Why Taylor Swift is re-recording her old albums, from Reputation to 1989

Taylor Swift has been enjoying some of the most prolific and creative years of her career to date, with a sold-out, record-breaking world tour, multiple album releases and a newfound billionaire status to boot.

Much of this success is thanks to the re-recorded versions of some of her biggest albums, from 2019’s Reputation to earlier releases such as Speak Now and Fearless.

The most recent of those re-releases, with each one billed as “Taylor’s Version”, is 1989. Originally released in 2014, it features major hits including “Blank Space”, “Bad Blood”, “Welcome to New York”, “Style” and “Shake It Off”.

Those who haven’t been following Swift’s career particularly closely might be wondering why she’s chosen to re-record so many of her already successful albums.

It began in 2019, when the music label Big Machine Records, which Swift had been signed to from 2006 to 2018, was sold to music mogul Scooter Braun – best known as the man who discovered and signed pop star Justin Bieber.

Along with ownership of the company, Braun also gained rights to the master recordings of all the music Swift had created during her time with the label. This included her first six albums: Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010), Red (2012), 1989 (2014) and Reputation (2017).

Taylor Swift ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ cover (AP)
Taylor Swift ‘1989 (Taylor’s Version)’ cover (AP)

This meant that anybody who wanted to licence any of Swift’s old songs for a movie or TV show would have to get Braun’s permission and pay him a fee.

Swift said she was dismayed by the news that her master recordings had been sold, claiming she had previously begged for the chance to buy back her own work.

“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 [CEO of Big Machine Records] would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future,” Swift wrote on her Tumblr account in June 2019.

“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.”

The “Cruel Summer” singer explained that she too had only learnt about Braun’s purchase of her masters when it was announced to the world. “All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years,” she said.

“Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it,” Swift said, calling it her “worst-case scenario”.

Justin Bieber (left) and Scooter Braun in 2020 (David Livingston/Getty Images)
Justin Bieber (left) and Scooter Braun in 2020 (David Livingston/Getty Images)

Less than two months later, Swift revealed that she would be re-recording her first six studio albums in order to gain total control and ownership of her past work.

What does Kelly Clarkson have to do with it?

Fellow pop singer Kelly Clarkson recently spoke about how the “Look What You Made Me Do” star sends her a bouquet of flowers with every re-recorded album she releases.

This is likely due to Clarkson being the first person to publicly suggest that Swift re-record each of her six projects originally released with BMR, writing on 13 July 2019: “@taylorswift13 just a thought, U should go in & re-record all the songs that U don’t own the masters on exactly how U did them but put brand new art & some kind of incentive so fans will no longer buy the old versions. I’d buy all of the new versions just to prove a point.”

Clarkson has, however, insisted that Swift would have come up with the idea on her own.

“I love how kind she is though,” she told E! in November last year. “She’s a very smart businesswoman. So, she would have thought of that. But it just sucks when you see artists that you admire and you respect really wanting something and it’s special to them. You know if they’re going to find a loophole, you find a loophole. And she did it and literally is, like, the best-selling artist I feel like of all-time now.”

Kelly Clarkson receives a bouquet of flowers from Swift after each re-recorded album she releases (AP)
Kelly Clarkson receives a bouquet of flowers from Swift after each re-recorded album she releases (AP)

Aside from newly added “From The Vault” tracks – unreleased songs that didn’t make it onto the original albums – the re-released records are nearly identical to the originals.

While Adam White found that 1989 (Taylor’s Version), “lacks the yearning strain of those original outings”, in his three-star review for The Independent, he stipulated that “this revamp does at least serve as a reminder of the album’s untouchable greatness”.

“This is some of the best pop of the 21st century. Potentially some of the best pop ever made,” he added. “A few bits of middling production, or some slightly-too-good vocals, won’t change that.”

Swift is currently preparing to release her first album of original material since 2022’s Midnights: her 11th studio LP, The Tortured Poets Department, is out on Friday 19 April.