How do we measure the impact of a musician in 2023? Streams can be bought. Awards can be finessed. Is it when demand for show tickets leads to a congressional hearing about Ticketmaster’s policies? Or when flight attendants shout out a fanbase making a pilgrimage to see a tour opener? Or when TikToks of merch inspirations and setlist predictions rack up millions of views? Nearly a decade ago, a headline ran declaring ‘Taylor Swift Is The Music Industry’ and those with even the slightest pulse on pop culture can tell she’s only grown more omnipresent since. It all led to a warm evening in Glendale, Arizona where months after delivering her most commercially-successful album to date, Midnights, Swift debuted a discography-spanning setlist that lasted over three hours and kicked off an aptly-named stadium run. The Eras Tour has arrived.
The sheer length of the set is a feat, but not completely surprising considering the breadth of catalog at Swift’s disposal. Watching the 12-time Grammy winner take the stage right at 8pm, and continue past 11pm triggers the often overused cliché: Who’s doing it like her?
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After night had fallen and GAYLE and Paramore revved the crowd up with a mix of recent chart-toppers (GAYLE’s “abcdefu”) and cultural anthems (Paramore’s “Misery Business”), it was time for the main event. At 7:57pm, a timer appeared on a massive screen prompting screams from all corners of State Farm Stadium. Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” played as fans braced themselves for the arrival of Swift. When the timer hit 0:00, the house we’d seen in the “Lover” music video assembled on the screen, indicating that this evening was first and foremost about reviving the feelings each era evoked.
“So tonight, we’re going to be going through an adventure, one era at a time,” Swift said. “We’re going to be exploring the last seventeen years of music that I’ve been lucky enough to make and you’ve been kind enough to care about.”
It’s easy to compare one of Swift’s stadium shows to something you’d see on Broadway — never has that been more true than for The Eras Tour. The setlist is cut up into acts, grouped together by eras for each of Swift’s ten studio albums. For each era/act, Swift went full-send into that album’s look, feel, costume, color blocking, and more.
Many eras got a few songs. At one moment, it seemed like Swift’s soft spot for Folklore would mean we’d hear the entire album. On the opposite end, Speak Now’s part of the show was short but impactful. Swift played only one song from her third studio album, “Enchanted,” while wearing a stunning floor-length ballroom gown designed by Nicole + Derr. Hopping from act to act, Swift made it extremely clear when she’s taking the audience out of one era and into another. This isn’t a hastily put together setlist with a vague thread of connective tissue — Swift is taking her audience on a nostalgic extravaganza.
For both Swift and her fans, it’s been a long road to get to The Eras Tour kickoff. Friday night’s opener was four projects, millions of record sales, and over 1,500 days removed from the last tour stop on the Reputation stadium tour in 2018. Plus, who can forget the Ticketmaster fiasco in handling the sale of The Eras Tour tickets, which not only prompted an apology to Swift from the ticketing monopoly but also for Congress to investigate.
In perhaps a sympathetic nod to the canceled Lover Fest, Swift began the festivities with the Lover era. Wearing a jaw-dropping Versace bodysuit, Swift launched into “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” for the opening number. Swifties eager to see “Cruel Summer” live weren’t disappointed, as Swift strutted down the catwalk towards the stadium’s center, belting out the fast-paced bridge eager to deliver what stans had snatched away from them due to pandemic-related cancellations.
For “The Man,” Swift completed her Versace look with a blazer and made sure everyone could see the red bottoms when she kicked her feet up on a conference room table as she delivered the masterfully written and scathing assessment of gender inequality in pop culture. Swift closed out the Lover era act with “You Need to Calm Down” and “The Archer,” the latter getting a beautifully stripped down rendition so Swift’s vocals echoed across the stadium: “Because all of my enemies started out friends / Help me hold onto you.”
At one point, as Swift ran through hits from her Fearless era, she flashed a smile and announced to the crowd that she was taking us back to high school with her. The nostalgia seeped into the show, resulting in some of the loudest crowd participation yet, especially from those old enough to have grown up with Swift and were in high school at the same time she was. The singer ran through “Fearless,” “You Belong With Me,” and “Love Story,” reminding us of a time when we discovered the pop phenomenon unbeknownst to the level of celebrity she’d achieve.
Something about Swift — she’s online. If the fact that she decided to end last night with the TikTok-friendly “Karma” doesn’t make that obvious enough, her joke about disliking Evermore hammers home the point.
“We’re currently in the middle of the Evermore album, which is an album I absolutely love despite what some of you say on TikTok,” Swift said with a grin.
Later on in the act reserved for her ninth studio album, in line with how theatrical the event was, Swift set up a beautiful dinner setting only to deliver a heart-wrenching rendition of “Tolerate It.” She also performed “Tis the Damn Season,” “Willow,” “Marjorie,” and “Champagne Problems,” giving fans a sizable taste of the Evermore live experience they weren’t able to receive when the project came out in 2020.
For the acts dedicated to Reputation and Red, fans were treated to a masterclass in visuals and hitmaking, two key elements that has assured Swift prolonged success for as long as she’s had it. The powerful, striking, snake motifs were an awesome callback for fans who attended the Reputation tour.
For Red, Swift went through “22,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and “I Knew You Were Trouble. She closed out the act with a beautiful performance of the 10-minute “Taylor’s Version” of “All Too Well.” In the evening’s most ethereal moment, small white confetti made to look like snow blanketed the State Farm Stadium as she neared the end of her magnum opus, singing “Because in this city’s barren cold/I still remember the first fall of snow/And how it glistened how it fell/I remember it all too well.” Not only is Swift a savant for world-building, but she’s perfected the ability to translate those worlds into the live experience.
Swift wasn’t shy about making sure people got the full Folklore live experience. A makeshift cabin, not unlike the one made during Swift’s 2021 Grammys performance, sat on the stage with Swift perched on it during “Invisible String.” The star also discussed how she finally got comfortable crafting narratives for purely fictional characters, rather than ripping them from the headlines about her life.
“Folklore was such a different album for me. I start writing it about two seconds into the pandemic. I was just so very aware of how much time I was going to have to spend away from you,” Swift explained before launching into “Betty,” “The Last Great American Dynasty,” “August,” “Illicit Affairs,” “My Tears Ricochet,” and “Cardigan.” “With this album, I thought it would be so fun to create characters, and storylines, and they can live in different times, and then can do all of these things, and they could fall in love and hurt each other and go to war…”
1989’s era act turned the party up and restored the energy, with Swift donning a Roberto Cavalli top and skirt and going through “Style,” “Blank Space,” “Shake It Off,” “Wildest Dreams,” and “Bad Blood.”
To cap off the evening, Swift returned to Midnights, performing album highlights “Lavender Haze,” “Mastermind,” and more. It was hard to ignore the immense gratitude the singer continued to exude throughout the evening, with the “thank yous” coming more and more often the closer she got to the end.
Eventually, the singer asked the crowd if they had time for one more and launched into her finale, “Karma,” a track with a passionate chorus that’s begging to be scream-sung in a room of over 70,000 who’ve been waiting for this exact moment for years. Maybe it’s fitting that an artist who’s had more than her fair share of ups and downs, and at times has been the most polarizing musician alive, ends her stadium tour opener with a song about how she can finally protect her peace. Karma’s a relaxing thought, indeed.
The Eras Tour is a feat. It’s live music at its highest spectacle and greatest excess. And for most, without the catalog and showmanship of Swift, it’d be too much. But 17 years into her career, maybe we ought to stop being surprised when she finds a way to top her own efforts year after year. Towards the end of Paramore’s set, Swift’s good friend Hayley Williams said we had gathered that evening to celebrate Swift’s incredible career. There’s something funny about a greatest hits concert for someone who’s never been more in her prime, isn’t there?
Taylor Swift Glendale 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”
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