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Taylor Swift’s “Folklore The Long Pond Studio Sessions” Original Film On Disney+ Reviewed

The problem with sincerity is that it sounds insincere, in 2010 I wrote (here) “a TS redux sincerity fails to connect with anybody” and ten years later it’s the same thing, after watching her career closely since “Tim McGraw”,  it comes down to such a stretch not to view the mechanism behind the empathy. Doubts: her whole Big Machine debacle, her fanclub throwing away mail in Nashville, her string of lovers, her rich kids parties, her Chelsea home: all comes with a kick of insincerity. The same is true of the men who co-wrote and co-produced the excellent folklore.

Both Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff are middle class, white, Jewish liberals, I know the type very well (if I was Jewish I’d be the same). In Aaron’s case, a friend from work for some thirty years is best friends with Aaron’s father, an advertising executive and an upper middle class  midwesterner, and when I asked through channels for a q&a was completely ignored.  Jack Antonoff looks like a handsomer than usually New Jersey every boy middle class, a  Portnoy complainer.

Taylor is 30, Jack is 36, Aaron is 44.

So near the start of the pandemic, Taylor “Some indie record that’s much cooler than mine” Swift hires Aaron and regroups with Jack to write folklore without ever meeting, working online and trading files,  and got her own cool, Americana  indie band ala Taylor album. Take that Jake Gyllenhaal.

The album was a huge hit and is without a doubt in my top five of the year. So huge that the first round of #1s in the US didn’t even include vinyl or CD sales. An enormously popular result for Swift, she may never be as big as she was circa “Shake It Off” but neither is anyone else, this is undoubtedly big enough.

In September, Taylor, with Jack and Aaron in tow, repaired to a cottage cum studio in upstate New York to play the music together in the same room for the first time ever and the stench of rich man’s weather is overwhelming: it is like they’ve been flown in from a different planet. And still, Swift is so needy it is scary, when she claims to want to live a normal life at least once a day it is as though normality is a skill that can be learnt, like learning a new word (something she could use, Taylor drifts towards the prosaic). They sit in a circle of privilege trying to prove their strangeness is their art. Aaron? Aaron is like if Martin Amis was invited to write with Stephen King: Amis is clearly a superior writer, and clearly slumming to some degree, but King is still doing him a favor. Watching Aaron, who is five eleven, speaking to Taylor is so off center, so needy: he is earnest and  twitchy at the same time, discussing “Peace”  he admits to suffering from manic depression as a counterpoint to Swift’s (remember that Rolling Stone interview with Taylor where she met the writer in Central Park and within ten minutes the area was flooded with fans and she had to escape to a waiting car), fame monster: both of them affect their loved ones. But even on “Peace,” I’ve heard the music Aaron Dessner and when Taylor says she heard peace on one song and Mad Woman or another, I don’t know what she is talking about. Clearly, they sounded nothing of the sort.

Antonoff is worse, he is just about insufferable as he kisses Taylor’s ass and tries to play foil (when discussing her boyfriend co-writing a song under a pseudonym she snaps at him). He is both obsequious and deeply irritating, he can’t play the piano without giving it his little all, and at 36 years of age, despite his tremendous success, he is so damn adolescent: no wonder Lorde and Lana Del Rey both swear by him, he is like the incestuous kid brother who worships them, and that goes doubly for his attitude towards Taylor. It is a bizarre trio Aaron, Jack and Tay:  two nerds and a shiksa. Everything seems to out of place, every concern not my concern, the rich kids not quite slumming but deep into proving that they are serious artists and lapping up their own self-regard… When they play as a trio they sound fine but the visual dynamics are washed out, it is the Julie Burchill comment, musicians are boring: the performances were stupefying musicologist tilted in self importance. Back to sincerity, what are they so pleased about?

Sometimes the performance adversely affects the songs in your memory banks, it starts off strong, then “Exile” (with Justin Vernon remote and still wearing a preposterous mask -is he scared of giving Covid-19 to himself?) can’t recover, and neither can “My Tears Ricochet” and nothing is quite right till “August” which saves the entire set and she doesn’t lose her musical setting again through “The Lakes” (as in the Lake District -one of my old stamping grounds, just be glad she didn’t get to Haworth) and while I got nothing much from them discussing the process, I will give Taylor two lyrical insights I hadn’t noticed before. On “This Is Me Trying” she notes that an alcoholic may not drink for a year but if he drinks for just one day he has let everyone down, and on “August” that the other woman in a romance is not the villain, she has her own story: that is a wonderful idea and I appreciate it: “But I can see us lost in the memory, August slipped away into a moment in time cause it was never mine”. There is also a disappointment for our samesexers, “Betty” is not about a lesbian affair but sung from a man’s point of view, big bummer but take hope in this, maybe she isn’t telling the whole truth: Swift is too easter eggy for her not to know how it would be read.

The songs are good to great and the performances are good to very good, the trio reek of middle class kids who got rich and don’t know how to relate it back to a country in the throes of a financial meltdown, in a country where 14 millions children don’t have enough to eat (here). Taylor can’ t get the balance right. We can’t concern ourselves with her wellbeing as we need to not to see this as a borderline vanity product. For a woman who has excelled at empathy just about always, this doesn’t get its audience. I’ve read the big reviews of this and they were 100% positive, never is heard a discouraging word, so here is one.

Grade: C-

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