There were some surprises on the short credits list when Taylor Swift’s July album folklore came out, from her working with the National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver to the identity of William Bowery, a mysterious songwriter with no online profile who’s credited on “exile” and “betty.” Swift’s fans quickly began to speculate about Bowery’s identity, as they do with these things, with many guessing he was Swift’s boyfriend, Joe Alwyn. (Alwyn’s great-grandfather was the composer William Alwyn, and one of Swift and Alwyn’s first public spottings was at the Bowery Hotel.) “He’s a singer-songwriter,” Dessner told Vulture at the time. In her new Disney+ documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions, Swift revealed that the fans were right on this one, and Bowery was a pseudonym for Alwyn. “Joe plays piano beautifully, and he’s always just playing and making things up and kind of creating things,” she explained of her boyfriend’s involvement in the project — which Dessner and fellow producer Jack Antonoff in fact did know about, too.
The couple worked on “betty” first. “I just heard Joe singing the entire, fully formed chorus of ‘betty’ from another room. And I just was like, ‘Hello,’” Swift said, adding that Alwyn also inspired the song’s viewpoint (and not latent queerness, sorry). “He was singing the chorus of it and I thought it sounded really good from a man’s voice, from a masculine perspective,” she added. “And I really liked that it seemed to be an apology.” The Swift-Alwyn house must just be full of singing, because when it came to “exile,” Swift said her boyfriend was again “just singing” Bon Iver’s part of the duet. Not only that, she explained, but “Joe had written that entire piano part.” William Bowery album when? Swift continued, “I was entranced, and I asked if we could keep writing that one.”
Swift also said their collaboration came, in part, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. “It was a step that we would never have taken because why would we have ever written a song together?” she said. “This was the first time we had a conversation where I came in and I 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?’” We’re sure it’s only a matter of time before Alwyn begins racking up his own Grammy nominations.
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