I debated whether or to do a Tay-Tay Top Five for Folklore – The Long Pond Studio Sessions, as it’s of course the same track listing of songs as the original album. However, after several listens and a day where I was sofa bound thanks to a severe episode of anxiety and decided to watch the film, I knew I had to do some version of a post on it. In between the releases of Folklore and Evermore, Taylor announced in November 2020 that Disney+ would be releasing a documentary concert film of Folklore, recorded at the picturesque Long Pond Studio in Upstate New York. In the film, she performs every song on the album, and in between each track she discusses with her co-producers Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner how each one was written and the process behind it. The interviews gave me a whole new perspective on some of the songs, and it was so fascinating hearing how the songs were written and the process behind each one, and in terms of performance, some of the songs in the film actually upstage the original versions on the album, which lets face it, no one thought possible. So, here are my thoughts on The Long Pond Studio Sessions.
Folklore – The Long Pond Studio Sessions
The film was the first time that Taylor, Dessner and Antonoff performed the album together, after it was recorded in isolation thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The setting of Long Pond Studio, fit in beautifully with the aesthetic of the album and it gave off an incredible cosy feel. In between performing stripped back versions of all 17 tracks on the album, Taylor discusses with Dessner and Antonoff the creative processes behind each one, revealing snippets and inspiration behind the songwriting. One thing that became a talking point of the film was that after much speculation from fans, it was revealed that William Bowery – credited as co-writer on Exile and Betty – is in fact Taylor’s boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn, who turns out to be a bloody talented songwriter. On a side note, he’s recently been cast in the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends and I can’t bloody wait for it. Anyway, moving on. The best thing about the interviews in between each track is that you end up listening to them with this whole new perspective, and it often makes the lyrics of the songs so much more meaningful and powerful.
While the album hasn’t been released in physical form, it’s available on streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music, where the first “disc” features the original album recording of the tracks, and the second is the stripped back version from the film.
Information correct at time of writing.
Release Date: 25th November 2020
Producers: Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift
Label: Republic Records
Tracks: 17 (34 in total, 17 being the original recordings and the other 17 being the film versions)
My Top Five
- This is Me Trying
- The Last Great American Dynasty
Honourable Mentions: The Last Great American Dynasty, Betty, Illicit Affairs, My Tears Ricochet
Exile (feat. Bon Iver)
I desperately didn’t want to do a top five that was exactly the same as the original album, but the stripped back version of Exile especially is one that I had to include. I mentioned in my review of Folklore that Exile is pretty intense and emotional as it is, but this particular version DOUBLES IT. Despite the fact that Justin Vernon recorded his vocals for the performance in the film remotely, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an intensely powerful duet, and any emotion that comes from it is just intensified. While I love both versions of this song, there’s no denying that the Long Pond Sessions version of it is my favourite.
Again, I know that this is one I mentioned in my original Folklore post, but I couldn’t not include it. In the interview prior to the performance, we see Taylor talking about how she was influenced by her grandfather, who fought in World War II and how there were things that happened that he never talked about, and how she likened it to the healthcare workers fighting Covid-19. Many of us knew that was the inspiration behind the song already, but hearing her confirm that just made the song even more powerful and caused it to hit home even more. Not only that, but the stripped back version of the song that featured in the film felt even more emotional and raw than the original. Cue me crying AGAIN.
This Is Me Trying
I’ll admit that it was the interview behind this song that really had me listening (and subsequently crying) to This is Me Trying. On the original Folklore album, I liked the song, but as I’m sure you’ll have read, it wasn’t one of my favourites. However, upon hearing how Taylor interpreted the song, it suddenly undertook a whole new meaning that REALLY fucking hit home.
“I’ve been thinking about people who, if they’re either suffering through mental illness or they’re suffering through addiction, they have an everyday struggle. No one pats them on the back every day, but every day they are actively fighting something.”
Call me naïve, but I wasn’t even remotely aware that this was the interpretation of the lyrics. As I mentioned earlier, watching the film on a day when I really wasn’t okay mentally, it felt like a massive gut punch, followed by a huge hug, if that makes sense. Ever since then, I listen to the song and it makes me feel comforted and understood – it’s an incredibly cathartic listen and is now one of my go to songs when I’m not feeling great. In addition, the stripped back version of the song that features in this film makes it that more intense and raw.
At the time I wrote my review of Folklore, I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate August. It was one of those songs that, the more I listened to it, the more I fell in love with it. The whole bridge “REMEMBER WHEN I PULLED UP AND SAID ‘GET IN THE CAR’ AND THEN CANCELLED MY PLANS JUST IN CASE YOU CALLED…” is just one of those intense lyrics you have to scream out when you’re driving, much to the dismay of any other road users. I mentioned very briefly in an older post that August reminded me of the early days of mine and Liam’s relationship – mainly, that I would literally cancel my plans just in case he called purely because the little 17 year old uggo that I was still couldn’t quite believe that a boy liked me. Sorry, this has very quickly turned into a therapy session. Where was I? Anyway, what I loved about this version was that it felt so free and exciting, and the fun that Taylor’s having while performing – in particular the bridge – is immediately apparent and it’s just so uplifting to watch.
The Last Great American Dynasty
Finally, this dreamy version of The Last Great American Dynasty completes my top five for The Long Pond Studio Sessions. The song tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, who previously lived in Taylor’s Rhode Island mansion – nicknamed “Holiday House” – and how she inherited her husband’s fortune after his death, becoming one of the wealthiest women in US history. The song details the Harkness family’s downfall which Rebekah was blamed for, subsequently receiving hate and criticism from the town and tabloids – aka. “She had a marvellous time ruining everything.” It’s an incredibly clever song as Taylor draws parallels between herself and Rebekah, revealing during the bridge that she is now the owner of Holiday House, changing the narrative to first person and making an indirect reference to the criticism she herself received by the press over the years.
“Fifty years is a long time, Holiday House sat quietly on that beach
Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits
And then it was bought by me
Who knows if I never showed up what would have been.
There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen
I had a marvellous time ruining everything”
The song overall deserves recognition and I feel bad for not including it in my original top five for Folklore. I felt the live version of the song took things to the next level with the stripped back set-up and Taylor’s vocals, and hearing her take on the song in the interview before the performance just helped to bring it all together perfectly.
Let’s face it, every song Taylor performs in the film is worthy of a mention, but if I had to narrow it down, I’d probably say Peace is one of the first that comes to mind. I mentioned that the song has a place on my anxiety playlist, because it’s such a calming song, and while the lyrics are essentially describing the effects of Taylor’s fame on her relationship, I think it’s also a great metaphor for mental health and how it can impact a relationship, and I think that’s why I take comfort in it. Betty is another song that deserves a mention, and again, it was so interesting to see the process behind the song and how Taylor interprets the “love triangle” that was a running theme throughout the album, and how she felt that the characters of James and Betty ultimately ended up together. Illicit Affairs is another of those beautifully soft and dreamy songs, and I love the emotion in Taylor’s voice as she sings it. Finally, My Tears Ricochet is another that stands out because of the pain in her voice during the performance, and when you take into account the speculation that the funeral motif in the song is a reference to Taylor’s rift with Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta following her departure from Big Machine Records in 2018.
I think it’s clear what my thoughts are on The Long Pond Studio Sessions – it’s an emotional rollercoaster and it’s pure perfection. The set-up, the location and the cosy interviews in between each song ultimately just creates the ideal setting, and when I watched it on a day where my anxiety wasn’t great, all of that just made me feel calm and comforted. My favourite part of the film as a whole had to be at the end, where Taylor mentions that she named her home studio – where she recorded Folklore – Kitty Committee Studios because her cats were regularly fighting in the background while she was recording, and the clip of Benjamin and Olivia fighting behind her is just adorable.
Anyway, I got distracted by cats. If you haven’t already, go and listen to the live album. If you love Folklore, you won’t be disappointed. Is anyone else hoping she does the same thing with Evermore?
What are your thoughts on Folklore – The Long Pond Studio Sessions? Let me know your favourite tracks in the comments!