History is littered with insecure men who take credit for the accomplishments of women. It’s hardly a new phenomenon and it persists largely because the systems that allow such men to do this also leave their assertions unchallenged.

But if anything can be called the pop music headline for 2023, it is that Taylor Swift owns the world right now. Her most recent new album, Midnights, is still commanding the charts, as is the most recent of her “Taylor’s Version” re-recordings, 1989. The Eras Tour earned over a billion dollars. The subsequent concert film made an addition ton of cash.

Aside from a train of conservative commentators complaining about her omnipresence and trying to chip away at her golden plinth with Nu-Country Astro-Turfing, she’s fairly unchallenged. Arguably, her closest competitor Beyonce did well this year on stage and in movie theaters, but not as well. You can feel Olivia Rodrigo hanging by the edge of the stage, waiting to storm in, but she’s not there yet.


The most remarkable thing about this dynamic is that – for the most part – the women of pop seem very supportive of each other. Does Beyonce want to rule the pop world as the undisputed Queen Bey? Pretty sure yes. Does Olivia want to attain that level of ubiquity? Pretty sure yes. But from the outside looking in, it appears that there’s a lack of career toxicity on display, and that’s refreshing.

It’s not Kanye West claiming that Taylor Swift owes her career to him.

At the same time, there is a man that may be instrumental in Swift’s delirious ascendance, and I bet he never wanted that. Let’s talk about the power of Taylor’s Version.

Rallying Cry

I was at a grocery store, in their crowded parking lot, and there it was, a decal on the rear window of an SUV. “As for me and this car, we listen to Taylor’s Version.” Uncomfortably, this subverts the Biblical passage found in Joshua 24:15.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”


Days later, I see another vehicle with another decal, a little less heretical. It just read “Taylor’s Version.” And since then, this has become a longstanding trend. It is a phrase that hits in multiple ways. While it is a specific declaration of which edition of Swift’s music they prefer, the one she has complete ownership of, it also speaks to taking the power away from all men who traditionally assume control, profitability, and spotlight from women. The decals are primarily a middle finger to Scooter.


In June 2019, powerful entertainment manager Scott “Scooter” Braun purchased the Big Machine record label from Scott Borchetta for $330 million. Shortly before the transaction, Swift’s contract with Big Machine ended and she signed a deal with Republic Records. Still, Braun essentially assumed control of Swift’s recorded legacy, a very lucrative asset given her devoted fanbase, referred to as the “Swifties.”

Equally important to this deal was that Braun’s career is known to so many because of his highest-profile client, Justin Bieber. By owning Swift’s master tapes, he had control of – and profited from – all that work she did, but could also keep his thumb on the scale when it came to Bieber’s position as pop’s reigning powerhouse. Braun seemed to relish this new power dynamic and this came out in very antagonistic ways.

Undaunted, Swift announced she would be re-recording all those older albums, supplementing them with songs that didn’t make the cut the first time around, and retaining full control. At that time, it sounded like a foolish effort because music fans have seen this before.

Mr. Blue Sky

There are many examples, but few are as salient as when the film Adaptation, directed by Spike Jonze, was being promoted. In 2002, the trailer featured prominently the song “Mr. Blue Sky,” written by Jeff Lynne and recorded by Electric Light Orchestra in 1977. You would not think it today, but that song was not a huge hit for the band. By far, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” from the same album, Out Of The Blue, did better. But the inclusion of that song in Adaptation’s promotions, several movie and TV needle drops, and commercials later, the owner of the masters, Sony, was not hurting. “Mr. Blue Sky” experienced a kind of revival through it.

Lynne likely would have received residuals as the writer of the song, but the bulk of the profits would be denied him. He, and many other legacy artists, decided to rerecord their big hits with the hope that they might get in on the action. It was a gamble, and most failed to achieve what they wanted. First of all, longstanding relationships between marketing departments and the big labels would always complicate negotiations. Second, many of these artists had aged significantly, so even the most spot-on reproductions would fail to sound the same. Third, most casual consumers would not be moved enough to replace the old versions they had for years with these new renditions.

In some circumstances, duplication was impossible. For illustration, take Squeeze’s hit “Tempted,” from 1981. The song has not one, but four vocalists on it. Most prominent of these is Paul Carrack who was only with the band for two albums, and not concurrently. Band mainstays Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford are there, of course. Add to them the co-producer of the album East Side Story from which “Tempted” came, one Elvis Costello. The re-recording, while a fine version in its own right, would sound as it did live for decades: with Difford and Tilbrook only. Well done, but not the version people know, and not the version advertisers, music supervisors, and radio stations would demand.

You could intuit that Taylor Swift’s choice, then, was destined to fail.

The Church of Taylor Swift

To say Swift is the most powerful pop star right now, perhaps of all time, is not hyperbolic. Her fans will openly suborn blasphemy to let you know they will choose the Taylor Version. Are these versions better or just different? If not different, then why?

I can only speculate. In the time-strangled scenario, Scooter Braun would reap the benefits of owning Red, Speak Now, and 1989, and Swift would just have to suck it up and hope future recordings might be as profitable. I think why the Taylor’s Versions recordings are so revolutionary and profitable is because of what they represent, more than what they actually are. It is the manifestation of Swift’s autonomy and in many ways is a concrete, real-life example of what so many trite “empowerment” anthems wished to be.

The Swifties look to Kanye West, Scooter Braun, any number of exes, any number of setbacks that could have and have derailed other careers, see Swift coming through these challenges, and becoming the most powerful entertainer of 2023, and they derive hope from this. I think most of these fans will still reckon the unfairness of a world where the guys still hold the lion’s share of control, where the prettiest girls still get the attention they want but not the respect they desire, where hard work often just brings more hard work, but can look to Swift and think, “But it’s not impossible.”

Back to Braun

Justin Bieber is still a potent force in pop, but he’s not the center of that universe anymore. On the men’s side, it appears Drake has one-upped him. Kanye West has imploded violently. It’s a different world.

I can envision a dimension where Scooter Braun acted slightly differently, negotiated with Swift instead of taunting, holding the masters above her head saying, “I got ’em and you can’t have ’em.” I could imagine them coming to an agreement that was mutually beneficial. But in this situation, maybe Swift doesn’t ascend to these dizzying heights she now enjoys. She needed her big bad, and Braun offered himself up with untold degrees of arrogance.

The fans embraced the Taylor’s Versions not as replacement but as a symbol of victory, and a sign that such a victory was achievable. By forcing her hand, Braun donated his shoulders upon which Swift now stands, not as an ally or mentor, but as a colossal ego that didn’t realize he was handing her the means with which to make it happen.

By Dw Dunphy

Dw. Dunphy is a writer, artist, and musician. He has contributed many articles that can be found in the MusicTAP's archives. He also writes for New Jersey Stage, Popdose.com, Ultimate Classic Rock, Diffuser FM, and Looper. His interview archive is available at https://dwdunphyinterviews.wordpress.com/