When Taylor Swift released her second album, Fearless, back in 2008, she was a bright-eyed singer-songwriter 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 gets better than this,” the 33-year-old sings to a stadium of 70,000 people. Every last one of them shares the sentiment.
The five years since Swift’s last tour have been among her most prolific. She’s made four additions to her “family” of albums: 2019’s Lover, 2020’s Folklore and Evermore, and 2022’s 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 back catalogue of 10 albums, from her earlier country twang on her self-titled debut to the shift to synth-pop on 1989, then to the subdued folk and alt-rock of Folklore and Evermore. Throughout the opening night of the tour, it frequently feels as though the audience is being caught up with Swift’s past, present and future. In the 44-song setlist that spans three hours and 15 minutes, she shows why the “era” concept is so integral to who she is. Each chapter marks a specific shift in her artistry.
There’s a palpable elation at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Costumes are emblazoned with hand-painted lyrics; faces are bright with glitter; hands are covered in Swift’s lucky number 13. The fans I speak to say the concert feels like “coming home”. Swift herself admits to feeling a little overwhelmed: “I’ll be trying to keep it together all night.”
Plenty of Swift’s biggest hits make it onto the setlist, of course, but there are surprises, too. Like the fact that she opens on “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”, the hazy synth-driven track from Lover, inspired by Swift’s political disillusionment. On it, she cast herself as a high school student dealing with bullies as an allegory for the right-wing gaining power in the US, and the heartbreak and despair that came with it. Deeper album cuts appear in the form of “Illicit Affairs”, the haunting track on which Swift battles her inner emotions, and a striking acoustic version of “Mirrorball”, which she dedicates to her fans. Later, they get the chance to scream-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 lengthy hiatus, sees different versions of Swift inside glass boxes: a nod to a time when she grappled to reconcile her sense of self with her public image. For songs from the autumnal, insular Folklore and Evermore, the stage is overtaken by trees and a cosy, moss-covered cabin. At one point, the stage is bare aside from a long wooden table that she arranges for two people. It’s sparse and cold, reflecting the stark sound of “tolerate it”, where she pleads for another person’s attention.
It’s telling that Swift closes on “Karma”, a tongue-in-cheek nod to how she ultimately rose above the tabloid headlines, feuds and rivalries that once circled her like vultures. Dressed in a shimmering fringed jacket, joining in with her troupe of dancers, she seems as liberated as she’s ever been. “Ask me why so many fade/ but I’m still here,” she sings. The answer is right there for all to see.