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‘Folklore’ Review: Taylor Swift’s Disney+ Doc Is Just Her Singing in a Barn, and That’s OK

Swift is joined by "Folklore" collaborators Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff for the first time in this easygoing streaming premiere.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift

YouTube/screenshot

With the same air of secrecy that flew in her album of the same name, Taylor Swift’s documentary “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions” surprise-dropped on Disney+ just in time for Thanksgiving. Though this recording session writ feature-length is hardly as revealing as the Netflix film “Miss Americana” centered on the pop queen that debuted earlier this year, the Disney+ doc will please Swift fans, offering a window into the introspective songwriting that became an escape valve for sadness.

The film brings together Taylor Swift with collaborators Aaron Dessner of The National and Jack Antonoff of Bleachers for the first time in a marooned farmhouse in upstate New York, cozy as an old cardigan. They’d all previously recorded the elements of “Folklore” separately, so it’s charming to see them in the same room — and in a simulacrum of what their process might’ve looked like in a non-pandemic world.

Throughout the movie, Swift speaks in less than concrete terms about the stories and secrets comprising each of the 17 songs off “Folkore.” For one, Swift reveals that one of the album’s credited co-writers is actually her boyfriend Joe Alwyn. At her most human, Swift fesses to anxiety over getting Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to come aboard for the track “Exile.” But the ask was no yeoman’s effort, as the indie icon (who made holing up in a cabin to unpack the soul a thing with 2007’s “For Emma, Forever Ago”) didn’t flinch at teaming up with Swift. Vernon assists, as fans know, one of the most poignant moments on the album and, as it turns out, even penned the bridge himself. (A face-masked Vernon makes a guest appearance in a remotely shot duet of the track.)

Swift is comfortably in her element with “Folklore” and, not surprisingly, also in quarantine, far-flung from the bright lights of the tabloid-driven world that typically consumes her existence. “Folklore” the album, she insists, is a repudiation of that universe. She doesn’t name names as to the inspirations and ires behind the album’s bleakest moments of betrayal and rage, but the material no doubt came bursting from a personal place.

Antonoff and Dessner are adoring companions, providing guitar and piano but also a fireside sounding board for Swift’s musings about art and music and life. They have an easy rapport that almost makes you forget they’re on camera.

“Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions” isn’t going to blow your head off, but it’s a fine supplement to one of the year’s most beloved albums, and the so-far rare chance to catch all of the songs “live.” Tracks like the searching single “Cardigan” benefit from the stripped-down approach, and inward-facing ballads like “Mirrorball” and “This Is Me Trying” hit harder live.

This is a sweet and soothing kickback for what is, for many out there, an otherwise lonely and isolating holiday season.

Grade: B-

“Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions” is now streaming on Disney+.

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