Taylor Swift unveils William Bowery's identity, and more revelations from Folklore concert film
Just in time for Thanksgiving, Taylor Swift has given fans something else to be thankful for: a Folklore concert film!
Officially dubbed Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions, the film, which launched on Disney+ in the wee hours of Wednesday, follows Swift and her co-producers Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff as she performs all 17 songs off of her latest album and the trio provides all the stories and secrets behind each track. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver also joins in the fun (remotely, from Wisconsin, due to the pandemic) to perform "Exile" with Swift.
It's the first time Swift has performed all the songs live, and also the first time all the collaborators have been together in one place since the album was produced remotely during quarantine earlier this year. Naturally, a lot of tea was spilled and secrets revealed. Here, EW breaks down the all of the things we learned from the film.
William Bowery Unmasked
When Folklore released, fans were quick to point out that a mysterious figure named William Bowery helped co-write two tracks: "Exile" and "Betty." There was one problem, though — Bowery doesn't seem to exist. This led to rampant speculation that he could be Swift's boyfriend, Joe Alwyn; her brother, Austin Swift; or perhaps another singer-songwriter in the industry. Swift and her co-producers have remained mum on his true identity, until now. In the film, Swift reveals it's none other than her longtime boyfriend. "So it's Joe, as we know. And Joe plays piano beautifully and he's always just playing and making things up and creating things," she says. Swift goes on to explain that she heard Alwyn singing and playing the first verse of what would later become "Exile," which is sung by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon in the final version, and she was "entranced" and asked if they could work on that song together. And when it became clear that the song should be a duet, Alwyn and Swift both wanted Vernon involved, so she pitched it to Dessner, who reached out to Vernon, and the rest is songwriting history.
For "Betty," Swift says she overheard Alwyn singing the fully realized chorus of the song from another room and approached him about writing the song together. "So, he was singing the chorus of it, and I thought it sounded really good from a man's voice, from a masculine perspective," she says, adding that that's where she got the idea to do the song from a guy's perspective.
A Truly DIY Album
Swift built a recording studio in her house because all of the recording studios were closed on account of the pandemic. Footage in the film shows her makeshift studio — which she fittingly dubbed the Kitty Committee Studios — and her recording engineer Laura Sisk freaking out about the set-up. She also didn't tell her label about the new record until right before the release. In a forthcoming interview with EW, Swift explains, "It was a very do-it-yourself experience, even down to my management team who created all of the art, everything. We created absolutely everything in advance, every lyric video, every individual album package, and then we called our label a week in advance and said, 'Here's what we have,' and showed them PDF files of all the things we already had." In fact, it was the first album she made where only a very select few people knew about it in advance. "The only people who knew were the people I was making it with, my boyfriend, my family, and a small management team. That's the smallest number of people I've ever had know about something," she says.
Where It All Started
The first song Swift wrote for the album was "My Tears Ricochet," which also happens to be the only one on the album she wrote solo. In the film, she says it's one of the saddest she's ever written, and Antonoff remarks that it's one of her best songs, which is probably why it got the coveted fifth spot on Folklore. Longtime Swifties know that Swift reserves the fifth track on an album for the song she feels is the most emotional.
Speaking with EW, Swift likened it to a 15-year relationship — be it personal or professional — that ends messily. "That was what started to happen [to me], so I wrote 'My Tears Ricochet' and I was using a lot of imagery that I had conjured up while comparing a relationship ending to when people end an actual marriage, and all of a sudden this person that you trusted more than anyone in the world is the person that can hurt you the worst."
A Teenage Love Triangle, Explained
Three songs on the album — "Betty," "August," and "Cardigan" — follow the same three characters through a teenage love triangle, told from their different perspectives. Although two of the characters are named, Betty and James, the name of the "other woman" with whom James cheats on Betty is never explicitly stated. In the movie, Swift reveals that she calls her Augusta or Augustine in her head. With "August," which grew out of a note on the singer's phone that had the lyric “meet me behind the mall” on it, Swift says she doesn’t see the other girl as the villain. "Everybody has feelings and wants to be seen and loved, and Augustine, that’s all she wanted," she says. And — surprise! — Swift thinks that James and Betty do actually end up together. “In my head, she ends up with him but he really put her through it,” she says. In a later part of the film, Swift emphatically calls James "a fool" and, well, she's not wrong.
Less First Person, More Fiction
This is the first album of hers that is not largely autobiographical in some way, and Swift says that came from a place of her watching a ton of movies and reading books and thinking about those characters. “I was kind of outside of my own personal stuff. I think that’s been my favorite thing about this album is that it’s allowed to exist on its own merit without it just being, ‘Oh, people are listening to this because it tells them something that they could read in a tabloid.’”
A Response to Scooter Braun?
Fans have speculated that "Mad Woman" and its themes of female rage could be a reference to Swift's ongoing public feud with music mogul Scooter Braun, which you can catch up on here. While Swift doesn't outright confirm this in Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions, she does confirm it's based on recent personal experience.
“It’s a person who makes me feel, or tries to make me feel, like I’m the offender by having any kind of defense to his offenses," 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.’” She adds that the musical track Dessner sent her provided "the musical bed" for her that allowed her to figure out how to put what she'd been feeling into a song.
Another song on the album could refer to the battle over her old masters. The last track, "Hoax," which she says embodies the album’s themes, is about more than one scenario. “One is about love, and one is about a business thing that really hurt, and one is about a sort of relationship that I consider to be family, but that really hurt,” she says.
Inspiration Behind the Songs
Throughout the film, Swift frequently explained the inspiration to her songs. The album's opener, "The 1," is both about updating a former lover on how you are currently and about where she sees herself creatively. With "Mirrorball," Swift explains that she started with the imagery of a mirrorball, but it came to represent a metaphor for her celebrity and for people who feel they need to be "on" constantly. "Seven" came out of her pondering kids throwing tantrums at the grocery store, and that point in everyone's life when you grow out of doing that. She confirmed that "This Is Me Trying" is about addiction, with the first verse being about "someone who is in a life crisis and trying and failing in a relationship," and the second verse follows someone who has a lot of potential, but has feels they have lost in life and starts drinking. One of the more autobiographical songs on the album, "Invisible Strings," was inspired by her sending a baby gift to an ex-boyfriend (presumably Joe Jonas, who welcomed a baby with wife Sophie Turner earlier this year). “I just remember thinking this is a full signifier that life is great,” she says.
“Epiphany” almost started as a sports song because she had been watching Michael Jordan miniseries The Last Dance, but she moved away from that as she thought more about her grandfather’s war experiences. Her imagined experiences of COVID first responders informed the second verse. “Peace” is about how she wants to have a normal life but she can’t stop some of it from happening. "So this song was basically like, is the stuff I can control enough to sort of block out the things that I can’t?" And she says it brings her, ahem, peace to know that people have related to the song in other ways.
"The Lakes" Is the Real End to the Album
At the end of the film, Swift confirmed that bonus track "The Lakes," which sees her romanticizing a future in which she runs away with her "muse" to the U.K.'s Lakes District and retires, is the real end to Folklore. "'Hoax' as the ending song for the record I thought was interesting for a couple weeks, but then I wanted to actually come in with the real last song of the record, with is ‘The Lakes,'" she says. "[It] shows you exactly what the overarching theme of the whole album is — of trying to escape, having something you wanna protect, trying to protect your own sanity and saying, ‘Look, they did this hundreds of years ago. I’m not the first person who’s felt this way. They did this.'"
Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is streaming now on Disney+.