When Taylor Swift released her second album, Fearless, in 2008, he was a bright-eyed singer-songwriter hoping to make it big in Nashville. Fifteen years later, it’s clear that he’s been successful everywhere. “I don’t know how it gets better than this,” the 33-year-old sings to a stadium of 70,000 people. Each of them shares the feeling.
The five years since Swift’s last tour have been her most prolific. He has made four additions to his album family: 2019 LoverThe 2020s Folklore and Always, and 2022 Midnights. Meanwhile, he has been busy re-recording his first six albums as part of his plan to reclaim the master recordings after a very public battle with his former label.
His “Eras Tour” was designed as a journey through that whopping 10-album catalog, from his early country twang on his self-titled debut to a shift into synth pop. 1989then to restrained folk and alt-rock Folklore and More. Throughout the opening night of the tour, it often feels like the audience is caught up in Swift’s past, present and future. In a set list of 44 songs lasting three hours and 15 minutes, he shows why the concept of “era” is such an essential part of who he is. Each chapter marks a certain change in his artistry.
At State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the excitement is palpable. Costumes are decorated with hand-painted words; the face is bright and sparkling; hands covered with Swift’s lucky number 13. Fans I talk to say the concert feels like a “homecoming.” Swift herself admits to feeling a little confused: “I’m trying to keep it together all night.”
Several of Swift’s biggest hits will of course make it to the set list, but there are also surprises. Like the way he launches into “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” a hazy synth-driven track Lover, Inspired by Swift’s political disillusionment. In it, he saw himself as a high school bully metaphor for the right-wing takeover in the United States and the heartache and despair it brings. The album’s deeper cuts feature “Illicit Affairs,” a haunting track where Swift battles her inner feelings, and a striking acoustic version of “Mirrorball,” which she dedicates to her fans. Later, they get a chance to scream-sing along to some of his most cutting lyrics, “Vigilante S***” (“I don’t dress for women / I don’t dress for men / Lately I’ve been dressing for revenge”).
Each period change is marked by both costumes and sets. “Look What You Made Me Do,” the 2017 single that heralded her comeback after a long hiatus, sees different versions of Swift inside glass cases: a nod to a time when she struggled to reconcile her sense of self with her public image. For songs about autumn, about the island Folklore and Always, trees passing the stage and a cozy moss-covered cabin. At one point, the stage is bare, except for a long wooden table that he sets for two people. It’s sparse and cold, echoing the sharp voice of “tolerate it,” in which he pleads for another person’s attention.
Tellingly, Swift ends “Karma,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to how she finally rose above the tabloid headlines, feuds and competition that once circled her like vultures. Dressed in a shimmering fringed coat and joining her dance troupe, she looks as liberated as ever. “Ask me why so many fade / But I’m still here,” he sings. The answer is there for all to see.