Taylor Swift smashes Beatles record with three UK No 1 albums in nine months

Songwriter’s remake of 2008’s Fearless amid industry dispute gives her the fastest run of successive No 1 albums ever

Taylor Swift’s re-recorded version of her 2008 album Fearless is the UK’s No 1 album, breaking a record held by the Beatles for 54 years.

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is Swift’s third album to hit No 1 in the UK in the space of 259 days – following Folklore on 31 July and Evermore on 18 December 2020 – breaking the Beatles’ longstanding record for the fastest accumulation of three No 1 albums. Between 1965-66, the British band topped the charts with Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver in the space of 364 days.

The new release is Swift’s seventh UK No 1 album and sold 21,145 units (combined physical and digital sales and streams) this week, compared with the original recording’s 545 (2.6% of the new edition). In the week prior to the release of Taylor’s Version, the original sold 634 units.

When music mogul Scooter Braun bought Swift’s former label in 2019 – and with it the master recordings of her back catalogue – the songwriter pledged to re-record the six albums she made for Big Machine in order to regain ownership of her work. She described the sale to Braun as her “worst-case scenario”, accusing him of bullying her in his role as former manager of Kanye West and manager to Justin Bieber.

Braun sold Swift’s recordings again in 2020 to US private equity firm Shamrock Capital. Swift said that on both occasions she was not given a fair opportunity to buy back her recordings. Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta reportedly gave her the opportunity to “earn” back one old album for every new one she recorded before he sold the label to Braun. Swift said discussions with Braun about buying her catalogue from him were stymied when his team asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would also prevent her from speaking negatively about him in public.

Braun has not commented on the matter since the original sale, when he complained that Swift’s fans were targeting his family online.

Swift has implied that Braun remains involved with Shamrock’s ownership of her music. Re-recording her albums devalues their investment. As songwriter, she can deny the use of old material in sync requests for media including film, television and advertisements.

Creating like-for-like versions of her work that she owns outright means music supervisors will have to request use of her recordings if they wish to include her music in their work. Swift’s re-recorded Love Story soundtracked a commercial for Match.com; Wildest Dreams, from her 2014 album 1989, will feature on the soundtrack to the Dreamworks animated feature Spirit Untamed.

The trailer to Spirit Untamed – video

When Swift signed to Universal/Republic in 2019, the terms of her contract gave her ownership over her master recordings. She has released three original albums for the label: Lover, in 2019, and the folk-adjacent Folklore and Evermore.

Swift has seven albums in the UK Top 200 this week: Folklore (No 37), Evermore (38), 1989 (43), Lover (66), Red (127) and Reputation (128). The original release of Fearless does not feature; nor do her 2006 self-titled debut, or 2010’s Speak Now.

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) has been well received by critics, with a score of 82 on reviews aggregator Metacritic. Guardian pop critic Alexis Petridis wrote: “If you want to construct a narrative of a beloved female artist pouring her heart and soul into work that resonated with her audience – writing the songs that saved your life, as the Smiths put it – versus the dead-eyed male music-industry operatives interested in nothing but money, [Fearless is] a very smart place to start.”

Swift’s fanbase has got behind her re-recording mission, sharing information on how to “hide” the original version of Fearless from Spotify and how to illegally download it for posterity.

Wise to her habit of seeding clues as to her future activities, they interpreted her remarks in a sketch on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert this week as a sign that 1989 will be her next album to get the re-recording treatment.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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