All of Taylor Swift’s past personas came alive on Friday night at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, during the Eras Tour. For this tour, the previous versions of Swift are very much present, as what once died didn’t remain dead. Quoting lyrics can only do so much to describe a show characterized by its essential stats: 44 songs performed in 192 minutes. For the younger audience members, this show might feel like a life flashback, extending beyond conventional curfew times and earning comparisons to the length of Springsteenian concerts.
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Before announcing and putting the tour on sale last November, fans wondered which album or albums Swift would primarily feature in the next touring cycle. The ingenious answer: all of them. Swift humorously reminded the audience that since the last gathering for the “Reputation” tour in 2018, she had added four new members to her album family: “Lover,” “Folklore,” “Evermore,” and “Midnights.” Although the setlist leaned toward the newer albums numerically, all 10 of her studio albums had their own dedicated segments in this career-spanning show. While some albums, like her 2006 debut and “Speak Now,” received one song in their mini-set, the other eight were given substantial stage time. This approach, an audacious attempt to go through an entire prolific catalog, one album at a time, non-chronologically but exhaustively, is a gambit rarely tried by an artist of Swift’s stature on a major tour.
Those who entered the stadium with expectations of a more randomly ordered best-of show might have found the opening perplexing: a snippet of one of her deeper album tracks, “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” followed by a full pop rendition of yet another non-single, “Cruel Summer.” As “The Man,” “You Need to Calm Down,” “Lover,” and “The Archer” followed in rapid succession, many had the same thought: Swift truly loves the “Lover” album. Somewhere in that sequence, the overarching structure of the tour became clear — it was genuinely the “Albums Tour,” albeit with a less cumbersome name.
Given the overall schematic concept, there was a savvy sequencing of albums throughout the show, apparent only when thinking backward from the finale. It made sense for the seven songs from the recently released “Midnights” to close the set, with the album’s heavy electronic programming directly followed, for symmetry’s sake, by an acoustic-piano solo version of “Tim McGraw,” the sole selection from 2006’s “Taylor Swift.” Starting the concert with songs from the latest non-new album, “Lover,” felt fitting. Swift considers the like-minded 2020 releases “Folklore” and “Evermore” to be separate “eras,” at least for this outing, necessitating their placement well apart in the setlist. With her two most popular albums, “Fearless” and “1989,” one had to be near the beginning and the other almost at the end for further bookending. Since Swift rarely explains herself in interviews, one often wonders about the thought process behind the setlist.
Some fans might wish she would reinvent some of her catalog music for touring, but the star, who has rendered her “Taylor’s Version” renditions as exact soundalikes, has not prioritized arrangement-tweaking. Aside from a handful of solo songs, the music sounds almost exactly as it did on the records, even when freshly played by a band visible on either end of the widest big screen in the land. Swift’s pre-recorded stacked background vocals almost always blend in with what she and the backup singers are doing. It’s reimagining the visuals that she cherishes, and to that end, there was no shortage of all-new production design, costuming, and choreography.
The stage set, while as wide and almost as tall as the “Reputation” tour, now features a giant curved screen, departing from the multi-story dystopian city vibe of 2018. Scaffolding is introduced prominently during the performance of “The Man,” where Swift, donned in a skirt resembling business attire, ascends to the top amidst a group of dancing performers. However, the majority of the action unfolds on ramps extending across the stadium floor. Swift and her dancers engage with the crowd, stopping at a halfway point or even two-thirds of the way out onto the floor, ensuring a direct connection with the audience in the furthermost decks.
The mega-Cinemascope screen often mirrors the on-stage or ramp action, capturing precisely orchestrated shots. In the performance of “Style,” a backward-tracking shot showcases Swift and her eight-women-strong girl squad moving in a single line toward the camera. During “My Tears Ricochet,” a song expressing bitterness for the end of her relationship with Big Machine, the women are seen on the ramp and screen, dressed in black, creating a stylistic runway funeral procession.
Freshly filmed studio footage is incorporated at times to complement live action. In “Wildest Dream,” Swift appears writhing alone on bedsheets, and “Anti-Hero” humorously envisions her as a 500-foot woman, wreaking havoc on a model cityscape like a mortified King Kong.
The most tangible physical set is the cabin, complete with a smoking chimney, used during the “Folklore” material. It adopts Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of merging the indoor and outdoor, adorned with copious moss. Props are sparingly used, such as neon bicycles in “Blank Space” and a glowing golf club in Swift’s hands during the performance, although, unlike the music video, no actual physical vengeance is enacted.
The standout design element is the giant building blocks rising from the center platform. They serve various purposes, forming an elevated space for Swift and her crew to strike a pose or transforming into staircases in a quasi-Transformer style.
The success of these elaborate setpieces doesn’t hinge on technology alone. In the performance of “Tolerate It,” a song delving into a woman’s feelings of prolonged emotional neglect, Swift stands atop and eventually crawls across a dining room table reminiscent of “Citizen Kane” to confront a disinterested partner. A particularly effective and somewhat overtly sexual segment occurs during the performance of the latest album’s “Vigilante Shit,” where Swift and her dancers straddle wooden seats, proving that sometimes a chair is more than just a chair.
Swift ensures that the Broadway-inspired elements of her tours don’t overshadow intimate moments. While the frenetic pace allows for fewer “and then I wrote” spoken interludes compared to some previous tours, there are still enough. Amidst the whirlwind of songs, Swift occasionally finds herself alone with her guitar or piano, explaining the inclusion of a wild-card slot, a tradition in her sets. For the “Eras Tour,” she announces a different song played every night at a specific point, with the possibility of a retry if she stumbles. Opening night features the “Folklore” underdog favorite “Mirrorball,” a song expressing her own desire to “be loved by you” rather than an indictment of fame-seekers.
A notable change over the past five years is a once unlikely song becoming a surefire presence. Swift reveals that the tour is currently in the “Red” era, surprising fans who embraced the album in 2012. She picks up an acoustic guitar and expresses gratitude for the continued embrace of the album, leading to the introduction of “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” as the centerpiece of her set, overshadowing other potential mashups.
While the joy of hearing massive hits like “You Belong With Me” or dramatically impactful album tracks like “Don’t Blame Me” is undeniable, the tour’s standout value lies in the exploration of the reflective material from “Folklore” and “Evermore,” with or without the visual spectacle of the cabin’s chimney smoke. Swift takes particular pleasure in introducing “Champagne Problems” into her live repertoire, envisioning the crowd screaming a climactic passage along with her—a section that, if translated to film, would likely earn the show an R rating for language.
The show leaves lingering questions, such as the choice of only one song, “Enchanted,” from “Speak Now,” especially considering rumors about the upcoming “Taylor’s Version” edition of the album. However, the show, already packed with Swift taking the stage at 8 and exiting at 11:12, may require future cuts unless overtime fees are in consideration.
While early mashups raised concerns of an overly rushed assembly line, the majority of the 44 songs are not mere snippets or parts of mashups, aside from occasional adjustments to tracks like “Style.” The medleys, when present, spark interesting questions, like the transition from the youthful “August” to the mature “Illicit Affairs.” In a show largely devoid of subtle statements, these connections stand out.
The inclusion of the clubby thump of the latest single, “Lavender Haze,” as the final stretch kicks in is a notable departure from the norm where veterans often place new material in the middle of a show. Riding high as a top 10 staple five months after its release, the “Midnights” album serves as a fun action finale, reviving the snark and fiestiness reminiscent of “1989” and “Reputation.”
Choosing the unlikely “Karma” as the final song adds a unique touch, departing from the expected anthemic choices. Originally perceived as a throwaway, “Karma” stands out as a humorous eff-you and a celebration of the triumph of the good guys. It echoes the last tour’s conclusion with the similarly feisty and unexpected “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” As the most popular performer with the greatest body of pop songwriting in the 21st century, Swift’s success prompts reflection on how the stars aligned in such a way.
Grouping songs by album prompts immediate recognition and regret for omitted tracks from the catalog. Surprisingly, the show, lasting over three hours, not only avoids feeling like a marathon but also achieves the elusive goal of leaving the audience wanting more, as per the old showbiz maxim.
The full setlist:
“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”
“You Need to Calm Down”
“You Belong With Me”
“Tis the Damn Season”
“…Ready for It?”
“Don’t Blame Me”
“Look What You Made Me Do”
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
“I Knew You Were Trouble”
“All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”
“The Last Great American Dynasty”
“My Tears Ricochet”
“Shake It Off”
“Mirrorball” (solo acoustic — wild card slot)
“Tim McGraw” (solo acoustic)