Since spotting the mysterious name "William Bowery" among the writing credits for songs on Taylor Swift's eighth studio album, Folklore, fans have speculated that it may be a pseudonym for Joe Alwyn, Taylor Swift's boyfriend of more than three years. Well, Swifties, Taylor Swift confirmed it during her amazing folklore: the long pond studio sessions concert film, which arrived on Disney+ today.
SPOILER ALERT: For those who haven't gotten around to seeing the movie yet, read no further if you don't want to know the details about Joe Alwyn's involvement in Folklore.
Folklore: the long pond studio sessions features performances of every song on Taylor Swift's new album, recorded at the Hudson Valley studio. In between songs, Taylor sits with producers Jack Antonoff and The National's Aaron Dessner and they talk about the conception of the songs and how they each came together, passing music and lyrics back and forth remotely during quarantine. Joe Alwyn wasn't in attendance for the filming of the Disney+ film (that we saw, anyway), but during the conversation about "Exile," Taylor finally confirmed that yes, William Bowery is Joe Alwyn.
Apparently, The Favourite actor is quite the piano player, and when Taylor heard him singing the first verse of what would become "Exile," she was "entranced."
Joe plays piano beautifully. He's always just playing and making things up and kind of creating things. "Exile" was crazy 'cause Joe had written that entire piano part and was singing the Bon Iver part, 'I can see you standing honey, with his arms around your body, laughing but the joke's not funny at all.' ... He was just singing it the way the whole first verse is. So, I was entranced and asked if we could keep writing that one. It was pretty obvious that it should be a duet because he's got such a low voice and it sounded really good sung down there in that register.
Taylor Swift went on to say that she and Joe are fans of Bon Iver, but that when she spoke with Dessner about a possible male voice for the track, she was too nervous to even suggest Justin Vernon. It all turned out well in the end. Not only is "Exile" one of the most enchanting tracks on Folklore, it also earned Taylor Swift and Bon Iver a Grammy nomination this week for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
"Exile" wasn't the only song on Folklore that Joe Alwyn helped to write. Apparently, Joe Alwyn also caught Taylor's attention when they were in quarantine together and she heard him singing the entire fully-formed chorus for "Betty."
I was just like 'hello.' ... It was a step that we never have taken because, why would we have ever written a song together?
Write a song together, they did. During their conversation about "Betty" in folklore: the long pond studio sessions, Jack Antonoff said he thought Taylor was "doing a bit" when she told him she and Joe had written a song together. Taylor elaborated on how it all came together, and her and Joe's decision to do it, saying:
So this was the first time where we had a conversation where I came in and was like 'Hey, this could be really weird and we could hate this, so could we just, because we're in quarantine and there's nothing else going on, could we just try to see what it's like if we write this song together?'
It was also a decision to write "Betty" from a male perspective:
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 boys' perspective apologizing after he loses the love of his life because he's been foolish.
Taylor Swift doesn't speak publicly about her relationship with Joe Alwyn all that often. Even in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, she seemed to want to leave his specific name out when referencing her relationship with him. But those who listen closely enough to the lyrics of some of her songs on Reputation, Lover and Folklore likely have a good sense of the (many) feelings she has for him. That she's confirming that he contributed to her latest (and one of her greatest) album is a real treat.
The Disney+ movie has so many more great little stories and insights in the conversations Taylor Swift has with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. Including the inspiration for "Epiphany," which came from Taylor having a grandfather who fought in World War II. And for "August," acknowledging the other side of a love triangle, and what the 'other girl' might've gone through, falling for a guy who returns to his girlfriend.