When Taylor Swift released her second album, Fearless, in 2008, she was a bright-eyed singer-songwriter who hoped to make it big in Nashville. Fifteen years later, it’s clear she’s made it big all over the place. “I don’t know how it gets better than this,” the 33-year-old sings in front of a stadium of 70,000 people. Each and every one of them shares the sentiment.
The five years since Swift’s last tour have been one of her most productive. She has made four additions to her “family” of albums: 2019’s Lover2020s Folklore And forever, and that of 2022 Midnights. At the same time, she’s been busy re-recording her first six albums as part of her plan to reclaim the master recordings, following a very public battle with her former record label.
Her “Eras Tour” was designed as a journey through that staggering 10-album catalog, from her earlier country twang on her self-titled debut to the shift to synthpop on 1989then to the subdued folk and alt-rock of Folklore And Always more. On the opening night of the tour, it often feels like the audience is being sucked into Swift’s past, present, and future. In the 44-song setlist that spans three hours and 15 minutes, she demonstrates why the “era” concept is so integral to who she is. Each chapter marks a specific shift in her artistry.
There is a palpable elation at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Costumes are decorated with hand-painted texts; faces are bright with glitter; hands covered with Swift’s lucky number 13. The fans I talk to say the concert feels like “coming home”. Swift herself admits to feeling a little overwhelmed: “I’ll try to keep it together all night.”
Many of Swift’s greatest hits make it onto the setlist, of course, but there are also surprises. Like the fact that she opens with “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” the hazy synth-driven song from Lover, inspired by Swift’s political disillusionment. She then pitched herself as a high school student dealing with bullies as an allegory for the right wing that was gaining ground in the US, and the heartbreak and desperation that accompanied it. Deeper album versions appear in the form of “Illicit Affairs,” the haunting track where Swift battles her inner emotions, and a striking acoustic version of “Mirrorball,” which she dedicates to her fans. Later they get the chance to sing along to some of her most cutting lyrics on “Vigilante S***” (“I don’t dress for women/ I don’t dress for men/ Lately I’ve been dressing for revenge “).
Each era transition is marked by both a costume and set change. “Look What You Made Me Do,” the 2017 single that heralded her return after a long hiatus, sees different versions of Swift in glass boxes: a nod to a time when she struggled to reconcile her sense of self with her public image. For songs from autumn, insular Folklore And forever, the stage is overtaken by trees and a cozy, moss-covered hut. At one point, the stage is bare, except for a long wooden table that she sets up for two people. It’s sparse and cold, echoing the stark sound of “tolerate it,” where she begs for another’s attention.
Tellingly, Swift closes with “Karma,” an ironic nod to how she finally rose above the headlines, feuds, and rivalries that once circled her like vultures. Dressed in a shimmering, fringed jacket, she joins her troupe of dancers and seems as liberated as she’s ever been. “Ask me why so many fade / But I’m still here,” she sings. The answer is there for all to see.