The singer-songwriter makes another step towards reclaiming her full image with an intimate performance of album folklore
The last few years have seen Taylor Swift reclaim her image with unparalleled determination. Few have undergone such a public reckoning, again and again – and so in 2020, starting with her Netflix documentary Miss Americana and now ending with the Disney+ making-of-cum-concert movie folklore: the long pond studio sessions, we’re getting a glimpse of the world as seen through her eyes.
folklore was undoubtedly one of the best things to come out of lockdown 1.0, a stripped-back album borne out of isolation that saw Swift collaborate with The National’s Aaron Dessner (as well as his brother, Bryce) Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff. The result was a thing of beauty – and this accompanying film, allowing the collaborators to play the record together in the same room for the very first time, is a quietly special accompaniment.
The format is straightforward and satisfying – if you like the album, you’ll love this. Swift and co. go through the album track-by-track, offering a brief explanation of the lyrics, the impetus for each song, before they perform. Swift has always been earnest and verbose, and so her explanations occasionally veer into sentimental territory – the kind you’d save for your best friend’s kitchen after a few too many drinks – but by this point she’s hardly here to make new friends.
Some songs feel heightened and deepened against the backdrop of the studio, the accompanying live album at times made to feel brand new due to the set-up. The description and performance of “mirrorball” is a highlight, Swift wrestling with her definition of celebrity (“Every time they break, it entertains us”) and pouring that vulnerability into a stunning rendition.
To watch Swift and Vernon sing “exile,” one of the finest songs of the year, is equally illuminating – and to learn that the credited co-writer, “William Bowery,” is in fact the actor Joe Alwyn, who Swift has been dating since 2016, is genuinely revelatory. The film is full of rewarding moments like this, where a number of disparate moments come together in order to champion an already beloved album and imbue it with added depth.
Aaron Dessner speaks less often than Swift and Antonoff (you can see why they’ve been friends for years) but when he does, you instantly get a sense of his unparalleled talent and compassion. As Swift and Dessner discuss depression and partnership on the album’s closer, “hoax,” the fragile brilliance of folklore comes fully into focus.
It’s the album we didn’t know we needed, now with a concert film we never imagined we'd get. As a balm, a reassuring presence, it won’t exactly change the world, but it’ll certainly make what we’re living through right now a little lighter. “Who would you want to be sad with?” Taylor asks Aaron, the pair reckoning with the wise and moving music they've created together. Turns out you could do much worse than being sad in the company of this tonic-like film.
Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is now streaming on Disney+.Where to watch