Home Video, Folklore and Pandemic Nostalgia

On March 12th, 2020, I received the email that my college would be shutting down for at least three weeks. The office I worked in shut down, my professors were not allowed to give any exams or assignments for three weeks and my mom was texting me constantly asking when I would be coming home in case the highways shut down for whatever reason. I stayed in my college town for the weekend, saying goodbye to my friends for what I thought would be a three-week long spring break, however, by the next week we heard from our chancellor that the school would not be reopening for the remainder of the semester. It was then, less than a week into quarantine, that I decided to rewatch Glee.

I had not watched a single episode of the show since I was in middle school, yet I consumed the entire first season — 22 episodes — in less than a week. As the world crumbled down around me in a way I had never even considered it could, the only comfort I could find resided in a TV show from 2009 with a 6.7/10 rating on IMDb. Throughout the remainder of quarantine, I didn’t watch a single movie I hadn’t seen before. Every week, I would sit down with my parents and watch a movie we had watched together sometime in my childhood or adolescence. We’d watch Freaky Friday together, reminisce, then I would go down to my childhood bedroom and listen to the cicadas in isolation. The world was put entirely on pause as my youth passed me by, but by allowing myself to venture into my own nostalgia, I could find some sense of peace.

I wasn’t the only one feeling this, apparently, as four months into the pandemic, the Grammy award-winning album folklore was released after a sudden announcement by Taylor Swift. On July 23rd, 2020, Taylor posted to all of her social media to tell her fans that she had spent the last few months recording her eighth studio album remotely, creating a piece of art entirely formed by the pressure of the global pandemic that was weighing down on all of us. Though the album explored mostly fictional stories, the themes were more intimate than anything she had attempted before. By using the disguise of fiction, Taylor was able to write stories steeped in complete honesty, addressing themes she had attempted to touch on in Lover without the candy-coated insincerity.

Both the songs based in fact as well as the songs based in fiction on folklore seem to reside mostly in the past. Taylor understands the pandemic through the lens of her grandfather’s army experience, reflects on her own past as well as the past of her boyfriend Joe Alwyn to understand their present relationship, and explores a fictional high school relationship in three parts. Even in the songs that take place in the present, Taylor cannot seem to escape the past. In the second track, “cardigan,” she laments, “I knew everything when I was young,” only to beg a childhood best friend later in the album to only picture her at age seven when she reminisces on their childhood together. Even without the explicit references to youth, Taylor refers to her “scars” several times throughout the album, physical proof of the emotional pain from her past. The past manifests itself within every track on folklore, a circular timeline with Taylor trapped somewhere in the middle of it.

It makes sense for this album to be a product of quarantine. The pandemic caused me as well as many others in my early 20’s age-bracket to exist in a fun-house mirror version of our childhood. I moved back into my parent's house, spending all my time going on walks with them or watching movies. Once I felt safe to see one or two people outside of my family, it was my childhood friends with who I passed my time. This time, however, as I was fully aware of the time that was passing me by I was made aware of the time that was slipping away from them as well. Every day, my phone made me aware of the death toll across the world from the comfort of my childhood bed. I felt like an ancient child burdened every day with the knowledge of my parent’s mortality, worrying that every trip to the grocery store would leave me without them. At the same time, my body was suddenly inhabited by the spirit of my sixteen-year-old self, annoyed by every movement my family made as I craved the independence I had already possessed.

I began crying almost nightly thinking about my late grandmother, who had passed away six years earlier. The wound of her death opened suddenly as I was reminded that someday my own parents could disappear as suddenly as she did. We would watch old home videos and they felt like horror movies. I wanted to scream at the girl in them to not go down to the basement, not let time move by her, not let everything change until she was here and she was me. I felt so much like Taylor Swift saying “I can go anywhere I want just not home” but I was home. Physically, I was home every second of the day. But my heart longed to instead return to the home I had created inside myself when I was seven years old.

I wanted to return to the home where everyone I had ever loved was safe, and I could simply run around and around until I grew tired and someone carried me to bed. I longed for the home where I sat by my open window, reading a book at two in the morning under the light of my Nintendo DS because I was not meant to be awake at that time, watching moths flock to the streetlight. Being in my parent's house, trapped together by the rules of the pandemic, opened the door to my internal home just a crack. I was allowed to see inside, watch my childhood in vignettes, but I was not allowed to ever return.

Nearly a year after folklore was released and about a year and a half into the pandemic, Lucy Dacus released her third album, Home Video on June 25th, 2021. This album was released into a similar situation but almost an entirely different world than folklore. Vaccines are being distributed throughout the U.S., society is beginning to open back up, yet COVID-19 variants are bringing a new surge of panic back into society. I graduated college now yet I am back to my childhood bedroom, living again in my hometown as I wait to move into my first grown-up apartment. As I stare down the next chapter of my life, still navigating my early 20’s during a pandemic, I am facing my nostalgia in a new light. Rather than being forced into the memories, I feel as though I am lovingly unpacking boxes full of my childhood, seeking out the girl I was as I prepare to leave it all behind.

Home Video feels as though Lucy Dacus is doing the same beside me, driving into her hometown in the opening track “Hot & Heavy” and playing a snippet of a home movie for her audience throughout each track. Home Video and folklore exist in conversation with each other from opposite sides of the pandemic. folklore desperately seeks comfort from her own stories, mythology, and adolescence, only to realize that with every word written down there is still a fresh wound waiting underneath each scar. In Home Video, Lucy attempts to give honest, in-the-moment accounts from her youth, though she admits sometimes she touches up an ending a bit just to make the moment happier. In her track “Triple Dog Dare,” she tells the story of a friendship she had with a girl which both came about and was ruined by their own latent queerness they had not yet unearthed. Though the friendship in real life ended, in the song, Lucy instead allows herself to run away with the girl, going off to live on her family’s boat and float away into a happy ending. In the same fashion as Taylor Swift, she mythologizes her own past, wrapping up loose ends in a way to heal her teenage self. It is a hope representative of someone seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after a year and a half of mass death and injustice, while Taylor’s stories show someone still in the hole with no way out.

It is on the songs “Thumbs” and the aforementioned“seven” that the similarities and differences between the two albums really show themselves. Home Video’s track “Thumbs,” tells the story of Lucy Dacus going with her friend at nineteen to visit her friend’s absent father. As they sit at a bar together, Lucy fantasizes about killing the man to protect her friend, hoping to relieve some of the pain. It is written from an adult perspective, saying all of the words she wished she was saying to the friend instead. On the other side, Taylor Swift sings on “seven” of her childhood best friend’s abusive father from a child’s understanding of abuse. Taylor considers the abuse to be the fault of a haunted house and thinks she can solve the problems by offering to her friend, “I think you should come live with me” still not understanding that at age seven she cannot fix anything for the other girl.

Both Lucy Dacus as well as Taylor Swift take on their friend’s pain as their own, carrying it with them into their twenties and thirties respectively. Nineteen-year-old Lucy’s suggestion to solve the problem is to kill the father, taking on the role of protector from him while seven-year-old Taylor insists instead on running away together. Either way, both girls seem to reflect bitterly on their own powerlessness in the situation to protect a friend from the one who should have protected them in the first place. There is a childishness in both songs, offering seemingly simple yet dramatic solutions to big problems, both unaware that these solutions would only cause more problems. Both women attempt to gain some sort of power within their own powerlessness, both aware now in their adulthoods that there was never a right answer for either of them.

While these songs speak to specific moments and relationships in the pasts of the songwriters, they reflect the reason why existing in a pandemic has created such a sense of nostalgia in so many people. As both Lucy Dacus and Taylor Swift mine their past for stories, they demonstrate the connection of the powerless within childhood and the powerlessness that COVID-19 created in so many of us. The difference is, in our childhoods the powerlessness was expected. Children understand that they have a lack of power within their lives, knowing they must follow the rules that are laid out for them by the adults in their lives. While Taylor gained freedom within that lack of power, stating that when she was seven she “used to scream ferociously any time I wanted,” both artists recognize the fear and danger that can come from that lack of power or control.

As I lost control of the life I had, no longer able to leave the house or to see my friends when I wanted to see them, I dipped back into the last time I had felt comfort in my own lack of control. I may not have had much control or power over my life as a child, but I had a sense of safety within that as I could count on those who did have the power to use it to guide me along. Now, those adults I had depended on the last time I felt this helpless were in the same situation I was, and I resented them for it. I wanted to be playing pirates in my backyard, knowing someone would call me inside when it was time to eat. I did not want to sit on the couch in my parent’s living room, listening to the news anchor tell me they were out of hospital beds and if my parents got sick there was nothing any of us could do. I dipped back into my past for relief, only to realize there was pain there too, buried under all of the comfort. A wall had been put up between me and my future and I was forced to turn back and allow my present and past to finally meet and hash things out among themselves.

Lucy Dacus, when speaking about the first track on Home Video, “Hot & Heavy,” stated that she “think[s] of [her] past self as a separate person” which allowed her within the album to both tell stories about this person as well as treat them as a fictional character for which she can re-write these stories. On folklore, Taylor Swift appears to do the same, writing stories starring herself but not quite herself at the same time. Taking snippets of herself and inserting them into folk stories she was writing about her own life. As the future continues to show itself to be uncertain, growing safer and then scarier on a loop, the most healing activity is to return to one’s past self and wrap them in the arms of your present self.

There is no true way to go backward in time, and the last year and a half have made it seem as though there is no true way to walk forwards either. However, both Lucy Dacus and Taylor Swift have demonstrated for me how to kneel down, look my past self in the eye, and tell them I am sorry for what happened to them. Tell them that I will write them a new ending, a new beginning, a new middle if they will step back inside of me and let us move on. Lucy Dacus said, “at one point in my life, everything was ahead of me and my life could’ve ended up, however. It still can, but it’s like now I know the secret.” Listening to Home Video and folklore, I feel like we are all whispering the secret in each other’s ears. It’s a game of telephone, and I am a really good listener.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store