Published Nov 30, 2020Nearly everything about coronavirus lockdown sucks: the loneliness, the boredom, the fear of getting sick. But there's at least one good thing for those fortunate enough to be spending so much time at home — the coziness. You can wear pyjamas all day, snack almost constantly, and go months without a haircut.
Taylor Swift's new self-directed quarantine concert film, folklore: the long pond studio sessions, is all about coziness. Recorded at co-producer Aaron Dessner's beautiful barn-turned-studio in Upstate New York, the whole thing exudes hygge. It's all comfy couches, flannel, messy bangs, exposed wood paneling, and collaborator Jack Antonoff swimming in his two-sizes-too-large leather jacket. With windows looking out on trees, a lake and a fire pit, the intimate performance is an oasis of tranquility in a chaotic time.
The hour-and-a-half-long film features stripped-down renditions of every track from this year's folklore (including bonus cut "the lakes"), plus between-song discussions of each track. These yield plenty of interesting insights and factoids about folklore's generally un-autobiographical songwriting. Swift is one of those lyricists whose songs have a deep well of hidden meaning, as if each one is a snippet of a much larger story; it's interesting, then, to learn that "betty" and "august" and "cardigan" all involve the same characters, or that secret folklore collaborator William Bowery is actually a pseudonym for her real-life boyfriend, Joe Alwyn.
Swift has a wonderful rapport with longtime collaborator Antonoff, as the pair banter back and forth and Swift cracks a couple of laugh-out-loud jokes. Her conversations with Dessner are more stilted, but they eventually get to some compelling and frank discussions of mental health.
But, of course, the real draw here is the music. The trio arrangements aren't all that different from the ones on folklore, but everyone sounds spot-on. Swift brings intense conviction when delivering the poignant lyrics in "my tears ricochet" and "this is me trying." Best of all, "exile" features a jaw-dropping contribution from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who appears remotely from his studio in Wisconsin; he looks a bit creepy with a handkerchief pulled up over his face and a hat down over his eyes, but his powerfully projected high notes in the song's soaring bridge are spine-tingling.
The performances are filmed simply, with just a few cameras (and someone hiding behind the computer monitors in the corner, presumably overseeing the technical aspects). The slowly tracking camera moving over Swift has a slightly unnatural, shaky quality, but it's otherwise unobtrusively filmed, putting the focus squarely on the performances.
With sad songs and a stripped-down format, the long pond studio sessions is a fitting document of a strange time in history — a moment when even the biggest pop star on Earth holed up and got cozy and insular. (Disney)