That cycle continued with the release of Lover in 2019, with festival dates scheduled throughout 2020, including four standalone “Loverfests”.
But Swift’s plans were abruptly interrupted by the pandemic. The tour was cancelled. Unmoored from her usual obligations, Swift took the opportunity to create and release music in a new way, working with Aaron Dessner of The National to create folklore and then its companion album evermore, both of which represent a new sound for Swift.
Remote collaboration offered new opportunities for the superstar. Dessner previously told her The National often worked together remotely to create their albums. After writing a number of tracks, Swift recalled Dessner’s approach and invited him work with her on an album.
The remote collaboration would go on to add a number of other new creative partnerships for Swift, including with Bon Iver, Haim and Marcus Mumford, as well as her partner Joe Alwyn, writing under the name William Bowery.
Swift, of course, has access to resources and people most artists could only dream of. But she is far from alone in identifying creative opportunities in the pandemic. From Zoom “Shut Up and Write” sessions to remote international collaborations to online classes, new avenues have opened even as existing opportunities disappeared.
Previously unimaginable pairings and reunions have been made possible by remote collaboration: Pop singer Ariana Grande teamed up with Thundercat, JD Beck and DOMi to record a song for an Adult Swim fundraiser, the cast of The Princess Bride reunited via videochat to do a full table read of the film script (with Josh Gad filling in for Andre the Giant), and US politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar joined popular Twitch personalities to livestream a session playing the game “Among Us”.
Creatives working solo have also found ways to use the opportunities presented by the pandemic to produce new work.
Dr Cesar Albarran-Torres of Swinburne University of Technology, wrote his second book Global Trafficking Networks on Film and Television, during Melbourne’s first wave of restrictions. While sharing caring duties for two young children with his partner, Albarran-Torres produced his full book manuscript in just three months.
He said finding a routine was crucial to being productive creatively during the pandemic.
“I read about writers’ routines, particularly those writers, like the late Philip Roth, who lived semi-isolated,” he said. “Wake up, make your bed, write in 25-minute sprints that add up to a six-month marathon.”
Albarran-Torres also consciously made use of the time he would ordinarily spend commuting, dedicating that newly-discovered free time to writing.
For many, the pandemic itself was source of creative inspiration. Essayist Zadie Smith wrote a collection of six essays mediating on the pandemic, edited and published in July, a rarity in an industry with long lead times. Indian-American journalist Fareed Zakaria researched and wrote Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World. Swift herself explored the long term emotional impact of the pandemic for front line workers in “Epiphany”, a track on folklore.
Albarran-Torres also found the pandemic itself fuelled his work. “I was writing about the drug trade and Global North-Global South relations. The pandemic made my work more poignant, as the power differentials between superpowers and the Global South made injustices clearer.”
With more direct-to-audience creative opportunities than ever, artists created podcasts, articles, videos and albums that reached fans quickly, often with messages specific to the moment we are living through.
Audiences welcomed these products: podcast consumption in particular has boomed during the pandemic. Spotify announced that in its second quarter of 2020, the average amount of podcast consumption had doubled. New podcasts like Staying In with Emily & Kumail and Working it Out with Mike Birbiglia were created by artists whose usual outlets were limited during the pandemic.
So while Swift might be the paragon of pandemic creative productivity, she is just one of the many musicians, writers, artists, bakers and other creatives of all kinds who saw the boundaries of the pandemic as presenting an opportunity to create something new.
And yes, that includes every person who made sourdough for the first time.
The Watchlist newsletter
Check out The Watchlist for the next TV show, streaming series or movie to add to your must-sees. Coming soon, sign up now.