The mom whose story inspired Taylor Swift’s ‘Ronan’ says it’s ‘unbearable to think about’ anyone else owning the rights to the song

When Maya Thompson heard that Taylor Swift’s catalog had been acquired by Scooter Braun, she was “disgusted.”

“I was livid,” the Arizona mom recently told Insider. “My heart really broke for her, but I knew she would find a way to come back from this because that’s who she is. People are constantly trying to tear her down and hold her back, and she just prevails.”

Braun took control of Swift’s former label, Big Machine Records, in a reported $300 million sale. Swift had recently signed a new record deal, which she described as “the excruciating choice to leave behind my past.” She said she was barred from retaining the rights to her original master recordings.

One of those recordings was “Ronan,” a little-known charity single written in 2012.

The heartbreaking ballad was named after and inspired by Thompson’s son, who was not quite 4 years old when he died of neuroblastoma in 2011.

Swift wrote the song from Thompson’s perspective after discovering her blog, Rockstar Ronan. Many of its vivid lyrics are adapted directly from Thompson’s posts, in which she documented Ronan’s diagnosis and death in courageous detail.

“I was stuck in a hospital room for weeks on end at night. I was going out of my mind, so writing just became kind of like my therapy,” Thompson told Insider. “I was very honest and raw about it. And that caught the attention of a lot of people because I don’t think people were used to reading about something as horrific as what we are going through.”

ronan maya thompson
Ronan and Maya Thompson. Courtesy of Maya Thompson
Thompson isn’t quite sure how Swift found her writing, but she was invited to meet the singer backstage at her 2011 Speak Now World Tour.

“She just gave me the biggest hug, and she just said, ‘I’ve been reading your story for so long, and I’m so sorry,'” Thompson said of Swift. “She said the most heartfelt words and just told me how the love story between Ronan and I had changed her life and impacted her in a way that she’ll never look at anything the same again.”

They exchanged information, and while some friends tried to persuade Thompson to contact Swift for help, “to become a voice for childhood cancer,” she refused to pick up the phone.

“I was just simply like, ‘I am not asking her for anything. Ever.’ She did the kindest thing for us, just because that’s who she is,” Thompson explained, adding, “She basically gave me a night off from my pain.”

Instead, about one year later, she received a phone call from Swift herself, who said she’d written a song for Ronan.

Swift wanted permission to debut the song at the televised Stand Up to Cancer benefit and credit Thompson as her cowriter.

“The tears started pouring down my cheeks as soon as I heard her say those words,” Thompson wrote at the time. “I was a blubbering mess telling her how much this meant to me.”

She heard the song for the first time when Swift performed on TV, backed by a photo of Ronan, gazing at the camera with unforgettably blue eyes.

Thompson said watching Swift’s performance was an “out of body experience.”

“I was in awe at the way she was able to take my pain and turn it into poetry,” she told Insider.

Swift reached out for permission to rerecord ‘Ronan,’ much to Thompson’s surprise

Although “Ronan” was never officially promoted as a single or included on any album, Braun became its legal owner in 2019, along with all of Swift’s music thus far. (He has since sold her back catalog to a private-equity company.)

Swift has long been open about plans to rerecord her first six albums, but Thompson said she “honestly never thought that ‘Ronan’ would be a part of that.”

“I just thought it was always going to be a charity single,” she explained. “And I know that song is a super hard song, not only just to listen to, but for her to sing. I know she has a really hard time just singing it… I just figured it would always stay kind of in its own little place.”

Once again, however, Thompson was surprised with a request from Swift, who asked for permission to rerecord “Ronan” for “Red (Taylor’s Version).”

“Red was an album of heartbreak and healing, of rage and rawness, of tragedy and trauma, and of the loss of an imagined future alongside someone,” Swift told Thompson via email. “I wrote Ronan while I was making Red and discovered your story as you so honestly and devastatingly told it.”

“My genuine hope is that you’ll agree with me that this song should be included on this album,” Swift continued. “As my co-writer and the rightful owner of this story in its entirety, your opinion and approval of this idea really matters to me, and I’ll honor your wishes here.”

Thompson described her reaction as “complete shock” and “a lot of tears,” as well as overwhelming gratitude.

“The only place Ronan belongs is with Taylor. And just the fact that it was a possibility of him being somewhere else was, as a mom and that’s my child, and that was just, I couldn’t even,” Thompson told Insider. “It was just unbearable to think about.”

“Knowing that he’s with Taylor and that’s his home and that’s where he belongs, it means everything to me,” she said.

On Friday, ‘Ronan (Taylor’s Version)’ was widely released for the first time as the album’s 21st track

For many of Swift’s younger or more casual fans, this may be their first time hearing the song. After the Stand Up to Cancer benefit, “Ronan” was only released on iTunes, with all proceeds donated to the Taylor Swift Charitable Fund. It was quietly put on YouTube in 2018, but has never before been available to stream.

Swift has performed the song just one other time in her career: during a 2015 concert in Arizona that Thompson attended, shortly after the singer’s own mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Back then, hearing “Ronan” unveiled to the world was “a crazy whirlwind” for Thompson.

These days, she’s focused on being a great mom, funding research for childhood cancer through the Ronan Foundation, and finishing a book that’s been nearly a decade in the making. She said she’s accepted that she doesn’t know how the song will be received on a larger scale, but she’s ready for more people to hear Ronan’s story.

“I don’t know how this is going to go down, but I’m just going to roll with it,” Thompson told Insider earlier this week.

“I hope that his song speaks to a whole other generation of these kids. And they can turn to it when they’re going through things that are attached to maybe Ronan’s story and my story — and make it into a survival anthem.”

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