Taylor's Version Era
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Taylor's Worst Nightmare
Months later, Taylor’s behind-the-scenes moves became front-page news when Big Machine sold to private-equity group Ithaca Holdings, an entity owned by music manager Scooter Braun, making him the owner of Taylor’s master recordings, the original versions of every track she had released with the company. Every time a fan, say, streamed “Shake It Off” or downloaded RED, Braun would now profit. On a business level, Braun’s move was smart: Taylor’s master recordings reap profits whenever the songs are streamed or bought. On the personal front, it was contentious: Taylor has stated multiple times that Braun has repeatedly bullied her. In an explosive Tumblr post she described Braun’s buyout as her “worst case scenario”, accusing him of “incessant, manipulative bullying” and Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta of betraying her trust. “Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy,” she wrote. “Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”
Making Her Intent Known
Things took another turn in November 2019, when Taylor announced that Big Machine and Braun were blocking her from performing old tracks at the televised American Music Awards ceremony (where she was awarded the “Artist of the Decade” award), as “they claim that would be re-recording my music before I’m allowed to”. Finally, an agreement was reached — in her performance, Taylor wore a white shirt covered in the names of her six albums released with Big Machine.
Another twist came in November 2020, when Braun sold the masters to LA investment firm Shamrock Capital in a rumoured $300 million deal. Taylor said she had been “hopeful and open to the possibility of a partnership” with Shamrock but ruled that out upon learning that “under their terms Scooter Braun will continue to profit off my old music catalogue for many years”.
The New Original Version
Taylor’s hope is to override her archival works with her new versions. “Artists should own their own work for so many reasons,” she wrote in a March 2021 Instagram post. “But the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really knows that body of work.” As Taylor’s Versions arrive online, the value of the originals will diminish — given the choice, fans will inevitably pick recordings that support Taylor over ones that profit Braun.
Proving Her Legend Status
Also in May, Taylor got awarded the prestigious “Global Icon Award” at the BRIT Awards in London. A few weeks later she also accepted the “Songwriter Icon Award” at the 2021 NMPA Awards. She stayed active all summer, guesting on two songs (“Renegade” and “Birch“) on How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, the latest album from Aaron Dessner’s Big Red Machine project — a charming continuation of the folklore & evermore era of gentle songwriting and rustic textures — and tossing out the Taylor’s Version re-recording of 1989’s “Wildest Dreams” to have a little fun with an unexpected viral moment the song was enjoying on TikTok.
Painting the World RED – Again
The Greatest Pop Star of 2021
Taylor was making the type of moves within and outside of her music that elevated an artist from superstar to legend. Those moves are often very hard to execute, but no one who had been paying attention was the least bit surprised when she stuck each landing. Wind in her hair, Taylor was there, and making it look all too easy.