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Week In Music: Taylor Swift's New Deal And Zayn Malik's Cover Of A Bollywood Hit


TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) I don't like your little games, don't like your tilted stage, the role you made me play...


That's 10-time Grammy Award winner Taylor Swift making news this week with her new long-term deal with Universal Music Group - a deal that could help other artists as well. We're going to talk more about that and other music news of the week with NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas. She joins us now from our studios in New York. Hey there, Anastasia.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Audie, glad to be with you.

CORNISH: So why is a contract a big deal, right? Why are people talking about this in the music business? Is it just because it's Taylor Swift?

TSIOULCAS: Right. Contracts are pretty dry stuff normally, but this one is pretty juicy. And one of the things that Taylor Swift gets out of this is that she is going to be given control of her master recordings in this new deal. That is the first official recording. That's the thing that gets copied and distributed. And usually, typically, at major labels, the corporation retains those rights. So for an artist to get that is a huge thing and an admission by Universal of just how big a force Taylor Swift is in the industry. And what I hear Taylor Swift really wanted out of the deal is to go back and get control of her recordings, her masters, from the first part of her career, which are owned by the label Big Machine. And she made that deal when she was 14 years old, and that was half a lifetime ago for her.

CORNISH: We also understand there's an element of her contract that could help other artists. Is this other artists at the label or in general? What's going on?

TSIOULCAS: Well, it's interesting. Usually, artists are typically interested in looking after their own careers. But in this deal, it looks like Taylor Swift is trying to help others as well. In an Instagram message, she said that she was thinking about digital streaming, and part of the new deal is that if Universal sells any of its equity share in Spotify, that money will be distributed to all of Universal's artists. It's kind of a high tide lifts all boats scenario. And it's also notable because Taylor Swift has very publicly battled with Spotify, and she even removed her music from the service due to what she felt was unfair compensation.

CORNISH: So not surprising giving her interest in this area, but it is surprising to do something that could affect other artists - right? - in your own contract.

TSIOULCAS: Oh, for sure.

CORNISH: Now, what else has been on your radar this week music-wise?

TSIOULCAS: Well, I think it's all about today. I've been completely obsessed with something that Zayn Malik dropped very suddenly. So let's take a listen.


ZAYN MALIK: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: So that's Zayn Malik or Zayn, of course, from the boy band One Direction. He's got a big solo career. Tell us about this song.

TSIOULCAS: So this song is actually a cover of a Bollywood hit called "Allah Duhai Hai," which means I complain to you, God. And it's from an action movie, which you wouldn't necessarily get from the title of the song. But let's listen to a little bit of the original, too, because that is pretty much a banger as well.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

CORNISH: All right. So that's the original Bollywood classic. Help us understand what Zayn's doing here, how he's speaking to this particular heritage.

TSIOULCAS: Zayn has been really involved in expressing his heritage as someone of South Asian descent. His father is of Pakistani background. So on Zayn's 2016 album, "Mind Of Mine," there's a picture of a very charming baby photo of him wearing mehndi, you know, traditional henna, all over his hands. And there was one track in particular that was very reminiscent of a South Asian style of music called Qawwali. And he's been dropping hints earlier this year that his new projects will have Indian and Pakistani elements. He's been working with A. R. Rahman, who is the composer of "Slumdog Millionaire" soundtrack, among other things. And it's something that he's expressing as a brown man who's very proud of his South Asian heritage. And that's still in 2018 pretty unusual for a big, worldwide megastar to be talking about his experiences and drawing from that very particular ethnic heritage.

CORNISH: All right. So there's two ex-teen stars who have matured in very interesting ways musically and business-wise. Thanks for these stories, Anastasia.

TSIOULCAS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Audie.


MALIK: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.