Arts

folklore: the long pond studio sessions is available for streaming on Disney+. Image: Taylor Swift/Disney.
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Swift’s new documentary lets the craft of her storytelling truly shine.

“and they called off the circus
burned the disco down
when they sent home the horses
and the rodeo clowns”

Taylor Swift confirmed in folklore: the long pond studio sessions (available now for streaming on Disney+) that this bridge from “mirrorball” is one of folklore’s only direct allusions to the pandemic. 

Don’t think Swift hasn’t been impacted by the events of 2020, though: folklore in its entirety was a product of COVID-19, and Swift’s new film poignantly explores just how remarkable the album’s recording process was. 

The documentary, a surprise release from Swift on Nov. 24, interweaves a full acoustic play-through of Swift’s eighth album, folklore, with candid interviews and storytelling. 

Prior to shooting the film, folklore’s artistic team (Swift, The National’s Aaron Dessner, and longtime Swift co-conspirator Jack Antonoff) had not once worked together in the same space; the trio put folklore together from separate studios, collaborating across time zones and COVID-19 restrictions to assemble the ethereal, Phoebe Bridgers-esque album. 

folklore: the long pond studio sessions lets the album itself truly shine, keeping musical performances and interview segments completely separate. Most of the songs on folklore are extremely well suited to the acoustic, less synthy instrumentation of live performance — “Mirrorball,” “Epiphany,” and “My Tears Ricochet” are particularly pretty when stripped of Dessner’s trademark (and sometimes overpowering) post-production. The documentary also features a live version of “Exile” featuring Bon Iver, who recorded his segment of the song from several states away in Wisconsin. 

Swift’s new film is, in truth, the ultimate treat for fans, allowing us into her creative processes while also serving us brilliant new arrangements of the folklore album. 

Swift also dives into the overarching story of the album, a complicated teenage love triangle between fictional characters named Betty (for whom the eponymous fourteenth track is named), James, and Augusta/Augustine. Swift explains her album in satisfying details while also leaving some tales open to listener interpretation; she’s a master storyteller and queen of album Easter eggs (or secret messages/bonus content), and she navigates the folklore doc gracefully and with evident understanding of what her fans want during these strange times.

Before folklore, I’m not sure I’d have admitted just how much I admire Taylor Swift; I certainly wouldn’t have purchased overpriced Swift merch from her online site.

But this album is special. Its storytelling craft is second to none, and Swift has clearly grown up since her “Love Story” years. “Epiphany” hits incredibly close to home in a pandemic, and that final bridge of “Mirrorball” has had me close to tears all week, especially in its new orchestration.

I bought a Taylor Swift cardigan this week, and I have no regrets. I can only look forward to its arrival in the mail, and indeed, to re-watching folklore: the long pond studio sessions while wearing it. 

The documentary feels like coffee with an old friend — like a Zoom call with family during a difficult holiday break. 

“Maybe we all just needed a good cry,” says Swift in the film.

Yeah, Taylor. Maybe.