Taylor Swift Reveals Joe Alwyn Was Her Cowriter and Other Highlights from Her Disney+ Film
Taylor Swift gave us the perfect soundtrack to life in quarantine.
The honest storytelling and melancholic melodies on her album folklore sent Swifties into a flurry over the summer. And on Wednesday, she gave fans an introspective look into creating the album in isolation, paired with an acoustic live performance of the entire record on Disney+'s Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions.
In conversations with the album's co-producers Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, Swift, 30, opens up about the song's lyrics and creating the record completely separate from each other. (Oh, and, of course, her boyfriend Joe Alwyn and his songwriting pseudonym.)
Here are some highlights from the film:
She felt “listless and purposeless” a few days into quarantine — so she made folklore
"Everyone needed a good cry, as well as us," Swift says about the album.
Like many, Swift was feeling uninspired and somewhat lonely at the beginning of quarantine.
"I just found myself completely listless and purposeless," she says of the first few days in quarantine.
But she soon began to create folklore with all of its laid-back sounds and sans the popstar nature of a typical Taylor Swift record. And she — for the first time ever — recorded her music at home.
"It just became an album really quickly and really really beautifully surprisingly," she says in the film. "I know that other people do this all the time and I'm not that special, but I'm freaking out about it."
Swift never even told her label about it until about a week before releasing it and was surprised to be met with support.
"This lockdown could've been a time when I absolutely lost my mind but this album was really like a flotation device for both of us," she tells Dessner later in the film.
Recorded live from the Kitty Committee Studios
Swift's album was recorded in isolation. Well, mostly.
While her co-producers connected virtually from different parts of the U.S., Swift was in her new, home studio with none other than her three cats: Olivia, Benjamin and Meredith.
The name of her in-home, makeshift recording studio? The Kitty Committee Studios.
"I've got cats fighting in the background," she says. "There's a big cat vibe," adds Antonoff.
"The cats were going in and out because if I'd close the door to them they'd meow," she explains. "They needed to be free-range cats, cage-free."
Two of her cats were usually the ones tussling in the background: Benjamin Button and Olivia Benson.
"I call them marshmallow wars. No one is going to get hurt but there's a lot of this," she says as she flails her hands in a catfight fashion.
Joe Alwyn = William Bowery
Swift's boyfriend Alwyn, 29, played a big role in this album. The role? William Bowery, a songwriting pseudonym for his work on two of the album's best songs "betty" and "exile." (Swift is no stranger to pseudonyms. She wrote ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris' "This Is What You Came For" as Nils Sjöberg.)
"There's been a lot of discussion about William Bowery and his identity, 'cause it's not a real person," she says as she speaks about "exile." "William Bowery is Joe, as we know."
In fact, "betty" was the first time Swift ever offered the idea of the two making a song together.
"I was like, 'Hey, this could be really weird and we could hate this [but] because we're in quarantine and there's nothing else going on, could we just try to write this song together?'" she remembers asking him.
Swift says that Alwyn was singing "the entire fully formed chorus" of the track in another room and it was perfection. "I thought it sounded really good from a masculine perspective and it seemed to be an apology," Swift says.
"I've written so many songs from a female's perspective of wanting a male apology that we decided to make it from a teenage boy's perspective apologizing after he loses the love of his life because he's been foolish," she explains.
Joe Alwyn can play the piano … really well
While talking about the identity of William Bowery, Swift opens up about her boyfriend's top-notch piano-playing prowess.
"Joe plays piano beautifully and he's always just playing and making things up and kinda just creating things," she says. "And 'exile' was crazy because Joe had written the entire piano part."
"He was just singing the whole first verse is and so, I was entranced and asked if we could keep writing that one," she added. "He has a really low voice, and it sounded real good sung down there. And we're really, really, really, big Bon Iver fans."
Swift says he was scared to ask Bon Iver's Justin Vernon — who appears in the film to perform the track from home in Wisconsin — to join her on the record.
“I kept thinking, this isn't really going to happen," she says. "Justin is going to change his mind about this… there's no way this is gonna happen. He's gonna record the vocals and decide he's never going to be on the record."
Turns out, Vernon loved the song.
Her song “epiphany” is an ode to her WWII vet grandpa and frontline hospital workers
At first, "epiphany" started after she watched a sports film with references to "underdogs" and "winners." Soon, it developed into something meaningful and timely.
"I really frequently was doing research on my grandfather who fought in World War II in Guadalcanal, which was an extremely bloody battle," she says about her time before writing the song. "He never talked about it, not with his sons, not with his wife. Nobody got to hear about what happened there."
"My dad had to do a lot of research and he and his brothers did a lot of digging and found out that my dad was exposed to some of the worst experiences you could imagine as a human being," he added. "I tried to imagine what would happen in order to make you just never be able to speak about something."
So Swift sang about it — and tied the experience to something ever-so-present: the pandemic and the toll it's taking on hospital workers.
"There are people right now taking a 20-minute break in between shifts at a hospital who are having this kind of trauma happen to them right now, that they will probably never want to speak about," she said. "This an opportunity to maybe tell that story."
“mad woman” is about being gaslit
Swift has had to deal with men and feuds and gaslighting throughout her career. When talking about "mad woman," she seemingly references the most recent feud with Scooter Braun and her former label Big Machine.
"There’s been situations with somebody who’s very guilty of this in my life who tries to make me feel like I’m the offender by having any kind of defenses," she says. "It’s like, 'Oh, I have absolutely no right to respond or I’m crazy. I have no right to respond or I'm angry. I have no right to respond or I’m out of line.'"
The track became a way for her to "say why this feels so bad."
"The most rage-provoking element of being a female is the gaslighting that happens when, for centuries we’ve been expected to absorb male behavior silently," she says. "Silent absorption of whatever any guy decides to do."
"Oftentimes, when we, in our enlightened state and our emboldened state, respond to bad male behavior or somebody just doing something that was absolutely out of line and we respond," she adds. "That response is treated like the offense itself."
This album was Swift’s first time not writing completely about herself
Folklore was an album of firsts: first time recording from home, first time writing with Alwyn — and the first time she wrote about other people and their perspectives.
It was the "first album that I’ve ever let go of that need to be autobiographical because I needed to do that and I felt like fans needed to hear a stripped-from-the-headlines account of my life," she says.
"It ended up being a bit confining because there's so much more to writing songs than just what you’re feeling in your singular storyline," she adds. "It was spurred by the fact I was watching movies every day, thinking of other people every day."
Swift explains that the track allowed folklore "to exist on its own merit without it just being, 'people are listening to this because it tells them something they could read in a tabloid.' It feels to me like a different experience."
In fact, she went all out in her writing adventures when penning "the last great american dynasty" about the remarkable woman who used to own one of Swift's homes.
"I had been wanting to write a song about Rebekah Harkness since 2013," she says. "And I'd never figured out the right way to do it because there was never track that could hold an entire story of somebody’s life… I think this is my moment, I think I can write [her] story."
Throughout the track, she used a "country music narrative device" that caused "shivers, everywhere in my whole body."
Is “invisible string” inspired by Joe Jonas?
For Swift, "invisible string" is about fate and how life leads you, via an invisible strong, to happiness or sadness all on its own.
She also says she wrote the track after "I sent an ex a baby gift."
Fans were quick to speculate that she was referring to Joe Jonas, who very recently had a baby girl named Willa with Sophie Turner. (Swift and Jonas dated back in 2008.)
"I was like, 'Man, life is great,'" she says about the gift-giving. "I just remember thinking this is a full signifier that life is great."
Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is now streaming on Disney+.
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