Taylor Swift's latest release reaches new heights of authenticity and introspection
Star Rating: 4.1/5
Recommendation: It isn't groundbreaking viewing content, but it's beautiful listening, I'll love on this studio experience HARD when I'm cooking, writing or thinking about how much I dislike the guy that sings that song Famous.
Released at midnight on the 25th of November, Taylor Swift's intimate concert experience, 'Folklore, the Long Ponds Studio Sessions' is an uncharacteristically deconstructed, unadorned perspective of both Swift's artistic process and execution. Filmed at the picturesque Long Ponds Studio on acreage in upstate New York, the contents of this production are unpretentious and welcoming, put simply: to watch this footage felt like coming home to an old friend. As a longtime lover of Swift and as a self-professed expert on both her catalogue and persona, I feel comfortable in declaring that this is her most authentic and intimate release yet. Swift feels strong, content and unflinching in her convictions and beliefs, a far cry from the decade-long war which the media had waged against the star, and Taylor had waged against herself.
The Folklore Long Ponds Studio Sessions bear witness to the collaboration between Swift, The National's Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), a group who built Folklore while thousands of kilometres apart. Prior to filming this Disney+ exclusive, they had not spent time in the same room let alone performed the entire work together. This project is a surprisingly extensive 106 minutes of intimate musical immersion, as the team performs the eighteen tracks comprising the Folklore album, whilst simultaneously dedicating significant portions of time to commentary between Swift and her counterparts. Notably, Swift emphasises comfortability and sincerity through dialogue within these candid portions of discussion, which validate developed fan theories surrounding the tracks: including Swift identifying her long-term partner, Joe Alwyn, as an additional collaborator on the album, who was listed under pseudonym William Bowery upon release.
Cover Image: Disney+
As an intense fan of Taylor Swift, it is important to disclose that I struggle to provide critique of her artistic choices or business decisions because quite frankly: I think she is fucking brilliant. When considering the value of this 'concert' experience, it is perhaps the most natural we've ever seen Swift. Despite many blatantly obvious PR moves by her team to present the 'real side' of the star, through content including the release of the Miss Americana documentary on Netflix in January of this year, this experience subverts these attempts, through the appearance of stripped back, effortless fluidity in the construction of the feature. It is rare to see Swift in an environment dominated by her artistic choices, examining the construction and stylistic decisions made within her music without detracting from her talent with flavourless questions of bad blood between celebrities, breakups in the public eye and K**ye W**T.
The release of the studio experience follows a dramatic week for Swift, after she denounced ex-manager and owner of Big Machine Records, Scooter Braun, when her catalogue was resold for an estimated US$300 Million to private equity investors. Adding into the mix the announcement of six Grammy nominations for the Folklore album today, the conclusion of 2020 is proving to be a tumultuous time in her professional life. Swift also utilised the controversial on-selling to announce that she is in the midst of re-recording her entire back catalogue, in order to re-claim her first six albums worth of work and to actively devalue the music that makes up the master collection, protestation of an industry in which transactions of this nature are commonplace.
Image: Elite Daily
The Long Ponds Studio Sessions provide welcome insight into Taylor Swift's world of storytelling, but perhaps more importantly, offhandedly analyses her growing feminist voice and delves into how she bridges her developing public political discourse as a mechanism that can filter into billboard chart toppers. I can't help but be mesmerised by Taylor Swift, a woman who, by all accounts, failed us in her activism in favour of her brand, reputation and sales. Despite her shortcomings, her ability to share the most vulnerable, intimate workings of her mind through her music, whilst concurrently maintaining and growing an unparalleled business and marketing model in an industry which has attempted to retire her for years, is fucking admirable.
Prior to the performance of 'Mad Woman', Swift describes the way in which feminist responses to toxic male behaviour are treated like the offence itself. 'The most rage provoking element of being a female is the gaslighting, you know for centuries we've been expected to absorb male behaviour silently...this is a song purely about female rage'. Her commentary isn't groundbreaking, but it is a vital piece of gateway content for the demographic Swift reaches, providing an entry point for young listeners to engage with empowered content. Whilst at points of her career I have held deep mistrust for her lack of candour and unwillingness to advocate for causes she clearly possessed the capacity and resources to make a pivotal difference for, I also acknowledge that her survivorship at the hands of the media is in itself remarkable, an attack which festered on her dating history and public 'likeability' for over ten years. In order for Taylor Swift to flourish into the political activist she is emerging as, she needed to confidently wield her mental health and stability foremost.
Image: Rolling Stone
I could write a Goblet of Fire sized manuscript on my feelings about this woman. For now, I am absolutely content in this production and it's attempt to hone in on the creator herself, a writer and romantic who is finally refusing to shy away from what society has deemed to be too tacky, too political or too much space for a female musician to take up. To those who remain in contempt of her stardom, this position is comprehensible. On a personal level, I firmly believe that call in culture has brought Taylor Swift home to herself and her fans, and I am incredibly ready to see what she does next.