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How a Kid Flick Got Taylor Swift to Remake a Previously Off-Limits Song

The traditionally choosey superstar has been more willing of late to license her songs for films and television. Just don't ask for original versions.

As DC League of Super-Pets demonstrates, there’s nothing for an animated super-dog to do when his owner cancels a standing movie night for a date with Lois Lane but angrily retreat to his bedroom and blast Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” But the track in Krypto’s headphones is not the original hit from Swift’s blockbuster 2014 album 1989 — it’s a re-recorded version, like the “Taylor’s Version” editions of her albums Fearless and Red released last year.

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Although Swift has yet to release the “Taylor’s Version” edition of 1989, the re-recorded “Bad Blood” popped up in the Super-Pets film, released in late July, giving fans an early preview of what the redone edition will sound like. “We approached her and said, ‘We really love “Bad Blood” in the movie — do you have a Taylor version we could use?’” says Season Kent, the film’s music supervisor. “She hadn’t recorded it yet, but agreed to record it for us.”

In addition to unveiling a bit of the re-recorded “Bad Blood” in Warner Bros. Pictures’ story of Krypto and Co., over the past 14 months, Swift has previewed reworked versions of multiple 1989 songs through family films and series. She first tried it out with “Wildest Dreams (Taylor’s Version)” in Universal Pictures’ June 2021 animated Spirit Untamed, then put it out in September as a single, which sold 13,400 downloads, streamed 8.7 million times and debuted at No. 37 on the Hot 100. Last May, she revealed “This Love (Taylor’s Version)” in the trailer for Amazon’s young adult romance series The Summer I Turned Pretty; it reached No. 50 on the Hot 100. (“Bad Blood [Taylor’s Version]” hasn’t come out via streaming services, so the only way to hear it currently is through DC League of Super-Pets video clips and trailers.)

As Swift fans await the next Taylor’s Version release – Red (Taylor’s Version) was released last November, and scored the second-biggest debut sales week for an album in 2021 – these early previews, positioned in kid-friendly properties, may be attempts to connect with younger listeners who weren’t around when the older hits were first released. Or Swift might be trying to score an Oscar nomination – in addition to the “Taylor’s Version” synchs, Swift released “Carolina,” a new track for last month’s adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing – and is further engraining herself to the film/TV community. (A rep for Swift did not respond to request for comment).

Kent says Swift’s team was so excited upon viewing a pre-release screener of DC League of Super-Pets that they invited director Jared Stern and other film reps to hear another track, the Red-era song “Message in a Bottle,” at an office in Los Angeles. “Can we get it?” Kent and her team later asked Swift’s brother, Austin, an actor who handles the singer’s film projects. “Can we license it, please?” They made a deal quickly, and “Bottle” landed in the film’s end credits.

Swift decided to re-record her original hit albums after Scooter Braun, the powerful artist manager who represents Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, bought her six-album catalog from indie label Big Machine in 2019. Swift, who’d had a personal conflict with Braun, was upset about the purchase, writing that Braun “stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy.” Braun then sold the catalog to a Los Angeles investment fund, Shamrock, for $405 million, according to Billboard sources. With no financial incentive to draw fans to her older recordings, Swift made the nearly unprecedented decision to re-record her albums one by one, beginning with Fearless and Red, and use social media to promote them as definitive streaming versions.

Filmmakers, aware that Swift songs in scenes or trailers instantly build streaming and ticket-buying audiences, followed this news closely. “There was this serendipitous confluence of factors,” says Mike Knobloch, president of music and publishing for NBC Universal, which released Spirit Untamed. “We knew the re-recordings were in process, and when ‘Wildest Dreams’ started working really well for our materials, it prompted a conversation between us and Taylor’s team.

“The timing couldn’t have been more perfect,” he adds. “Mutually beneficial.”

Because of the catalog-sale situation, Swift has pointedly refused to authorize synch requests for the original versions of her songs, telling Billboard in 2019: “Every week, we get a dozen synch requests to use ‘Shake It Off’ in some advertisement or ‘Blank Space’ in some movie trailer, and we say no to every single one of them.” But her team is now saying yes to help drum up interest for the re-recordings. Hollywood music supervisors are happy play along. For a brief period before the new Red came out last year, the only way to listen to the new “Wildest Dreams” was via the Spirit Untamed trailer. “We got bragging rights,” Knobloch says.

Knobloch, who worked with Swift’s team for the Fifty Shades Darker track “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” in 2016, speculates Swift is exposing new music to the widest possible audience. For now, her strategy focuses on family films, but that approach is unlikely to last forever.

“She has the ability to do anything,” he says. “She’s on a short list of artists that are impactful to the broadest audience. If that translates to family films as a target, then that makes sense. But I don’t think she’s doing that exclusively.”