Nearly two months after Scooter Braun’s $300 million acquisition of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group was announced, Taylor Swift may have finally figured out what’s better than revenge. The pop star claimed to CBS This Morning that she hopes to re-record her first six albums, circumventing Braun and Borchetta’s ownership of the masters for her first six albums. On GMA, she elaborated on her plan, alleging that her contract states that she can start re-recording those albums in November 2020. (If she’s allowed. According to TMZ, Big Machine may have a production clause that prevent her from reproducing versions of the song that are too close to the original version. The label did not reply to a request for comment.)
Re-recording early albums as rebellion against a current or former label is not uncommon. Def Leppard recorded “forgeries” of their old hits to block Universal from releasing their catalog online in hopes of coming to an agreement over compensation. Prince released re-recorded versions of select singles before re-gaining ownership of his masters. More recently, JoJo re-recorded her first two albums after being released from her original label, Blackground Records. Prior to re-recording those LPs, neither of the original albums were made available digitally.
Swift’s back catalog still feels relatively new and has maintained popularity even as her sound has shifted from country to synth-pop. With that in mind, here are some ways we humbly suggest Swift could approach re-recording her pre-Lover music.
1. Make them competitive
The major downfall for Swift in this case could be that her new versions will not only heighten nostalgia for the originals but also make them more valuable. She has a fervent fandom on her side, but the final product of these re-recorded songs/albums will decide if Swift officially and literally gets the last word. The trick is figuring out if sticking close to the original versions or pivoting to something new will be the secret to beating Braun and Borchetta.
2. Lean into nostalgia
This is a big one for Taylor: She’s built her career on songs written straight from her teen diaries, an aspect of her creative life that she’s continued to emphasize to this day. (Swift included pages of her old journals in deluxe versions of Lover.) Going back and re-recording songs from earlier in her career is ripe with that Swift nostalgia factor, and capitalizing on that fact would generate interest for the new versions.
3. Guest appearances/duets
What if Taylor brought on Tim McGraw to do backup vocals for “Tim McGraw”? What if she dueted with Phoebe Bridgers, or Billie Eilish, or Neko Case, or Willie Nelson? Swift has unprecedented access to pretty much anyone in the industry, and if she wants to bring on new collaborators to her old songs, there’s little that would stop her.
4. Add alternate lyrics and new verses
Ever the meticulous songwriter, Swift has teased alternate lyrics, demos and takes for some of her songs. These new versions could mean that we could uncover the Swiftie Holy Grail: the never-heard 10-minute version of “All Too Well.”
5. Reunite with past collaborators
Producer Nathan Chapman and Swift’s former co-writer Liz Rose were integral parts of Swift’s first three albums, and it would be a shame to not see the pair reunite with her now for this project. Whether she remains faithful to the original songs’ execution or not, none of her other collaborators will understand the DNA of those tracks like they would. The same goes for her work with Max Martin and Jack Antonoff since she moved further away from country.
6. Adjust some lyrics that haven’t aged well
Look, we’ve all been teens, though Swift’s early lyrics still sound more mature than songs written by people twice her age. As she’s gotten older, she’s distanced herself from the problematic “Picture to Burn” line “I’ll tell mine that you’re gay,” about a guy who cheated on her. Swift would now get an opportunity to re-imagine those early lyrics in a way that reflects the woman she is now.
7. Swap genres
Past live shows have seen Swift updating some of her earlier songs to reflect her current pop style. (Take this 1989 arrangement of “Love Story.”) It’d be a bad idea to do this for all the country Taylor songs – can you imagine hearing “Mean” with synths? – and wouldn’t make sense to remix the already electronic-heavy songs from 1989 or Reputation. But throwing in a couple of pop versions of the older stuff, or stripped-down versions from the more recent albums, would incentivize fans to seek out the new recordings.
8. Creative release strategy
This is a no-brainer for Swift and her team, who execute some of the most involved and strategized album release plans in the music industry today. Instead of dropping a totally redone early album overnight, it would make sense for Swift to release a couple of redone songs – well-known singles like “Love Story” or “You Belong With Me” – before unveiling a full album. And the new album versions, if she decided to go that route, could play into the nostalgia factor by including conceptual tie-ins: Swift’s audio diaries, lyric sheets, demos, etc.
9. Music videos for non-singles
Swift could up her promotional game even more with music videos for fan favorites that never got them the first time around. Yes, we would love to see an official “All Too Well” clip arrive on YouTube. But there’s a plethora of options here: “Should’ve Said No,” “You’re Not Sorry,” “Speak Now,” “Treacherous,” “New Romantics,” “New Year’s Day”…
10. Highlight vocals, above all else
One of Swift’s biggest advantages is that her voice has never sounded better. Nearly two decades of performing in stadiums across the world have made her vocals stronger and a touch deeper, without totally affecting the tone. This is where her first few albums would benefit the most: a more seasoned performer now adding resonance and maturity to her teenage reflections. Think of this as the millennial version of Joni Mitchel revisiting her 1969 track “Both Sides, Now” on the 2000 album Both Sides Now.