Fans were taken by surprise this past summer when Grammy-award winning artist Taylor Swift announced the sudden release of her eighth studio album, folklore. The release of the accompanying documentary “folklore: the long pond studio sessions” was the ideal visual counterpart to her sincere album; Swift excited fans with the surprise film’s in-depth analysis of the album and unplugged performances of folklore’s 16 tracks.
Filmed at the renowned Long Pond Studio in upstate New York, the documentary takes viewers through the album’s tracks in order. Swift performs alongside Aaron Dessner of The National and Jack Antonoff, who is widely respected for his work with artists like Lorde and St. Vincent, as well as for his own music with his band Bleachers. Both helped Swift write and produce the album.
The album itself, which has been nominated for several Grammy awards, including Album of the Year, can be understood as a manifestation of Swift’s growth as an artist. While some tracks, like “august” and “my tears ricochet,” feature complex, overlaid harmonies often found in pop music, others, such as “betty” and “invisible string,” highlight acoustic guitar lines and soothing melodies reminiscent of Swift’s country roots.
For Swift’s last few releases, starting with her 2014 album, 1989, she has invited fans to her house for listening sessions, in which she plays her soon-to-be-released songs and explains each one, creating an intimate atmosphere. This same intimacy comes through in “the long pond studio sessions,” despite no fans being present. Instead, viewers experience this intimacy through the tightly knit relationships between Swift, Antonoff and Dessner. As the trio jams out during their performance of “august,” for example, we see Swift smile and nod at Antonoff as they finish the bridge of the song, giving him the signal to slam on his guitar strings, increasing the intensity of the moment. Antonoff smiles back, dancing along as he plays.
Likewise, Swift and her co-producers give in-depth explanations of each song in the documentary, detailing the production process and lyrical significance as they sit around a fire, sipping wine. Swift’s “august,” for example, was inspired by a note she had written in her phone that read, “meet me behind the mall,” which she integrated into the song’s bridge. Similarly, Swift explains that “the last great american dynasty” is about Rebekah Harkness, the infamous composer who owned her Rhode Island home half a century ago.
This analysis was particularly engaging, as viewers learned not only of Swift’s inspirations for various songs, but those of her collaborators as well. A moment that stuck out was when Swift described the song “peace”; for Swift, the song is about navigating relationships as a person in the spotlight, while Dessner described what the song means to him as someone who struggles with depression. This moment highlighted the ability music has to resonate with people on an individual level, even if their interpretations differ.
On top of explanations of Swift’s inspirations behind each song, Swift revealed the identity of a secret co-writer: Swift’s longtime boyfriend, Joe Alywn, who went by the alias William Bowery.
Overall, “folklore: the long pond studio sessions” successfully conveys a more intimate ambience than the album itself already does. Through stripped-down performances and song analysis, viewers feel as if they, too, are sitting with Swift, Antonoff and Dessner in upstate New York.