Why Grammy Eligibility for Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ Is a Moot Question

It’s an interesting question… in a completely theoretical, “Who’d win in a fight, Santa Claus or Jesus?” kind of way, in that it will never have any serious real-world application.

If the question is merely could, there’s an easy answer for that: Yes, unquestionably — it is clearly technically eligible. If the query gets changed to would, that one is simple, too: It will never happen in a million years, but especially never happen in the next one.

Perhaps this seems self-evident. It hasn’t, though, to some credulous news sources that have suggested that Swift is trying to stack the deck for next year’s Grammys by releasing a flood of product. Fox News published a story, republished by TMZ, with the headline: “Taylor Swift’s re-recorded albums will be eligible for Grammys, prompting mixed criticism: ‘Greed.’”

Leaving aside the question of what mixed criticism means, the “greed” claim related to Swift’s alleged Grammy-hoarding was linked to two separate tweets, from a single Twitter user, with a total of 10 and three likes, respectively, to date… but still enough to be the stuff of headlines about how Swift is trying to logjam the Grammys with multiple nominations — an unlikely scenario for anyone who follows the awards process at all.

If anything, Swift and her camp have been careful in recent years about not giving Grammy voters or committees too many things to vote for. When the songs from the “Lover” album were in contention, it was reported that her people split the difference between two of her biggest singles from that period and submitted “Lover” for song of the year and “You Need to Calm Down” for record of the year and pop solo performance. (“Lover” did indeed get nominated for song, and “Calm Down” got put up for solo performance but missed the cut for record of the year.)

When it comes to the Grammys’ end of things, some fans and journalists have seemed surprised that “Taylor’s Versions” of older material would be eligible for Grammys. (A spokesperson for the Recording Academy issued a statement to Billboard: “Current eligibility guidelines would allow for the new performances and albums to be eligible if they were recorded within the last five years. However, none of the older songs would be eligible for songwriting awards.”) The point was clear: Outside of writing categories, a cover is a cover, and always eligible, if reasonably fresh; the rules do not make any distinguishing exclusions for soundalikes, versus looser interpretations.

Swift is no less eligible for a nearly note-for-note remake than director Gus Van Sant would have been for an Oscar for his shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho.” Of course, unlike Van Sant, whose effort to Xerox a Hitchcock classic deeply puzzled nearly everyone in the film business but his backers, Swift has received a lot of positive attention for remaking her own work — and, yes, pockets of “mixed criticism,” too — earning credit for the chutzpah and craftsmanship inherent in redoing six entire studio albums. Some even claim to find new or matured vocal inflections amid the “Love Story” facsimile. Awards bait, though, it’s not.

If there were an award for self-simulation, Swift would be the sole nominee — not just for this year, but maybe historically, since no one has really attempted what she’s doing now at the same volume or with the same attention to exact detail, with no cutting of corners.

Pop stars like Frank Sinatra and country stars like Merle Haggard used to routinely re-record their classics when they changed labels, but not with the intention of pointing out that these were brand new renditions or with the likely intent of inviting comparisons, let alone trying to make each last bit of sonics sound as close as possible.

In 2012, Def Leppard became the rare artist to brag about making something as close to an original as possible, boldly using the term “forgeries” when the band released a handful of re-recordings of their old work, including “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It was part of a record company dispute that had the band keeping all its pre-existing music off digital services and putting replacements out as a tease of what could be. When the group finally came to terms with its label and put its entire catalog online at the beginning of 2018, the few ringer versions they’d put up as a promise or a threat quietly disappeared.

Grammy veterans will note that an album made up largely of re-recordings, Frank Sinatra’s “A Man and His Music,” did win an album of the year Grammy in 1967, though it’s up for debate whether Sinatra had exact duplication as either a primary goal or hidden agenda when he wanted to put a career summary out that included songs from his prior labels.

It’s fair to say that wouldn’t happen today — and probably neither would examples of live projects or duets albums winning, like Eric Clapton’s “MTV Unplugged” in 1993, Tony Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged” in 1995 or Ray Charles and various artists’ “Genius Loves Company” in 2005. It’s not that these projects lack merit, but the Grammys are under ongoing pressure to seem relevant to the moment that precludes anything seen as a nostalgic flashback getting through anymore. (Certainly there won’t be any repeat of something “Layla” winning best song in the early ’90s; rules have been changed since then to keep oldies out of categories that reward the songwriter, although fresh recordings never stop being eligible._

In the end, when “Taylor’s Version” inevitably fails to be submitted, everybody will win: the Recording Academy for avoiding a #GrammysSo2008 hashtag, and Swift, for not pitting “Love Story” against “Willow,” or whatever else the leading “Evermore” candidate might see to be by the time the first round of 2022 balloting comes around this fall.

She’ll be getting an unofficial honor that’s better than stacking the Grammy noms: the most meme-able mimeograph award, with a possible courage-in-battle plaque and a side platter of “I told you I was serious” plaudits.

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