Music artists who took back control

As Taylor Swift releases the first of rerecorded albums following a dispute over her masters, we look back at other acts who took back control of their careers.

Taylor Swift is no stranger to controversy, and when news broke in 2019 that, as part of a deal to buy her former record label, the masters for her first six albums now belonged to music impresario Scooter Braun, all eyes were on Taylor to see what she'd do next.

There was certainly no love lost between Scooter and Taylor, who accused the record label owner of bullying her. Soon, fellow music biz folk, and fans, were suggesting Taylor might re-record her first six albums and in an interview, when asked if she intended to do so, Taylor said "absolutely".

Fast-forward to 2021, and the first of those rerecordings has arrived in the form of Fearless (Taylor's Version). The results are impressive; not only has Taylor stayed faithful to the original songs, but her vocals even sound similar, despite the original album being released 13 years ago when she was 18. 

The rerecorded album is set to earn Taylor her seventh UK Number 1 album this Friday - the original topped out at Number 5

Taylor's situation may be a fairly unique one, she's certainly not the first artist to challenge the status quo and take control of their own career or material. We look at a few other stars who decided to do things their way.

JoJo

The former child star, who debuted with a Number 2 hit in 2004 with Leave (Get Out), JoJo was embroiled in a long legal battle with her original label Blackground. When it was over, in 2015, she signed a new deal with Atlantic and carried on releasing music, but when it came to her self-titled debut and follow-up The High Road, JoJo was in a similar situation to Taylor.

When the albums were removed from streaming services, JoJo was anxious that fans be able to hear them – so she decided to rerecord them. "If it weren’t for my fans being very vocal on social media, I would not have done this," she told Billboard. That's stan power for you!


Jojo reworked both the songs and the cover of her 2004 debut

Prince

The late icon was famed for being very protective over his material, image and career. Amid a contractual spat with his record label in 1993, Prince changed his name to an unpronouncable symbol and became known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (or "Artist" if you were in a hurry). He changed it back in 2000 once all the legal business was out of the way.

Prince liked to have strict control over how and when his music was released – this is why he fell out with his label in the first place – and he was not a fan of having his music existing digitally. Speaking about the effect of the internet on music, he said: "I personally can’t stand digital music. You’re getting sound in bits. It affects a different place in your brain. When you play it back, you can’t feel anything. We’re analogue people, not digital." 

For long enough, his music was sparsely available to download or on streaming services, although he did sign up to be on Tidal when Jay-Z relaunched it. Since his death in 2016, more of his music – including unreleased tracks from his infamous vault – has found its way online. This July sees his previously unreleased Welcome 2 America, which he recorded in 2010 - and the title track is all about his views on the superficial nature of social media, and corporate monopolies in the music industry.

Spice Girls

Mel B, Mel C, Emma, Geri, and Victoria were all about the Girl Power, and they took it to the next level when they sensationally walked away from their manager, twice! Original manager, Chris Herbert, who helped form the band, was ditched shortly before they became successful, the Spice Girls moving on to impresario Simon Fuller.

Then, at the height of their success, it was Simon's turn to be left in the cold, as toward the end of 1997, the Spice Girls opted to go it alone, kind of, and manage themselves. Sadly the fivesome couldn't "hold tight" together too much longer – within six months, Geri took control of her own career and quit the band to go solo. See the Spice Girls' record-breaking chart history in their archive.


(Rex/Shutterstock)

George Michael

There were early signs George Michael was not to be trifled with when, during the campaign for his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 – his second solo outing – he opted not to appear on either the artwork or in the song's accompanying videos. This is why we have the iconic video for Freedom '90, featuring a slew of supermodels, yes, but it turns out George wasn't too happy with his record contract, and the fact his label would be able to reject any material they didn't like.

Cue a lengthy legal battle to get George out of the deal which meant he didn't release an album for five years and, ultimately, the case went against George and he lost. Another label came to the rescue and bought him out of his deal, so George could release Older in 1996, landing two Number 1 singles in the process. He had a bit of a dig at the label in the video for Fastlove too, and it looked like all bridges were burned. But, no, after two albums on Virgin, he went back to Sony under his own terms. Never say never when it comes to getting back with an ex!


George wasn't in the vid, but he was on set with the supermodels.

Beyoncé

Who run the world? Queen B has been in the business since she was a kid and has certainly learned more than a thing or two about handling her own career. Things really kicked up a notch when in, 2011, she dismissed the services of her manager after 21 years. That might not sound overly impressive, but her manager at the time was her dad, Matthew.


Who run the Louvre? Bey!

Beyoncé's next album was recorded in secret, with a full set of accompanying videos, and then surprise-released in December 2013 as an Apple exclusive. Since then, Beyoncé has exerted tight control over her entire career: she hardly does interviews in person, and even written ones are a no-no, she prefers to write a piece herself than answer questions.

Two subsequent albums, Lemonade (alongside a short film of the same name) and her teamup with husband Jay-Z, Everything is Love, were also released with no hints. For the video of APESH*T, Beyoncé and Jay even managed to film the lot in the Louvre – with unprecented access – without anybody beyond their inner circle knowing. Goodness knows what she'll do next – but you'll only find out when she's ready for you to know. Beyoncé pulls the strings. See Beyoncé's full chart history here.

Article image: Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock