By Friday afternoon, there was a new destination in Arizona: Swift City, population 70,000 fans in town for the first stop on Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, and designated by some of them on Google Maps as a place of worship. “Welcome to ERAzona,” the 33-year-old pop star’s publicist emailed me hours before the show, referring to one of the hashtags Swifties developed to tag their arrival for what was billed – and delivered – as an expansive celebration of her undeniably prolific catalog. Team Swift is, as ever, attuned to the online conversation around her; you cannot consume Taylor Swift music without dipping (or diving) into Taylor Swift content. This is an artist who, as some have argued, has come closer than Mark Zuckerberg to building a true metaverse and cultivated a famously chatty, close virtual relationship with her fans.
Those fans turned out in force on Friday night in Glendale – fittingly for the base of her popularity, a suburb, roughly the same distance from Phoenix as Hendersonville, the town in Tennessee where Swift attended her one year of high school, is from Nashville, home of the country music industry that shaped her early career. Mostly women and gay men (along with a few good sport boyfriends/husbands) dressed in the instantly recognizable iconography of her 10 albums – Reputation-era black leotards, Lover-era pastels, mock-ups of her 2021 Folklore Grammy dress, rhinestone-adorned bodysuits a la Bejeweled music video, and at least two men in “sexy baby” T-shirts (see: Antihero).
From the outside, such intensity, courted by Swift with notorious Easter egging and rewarding, can be eye roll-inducing. But when viewed from inside the Swiftverse, in a deafening stadium she comfortably commanded for over three hours, it is rapturous, especially for those who have grown up with her 17 years of diaristic music, and particularly for white suburban women for whom Swift is the most famous avatar.
The Eras tour, as a show, is possibly the best-case scenario for fan service. Those who battled Ticketmaster and won were rewarded with a staggering 44-song setlist (about twice the number in her previous shows), some cut second verses but no mash-ups, that lasted the length of the movie Titanic (three hours and 12 minutes). It was a flex of unmatched productivity – since her last tour in 2018, Swift has released four original albums (or, as she put it, “we added four new members to the family” with Lover, Folklore, Evermore and Midnights) on top of two album re-recordings. And she dipped substantially into all of them. Going album by album (or, era by era) in color-blocked, outfit-delineated segments (including two sparkling bodysuits, a ballgown, two ethereal dresses, a one-legged snake suit, and the outfit from the 22 music video), Swift packed more than many TikTok speculators thought possible into one show, with almost no breaks and seemingly endless stamina.
The production was more Broadway extravaganza than singular concert – multiple set changes, from mossy Folklore cabin to high-rise office for The Man; a phalanx of backup dancers; color-synced bracelets for every audience member timed with the full array of stadium lights. The T-shaped stage with rising platforms provided each area of the floor with ample chances to ogle and photograph her; visuals (not subtle, as is her style) and staging drawn from her music videos blared on a giant curved screen behind her. (Also, a backing track which helped her sing for over three hours.) Save for a few numbers, it was a less heavily choreographed routine than the Reputation tour (a good thing), more an enthusiastic acting out by Swift of each of her songs, as if engaging in a dead-serious karaoke battle with each of her screaming fans for 44 straight songs. (I mean this in the best way – her commitment to each bit did not waver.)
There wasn’t time for much banter in between all this, though she made sure to cover the bases: gratitude for the crowd (“I don’t know how to process all of this and how it’s making me feel”), cheeky crowd-pleaser lines (“I love to explain to men how to apologize”), a nod at criticism of the woodsy Evermore (“an album that I absolutely love despite what some of y’all say on TikTok”). On that note, the scale of the production did make the earthy, whispery numbers on Folklore and Evermore (five and seven songs live, respectively), somehow work for a stadium (it helped that people sang along, as with almost every number, almost as loud as her vocals).
There were some sound issues, which seems less like a tour or performance problem than the challenge of projecting sound to a stadium full of 70,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. When dialed up for the heavier, harder, synthier numbers (ie, anything not on Folklore or Evermore but especially Reputation, 1989 and Red), it could be difficult to hear her enunciate, or just grasp texture within the wall of cathartic sound. At one point, the volume on her mic seemed to go wildly up and down.
The best showcases for her vocal abilities, then, were when she returned to her roots: one woman and an instrument, as on the acoustic versions of Mirrorball and her first-ever single, Tim McGraw. And, most effectively, on the 10-minute version of All Too Well – the crown jewel in her songwriting catalog and the emotional highpoint of the evening, a number she commanded from silence to goosebump-inducing crescendo and back with guitar pick in hand.
Or, at least, my emotional highpoint. Pick any fan in the stadium, and they will probably name another song, maybe one not even sung (sorry to Speak Now fans, which got one track), as their favorite. In sheer scope of songs and devotion to lyrics, no artist can match her – a point she stomped home, from Miss Americana through the aptly titled Mastermind (with a dose of Karma at the end), in an indisputably epic start to the Eras era.