For a week or so, social media has been flooded with people reflecting on the last three years, the time between March 2020 and today. It’s been a time of unprecedented change and loss in society, one that saw many of us leave the office and then return to the office, that saw people mask up and then mask off. Few would look back at this time with nostalgia, but it was more about endurance, survival, and empathy. The best of us learned how to take everyone’s needs into account before making even the smallest of decisions. The worst of us seemed to learn nothing at all.
For Taylor Swift, the pandemic age has undoubtedly been its own singular experience — extremely few can relate to being the biggest musician in the world. After releasing Lover in the middle of 2019, she was barely able to support it at all, with her planned European festival run and Lover Fest series becoming one of the ultimate “what ifs” in rock and roll history. And while many of us were baking banana bread and riding Pelatons, Taylor was working, releasing five collections of material during what will likely go down as the most prolific period of her career. She offered up the incredible folklore and evermore albums as surprise releases that comforted us all in the darkness of 2020, “Taylor’s Version” re-recordings of Fearless and Red in 2021, and the return-to-big-ticket-pop of Midnights in 2022. She’s stretched herself as a director — including the award-winning short film for the long-rumored extended version of “All Too Well” — and welcomed new collaborators like Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon into the Swift Extended Universe. She even became the first woman to win Album Of The Year for a third time at the Grammys.
But, one thing that the last few years did not afford Taylor Swift was the opportunity to travel the globe and look her fans in the eye. Sure, the time between her Reputation Tour’s end in 2018 and the beginning of the Eras Tour — which took place last night in Phoenix, Arizona — might not seem that long in the grand scheme of things, but consider that the 14-year-old that got Lover for their birthday is now in college before seeing any of those songs live. While Swift certainly has fans of all ages and demographics — her stadium show ran the gamut of grownups dressed as full willow trees to a kid near us that just started watching YouTube videos on full blast during the set — time moves differently for her large, young base. They’ve been waiting a good portion of their life for this moment.
That’s not even to mention the Ticketmaster debacle that many had to endure to get tickets to see Swift. She alluded to it multiple times in the night, but if anything, it was the performance that showed how much the time and effort that her audience put into attending meant to her. Over more than three hours of music, Swift set out to, simply put, play the most impressive stadium show ever conceived. For an artist that has always put her fans first, this was the ultimate way to say thank you, to leave every bit of energy on stage to the point that it is hard to believe that she will do it again tomorrow, and over and over throughout the entire year. She’s full-on in her Pearl Jam/Springsteen/McCartney age, only with costumes and dancing and moments of pure theater. Pop stars don’t typically do shows like this. But she’s not a pop star, or a classic rocker, or anything that has come before. She’s Taylor Swift.
Before Friday night, there was much speculation as to what the Eras Tour might actually entail. And in practice, Swift gave exactly what the tour’s name implied, performing songs from each of her albums, arranged as chapters and presented together. Some of the albums only got slight representation — Speak Now saw the lone, grand “Enchanted” and her self-titled debut got an acoustic piano version of “Tim McGraw” — while albums such as folklore, Midnights, and Lover all received pretty massive selections. In all, 44 songs were performed, many in their entirety, including all 10 minutes of “All Too Well.” Swift would occasionally disappear for a costume change, but never for more than a couple minutes.
As the set made apparent the scope of what would be presented, the attention to detail really began to stand out. Some notes:
- Each era’s costumes were lavish and harkened to the album being performed, be it from previous tours or music videos. But the witchy seance of “willow,” with Swift in a cape and her dancers throwing glowing orange orbs, might have been my favorite.
- Reputation has never been a critical darling, and it was wild to hear the crowd erupt during the first appearance of the album-signifying snake. That said, “Look What You Made Me Do” was given a pretty incredible visual treatment, with all the eras of Taylor trapped in boxes on the giant screen and Swift strutting all over her catwalk, winding up on the ground to yell the “Taylor’s dead” line.
- Every show of the tour will get a unique acoustic number performed at the end of the catwalk. For the kickoff, Phoenix got “Mirrorball,” a pretty fortuitous selection if I do say so.
- Taylor never really lets the seams show in her performance, but if you watch closely, you can catch bits of deserved pride shine through. During “Delicate,” she did a little skip into a twirl that ended with a smile that exclaimed a bit of that pride, reminding anyone paying attention of the hours of rehearsals that go into these things, that every song is filled with countless marks to hit and multitudes expressions and moves to memorize. She deserves to be proud of herself.
- She addressed the crowd several times, and the most revealing moments were when she set the record straight on evermore, a record she likes despite what they say on TikTok. Later, she gave a hilarious monologue about how many of her songs are about teaching men how to apologize. As someone that was there with my wife, I felt seen and will study the lyrics more closely going forward.
- Some of the songs that were big surprises, like “Tolerate It” and Tthe Last Great American Dynasty,” were given full theatrical treatments, with Taylor showcasing her acting chops and genuine sets being employed on stage. This felt like Swift the director, the actor, and the musician all meeting in a perfect Venn diagram center, and took the show to unexpected heights.
As the Eras Tour starts making its way across the country, complete with largely female opening bills that range from Paramore and Gayle in Phoenix to Haim, Phoebe Bridgers, Beabadoobee, Gracie Abrams, and many more in cities to come, expect to see timelines flooded with the kind of praise being heaped here. But payoffs like this are rare in life, where the thing that you’ve waited years for manages to exceed all expectations and set the bar even higher. It’s not so much that Taylor Swift has put all other musicians on notice in how to give people far more than their time and money’s worth after years of hardship. It’s that she’s made us all feel like we deserve it, like this is just her doing her job. But this is not just another pop tour, not just another day at the office. We’re lucky to witness an artist like Taylor Swift in her prime, pushing herself to her limits. It made the wait worth it.