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When Taylor Swift released her second album, Fearless, in 2008, she was a bright-eyed singer-songwriter who was hoping to make it big in Nashville. Fifteen years later, it’s evident that she’s made it big everywhere. “I don’t know how it can get any better,” sings the 33-year-old in front of a stadium with 70,000 spectators. Every single one of them shares the feeling.
The five years since Swift’s last tour have been among her most productive. She has included four albums in her “Family”: 2019 Lover2020s folklore And Always, and 2022s midnight. At the same time, she was busy re-recording her first six albums as part of her plan to reclaim the master recordings after a very public battle with her former record label.
Their “Eras Tour” was designed as a journey through this stunning catalog of 10 albums, from their earlier country twist on their self-titled debut to their switch to synth-pop 1989then to the muted folk and alt rock of folklore And Always. During the tour’s opening night, it often feels like audiences are caught up in Swift’s past, present and future. In the 44-song setlist spanning three hours and 15 minutes, she shows why the concept of “era” is so important to her. Each chapter marks a specific shift in their artistry.
There is a palpable sense of exhilaration at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Costumes are adorned with hand-painted text; faces are bright with glitter; Hands are covered in Swift’s lucky number 13. The fans I speak to say that the concert feels like “coming home”. Swift herself admits feeling a little overwhelmed: “I’m going to try to stick together all night.”
Many of Swift’s biggest hits make the setlist, of course, but there are surprises as well. Like the fact that she opens that fuzzy synth track off “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince.” Lover, inspired by Swift’s political disillusionment. She threw herself on it as a high school student dealing with bullies, as an allegory for the right-wing power grab in America and the heartbreak and despair that came with it. Deeper album cuts come in the form of “Illicit Affairs,” the haunting track on which Swift struggles with her inner emotions, and a haunting acoustic rendition of “Mirrorball,” dedicated to her fans. They later get a chance to shout along to some of their 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 various versions of Swift in glass boxes: a nod to a time when she struggled to balance her confidence with her public image to reconcile. For songs from the autumnal, isolated folklore And Always, The stage is overtaken by trees and a cozy moss-covered hut. At one point the stage is empty save for a long wooden table that she arranges for two. It’s sparse and cold, echoing the stark sound of “tolerate it” where she’s begging for another person’s attention.
It’s telling that Swift ends with “Karma,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to how she eventually rose above the tabloid headlines, feuds and rivalries that once circled her like vultures. Clad in a shimmering fringed jacket joining her troupe of dancers, she looks as liberated as ever. “Wonder why so many are fading/ but I’m still here,” she sings. The answer is visible to everyone.