albums starting in November 2020. She explained that she thinks “artists should own their work” and feels “very passionate” about the subject.
While Swift will most likely keep the new recordings similar to the original albums, there’s a good chance she’ll make some changes to make them more interesting for longtime fans. Swift explained her thoughts on the project to Ryan Seacrest, saying she may do things like adding “Better Man” to the new version of 2012’s Red – though she wrote the song for Red, she scrapped it and gave it to country group Little Big Town in 2016. It’s unclear how long Swift will spend rerecording each album, though she made her most recent record, folklore, in a matter of weeks during quarantine.