"Not a lot going on at the moment" seems to be Taylor's new warning sign that something big, and Folklore related, is on the way. On the heals of her six Grammy nominations, Taylor released Folklore: The Long Pond Studios on Disney Plus. At this point, I think Swiftie's would be happy for anything from Taylor (the Folklore era has been eerily silent with only the "Cardigan" music video and "Betty" live performance), but an almost two hour film explaining Folklore and playing it live is amazing. If you watched my last YouTube video about virtual concerts (here), you know that Taylor performing acoustically live was at the top of my virtual concert wishlist. I'm glad that she decided to put it on streaming instead of doing a livestream after all because this is something I'll watch repeatedly. And it spared all of our wallets considering she could've probably charged up to $50 for the event.
In September, Taylor rounded up Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, her two collaborators on the album (aside from William Bowery) to play the album live, in full, together for the first time at Aaron's own studio. It was magical to watch Taylor sit on the couch, singing each song, while Jack and Aaron traded through a variety of instruments to build out the world of Folklore. These acoustic performances beyond lived up to my wildest hopes.
Between each song, there were breaks to discuss the songs either with Jack and Aaron both or individually, depending on who produced or co-wrote on the song. While William Bowery wasn't present, his identity was addressed. Taylor revealed that Joe is both an actor, a writer, and a pianist, apparently, and we have him to thank for starting "exile" and "Betty". I honestly didn't believe it could've been Joe when the theories flew over the last couple months. I've hardly heard Joe talk, let alone know much beyond the films he's been in and what Taylor has told us. This is a dimension I wasn't expecting. It's pretty amazing that he was able to just casually write lines good enough to make it into one of Taylor's best albums. I also find it hilarious that Taylor and Joe spent quarantine happily in love and writing break up songs together. In a way, that feels so perfectly Taylor. She didn't want to give up her break up songs, and she's found someone so perfect, he can even write them with her. Jack even made a joke that when Taylor first told him about what they'd done, he thought it'd be a joke song. That made me feel a little better about totally not seeing that coming.
Through the film, she shares vague details behind each song and drives home the point that Folklore truly is a collection of stories. I love that she made a point of how many of them weren't entirely personal or came from a fictional place, because I think most artists have that element to their work, but I think it's sometimes hard for people to grasp that some stories and just... stories. On the more personal side, she discussed her fears about her celebrity life interfering with her relationship in "peace", and Aaron added in the layer of meaning it had to him, one that I had picked up on in my first reaction, that it also felt like a song about loving someone with depression. In "hoax", Taylor detailed her initial hesitation to write a song about multiple topics ranging from love to sour business deals and more. Aaron encouraged her to try and reminded her that The National often write songs about multiple subjects. That fear made way for a truly beautiful, heartbreaking, gut wrenching song. I feel like it might be among Taylor's saddest. It's easy to trace to peaces of love and the pieces of betrayal. "this is me trying" made me cry after her introduction and with the emotion she brought to the performance. In that song, she talks about envisioning two different people in the verses. In the first, it's a scene of someone driving home from the edge of the cliff and the second focuses on the lost feelings of the overachiever who no longer has gold stars and good grades to fight for. Where do you place your worth when that's all you've been taught to know? Jack chimed in with some interesting thoughts on how you're the only one who knows what your best is and when you're doing it. Most people don't get the pats on the back they need simply for the struggle of surviving. Finally, "my tears ricochet" had a truly sad backstory. Though she never addresses the topic directly, she talks around the idea. Thoughts of divorce, losing friends, all twisting together. Mostly, though, it's the birds eye view of realizing that the person who you loved and trusted most, who knows you inside and out, are perfectly primed to hurt you. They know exactly where it hurts.
Other fun details include that Taylor is tentatively calling the "august" girl Augustine. She was intrigued by Joe's start of "Betty" because it was an apology song from the male point of view because she's written so many songs from her own vantage point, asking for an apology from a male love interest. Also, Joe's voice on "exile" inspired her to hint to Aaron that she'd love Bon Iver to sing on the track, because they're both huge fans. She said that she couldn't ask him directly, though, because if he turned her down, it would've hurt too much. Justin didn't make an appearance in-studio, but he filmed his portion in his home studio and it was twisted in with the happenings at Long Pond Studio.
As for the performances themselves, they were completely breathtaking. I've always felt that Taylor shines the most not when she's dancing in glittery costumes but when she's sitting with her guitar. I think it's a true show of her talent for sure, but it also highlights her stunning acting acting ability. Even just sitting on the couch, she became every single character she sang about. In "mad woman" she served the glares and glass sharp expressions. For "august" she was filled with naive hope, and in "epiphany" her face fell into a contemplative sadness. She has mastered the ability to tell you everything with her eyes, and she makes it impossible to look away. It truly feels like Taylor is able to completely sink away into the song. Her voice also sounded strong and beautiful and so dynamic. It was interesting, as someone who has played a lot of folklore songs, to see where she added extra breaths and which sections she lowered. It painted a much more realistic portrait of Folklore from a vocal perspective. For the few staggeringly high vocal moments she cut, she more than made up for it in the layers of emotion that were poured over each song.
I also want to give Jack a shout out for his unending enthusiasm for music. Oddly, that was one of my bigger take aways. While Aaron plays with an intense focus, Jack is just totally absorbed. He bops around and makes all kinds of faces that are amusing at times but also just prove that he's truly feeling every second of what's happening, and I admire that.
After we finished our two hours in the world of Folklore, my entire family agreed that we should watch it again and then five more times after that. It's a performance you can't get tired of. There's enough nuance that there will be new details I missed on my first watch on every repeat viewing. It's also soothing and perfect to let play in the background. As always, Taylor delivered more than I could ever expect. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of more dazzling Folklore content. Last night, Taylor got on Twitter to chat with fans during a Taylor Nation watch party, and she promised that she's working to find more ways to stay connected with us. I'm looking forward to seeing what she means.
In other exciting Taylor news, it's been confirmed on multiple occasions that Taylor is hard at work rerecording her albums. She laced her letter announcing it with "Shake It Off" references, and she's mentioned to GMA that she had the most fun redoing "Love Story" and her earlier songs because her voice sounded "teenage". She seems to be looking forward to the idea of improving upon her old work with her new vocals. I'm beyond excited to see how this roll out will work. Which album is coming first? Will they get mini eras or come all at once? Will they be compilation albums instead of their original track listings? I have too many questions.
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