Taylor Swift didn’t just update the lyrics for Better Than Revenge – she updated her public image

Taylor Swift didn’t just update the lyrics for Better Than Revenge – she updated her public image

We’ve all been waiting patiently (and not so patiently) for the latest in Taylor Swift’s “Taylor’s Versions”. At first, these seemed to be just re-recordings so that the pop icon could own her own music. But, as each album was released, small changes to the narrative of the album keep cropping up, leading to growing anticipation over what Swift is going to give us next and how that might change the way we’ve understood the album and the artist’s narrative.

Swift is on a journey to rerecord all of the studio albums released while contracted to Big Machine Records. This process is necessary because her original 13-year contract (signed when Swift was only 15) awarded all of the rights to her masters to the record company and not her. After several failed attempts to buy back her rights, Swift made the decision to re-record, remaster and re-release all ten studio albums released under that contract.

To avoid legal challenges from Big Machine the new releases need to be different enough to be considered new. This comes both in the form of the title change to include “(Taylor’s Version)” and in some instances subtle instrumental, vocal or lyrical changes.

On the new albums, you’ll find a matured, updated sound and songs “From The Vault”, which are previously unreleased tracks similar to B-side tracks sometimes released with remastered albums.

One of the most controversial updates that you’ll find in Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is the lyric change in the song Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version). These changes are seen as positive by many fans, but unnecessary by others.

Remastering and updating

Remastering music offers the opportunity to release an album after it has been filtered through updated technology. Often this means being able to eliminate artefacts in the sound, or fix frequency or balancing issues.

In Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) and many other remastered albums, the changes in sound and quality are subtle, but they are there. For example, the specific tone of the intro slide guitar in Dear John (Taylor’s Version) has a deeper and fuller body to it than the original. The mix itself sounds fuller, still dreamy, but the mix is also slightly louder and clearer.

Swift’s vocals also have an extra layer and body to their sound in the newer version as well. This makes her voice sound fuller, but also highlights how her voice is more mature now.

Better than revenge?

In addition to these new orchestrations and mixing of instruments, Swift has taken the opportunity with her Taylor’s Version recordings to update the lyrics in Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version).

Swift alters the original, controversial lyric “But she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress” to “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches”. The original lyric was criticised for the seemingly anti-feminist vibe that underpins it.

This time around, Swift has taken the opportunity to rewrite the narrative and shift away from a more obvious criticism of this character’s sexual activity and instead focus on how she was alluring to the male character.

While Swift did not publicly announce this lyric change, it became a topic of conversation surrounding the re-release. The lengthy prologue Swift includes on the album does not even explicitly address the change, but alludes to the change. The lyric change was confirmed by fans who examined the included lyrics when they received their physical copies of the new album.

Swift’s lyrical change has been mostly well received. However, Rolling Stone essayist Larisha Paul argued for the original lyric to be left unchanged as a demonstration of “Swift’s complicated journey through coming to an understanding of intersectional feminism”.

For some fans, this change is welcome because it is a direct recognition of that shifting attitude and, by extension, the greater paradigm shift we’re experiencing as a society that is actively trying to move away from “sexual bullying” and the way it perpetrates misogyny.

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Shifting the Narrative

Even something as simple as changing the guitar tone in a track or the way it is mixed can greatly change the narrative put forward or interpreted by the listener. Remastered albums are almost always a point of contention because the success of a remaster is heavily dependent on how well the artist pulls it off.

Swift has been using these re-recordings as an opportunity to update the narrative for herself. The first controversial shift of narrative fans really latched onto was the All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) which provided a new perspective on one of Swift’s relationships. It was accompanied by a 14-minute short film/music video to further tell this new narrative.

In this instance, Swift was taking back some of the power she had lost in a relationship. But now, with Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), Swift is trying to push forward a narrative of positivity and feminism. In the prologue to the album, Swift states that she used Speak Now to speak sincerely about everything that had happened to her up to that point in her life (2010) – all the criticism for her music, doubts about her abilities, and scandal with Kanye West.

The lyric change in “Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version)” is only one example of how Swift is changing the narrative she puts out there. Her prologue, coupled with her documentary and all of the other Taylor’s Versions released or yet to come, demonstrate a sincerity and dedication to honesty and strength.

By openly commenting on where she was when she wrote the original Speak Now in the prologue to Taylor’s Version, Swift invites her audience to see how she has grown and stumbled through her own mistakes. The lyric change is only one version of that.

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