Miserable & Magical: Cottage to the core with Taylor Swift

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It should come as no surprise that Taylor Swift’s new concert film on Disney+ has me feeling all the feels.

“Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions” is an intimate recording of Swift performing her album “folklore” (sic) for the first time. In between songs she’s seen chatting about each track with collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dressner – and giving Swifties all the inside secrets we’ve been waiting for. 

And while I could probably write an entire dissertation about these secrets or song meanings, or about her slight, but powerful inflection changes when she sings the songs live, I’m not going to do that. (That would probably be better suited for Tumblr, anyway.)

No, I’m writing about something the internet has dubbed “cottagecore” – an aesthetic characterized by a romanticized desire to live in a cute, cozy cottage in the countryside and have a simple, non-materialistic life inspired by nature. Basically, it’s an interest held by people who don’t live a life like that but fill their homes, wardrobes, and Instagram feeds with depictions of this lifestyle.

I hadn’t heard of the term until “folklore” came out this summer. The album and its accompanying visuals are the embodiment of cottagecore, and this paired with the pandemic has resulted in an increased interest in the whole aesthetic. Pretty much, people want to run away into the woods and forget all the horrors of this year we’re in.

Swift’s film, set at Long Pond Studios in upstate New York, opens over a dense, misty forest before panning over a rustic cabin with twinkling lights and a smoking chimney. Inside the cabin among all the recording equipment are old couches and knit blankets. The in-between shots of Swift talking about the songs take place in various spots on the property, including in front of a fire pit, on a small secluded lawn, on a white porch, and in a sparsely decorated living room. It’s cottagecore to a T. 

Not surprisingly, I’m very much into it. The place looks like a dream or something out of a fairytale. I’ve always been drawn to nature and the idea of a slower life. There have been times in my life where I’ve dreamed of living in New York City, but I’ve always known I’d settle down in a quieter place.

This year, [name redacted] and I have been talking about looking for a house, and one of our top must-haves is that it’s secluded. We don’t want to see any neighboring houses or the street. We want to be surrounded by trees and silence and nothing else. I grew up like this in rural New Hampshire, but being young and curious about the outside world, I didn’t always appreciate it.

This year has underscored just how important a life in nature is to me. I’ve already written in this column about camping and hiking and being at lakes, and how beneficial these have been to my mental health this year. Being outside, away from the noise and technology is grounding and freeing. It allows me to think and remember what matters to me. 

I often get caught up in what people think of me. Or I’ll see things on Twitter and wonder, am I supposed to have an opinion on this? I’m always scared that I’m not doing enough with my life or that I’m doing the wrong things. It’s a constant game of comparison in which I never measure up. To me, going into the woods means leaving all that behind. 

The last song on “folklore” is “the lakes,” which is one of the most relatable to me on the album. Swift sings, “take me to the Lakes where all the poets went to die, I don’t belong, and my beloved, neither do you.” In the movie, she talks about her desire to run away to the Lake region of England where 19th-century poets lived in artist communities. Antonoff replies to her that she’s been talking about running away for a long time.

Obviously Swift and I live very different lives and her reasons for wanting to run away to a simple life are to escape celebrity and have anonymity, while mine are to just slow down and find joy in simple things. At the core of this, though, (or at the cottagecore, perhaps) is the basic human desire so many of us are searching for right now. We want happiness and comfort, and we want our worries to disappear. 

I’m not sure if these things can truly be found in solitude. So in the meantime, I’ll seek out the feeling along with everyone else, through social media and films.

Ironic, I know.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.