My journey to Taylor Swift’s Eras tour began with five and a half hours in traffic from Portland to Seattle. Or maybe it started that fateful autumn day when my mom called to tell me that she was one of the lucky ones who made it out of Ticketmaster alive. But really, it all began 13 years ago, when my best friend showed me her new Taylor Swift CD, and I quickly realized this woman was going to be the soundtrack to the rest of my adolescence.
I didn’t just want to listen to Swift; I wanted to know her and someday be just like her. I begged my parents for a guitar that Christmas so I could learn her songs and perform them at bars just like she did. I sent her letters, watched every interview, and caught every cameo she made in a movie, and when kids at school said she was corny, I defended her like she was my parasocial big sister.
By the time I got to high school I traded in my desire to be the next multi-Grammy winning country pop singer/ songwriter sensation to be seen as cool. By the time Swift dropped her America’s sweetheart persona for an era filled with black sequins and snakes, I was halfway out the door. Similar to Swift’s rebellion against her good girl reputation; my rebellion against Swift didn’t last very long, and before I knew it, I was plotting how I could attend Loverfest, her music festival that would later get canceled due to COVID.
The pandemic stopped everyone in their tracks except Swift, who — when told she couldn’t tour — decided to “write as much music as humanly possible.” It has now been five years since she last toured, and since then Swift has written and produced four albums and re-recorded three of her former albums, including dozens of new bonus tracks.
July 22 was Swift’s first time performing in Seattle’s largest stadium, Lumen Field, since 2018. Gracie Abrams and HAIM introduced the five-hour show with a short and sweet set filled with hits like “Gasoline” and “My Song 5.” My sister and I seem to be some of the only die-hard HAIM fans as we were the only people standing up and dancing in our row. As the openers file off the stage a clock appears on the screens and the countdown till Swift begins. Every seat in the stadium is filled by the time the crowd chants “three, two, one!”
“It’s been a long time comin’,” Swift sings her first line in “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince ” as she pops up from under giant pink and purple canopies. The stadium shook with excitement, literally causing an earthquake with a magnitude of 2.3 on the Richter scale. Swift has always been about spectacle and theatrics. I vividly remember her flying around the Moda Center on a balcony in full Renaissance style garb, waving to fans during her Speak Now tour.
The three and a half hour long set takes fans through nearly every era of a career that spans over two decades with costume and set changes that reflect that. Starting with her Lover era, Swift sports a pink sparkly leotard with her signature red lipstick. The stage is adorned with pink canopies attached to dancers and fuschia-colored visuals across the screen. Swift gets the whole crowd to sing the pop anthem “Cruel Summer,” and ballroom dancers float around her as she sings her oh so romantic love ballad, “Lover.” The stage goes dark and Swift’s platform lowers beneath the stage while the audience anticipates her next era.
Swift is known for reinvention. Having started out as a country singer/songwriter with a knack for storytelling, Swift quickly realized her potential couldn’t be contained to one genre. Swift’s discography ranges from country to the synth pop sounds of 1989 and indie folk influences on Folklore. The Eras Tour gives Swift an opportunity to pay homage to every iteration of herself throughout her career.
The beginning of “Fearless” starts to play, and a wave of nostalgia engulfs the stadium. Swift comes out in her gold sparkly fringe dress that she wore for the duration of her 2010 Fearless tour and an acoustic guitar.
“And I don’t know how it gets better than this/ You take my hand and drag me headfirst / Fearless,” Swift sings as she twirls across the stage. Tears begin to roll down my cheek as I turn to my mom and sister standing next to me. Over a decade of screaming those lyrics in the car and watching the “Fearless” music video wondering what that tour must have been like and experiencing it firsthand with the people you love. It was magic.
Swift takes us through the moss-covered wilderness of Evermore and Folklore with a log cabin wheeled on stage while she prances about in a long white dress. The Haim sisters take the stage alongside Swift performing their country song “No Body, No Crime” for the first time. Swift takes the audience through her fictional storytelling with actors acting out scenes she describes in her songs. When Swift plays her emotional ballad “My Tears Ricochet,” by the end of the song she’s curled up in a ball on stage singing, “And you’re cursing my name, wishing I stayed/ Look at how my tears ricochet.”
Swift’s admiration for theater and performance, juxtaposed with her desire to connect with fans, is on full display throughout the entirety of the show. It’s not uncommon for Swift to talk between most of her songs giving words of wisdom to her crowd of 72,250 people or cracking a joke or accidentally coughing into the microphone and laughing about it later.
“If you see me staring at you, it’s just because I’m actively trying to memorize your faces — in the least creepy way possible,” Swift says during her Evermore set. “I just really want to soak it all in.”
The balancing act of performance and connection is one Swift nails time and time again. One moment snakes slither across the screen and fire explodes from all sides of the stage, and then a few minutes later Swift emerges in a pink ball gown to sing a song about falling in love. The audience is stunned by the theatrics but is moved by her storytelling.
In her documentary, “Miss Americana,” Swift says, “I know I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t write my own music — it’s my storytelling that got me where I am.” It’s her storytelling that manages to get hundreds of thousands of people to sing a 10-minute long song recalling intimate details of a relationship ending, “All Too Well (10-minute version).” My mother said it best on the way home, in reference to “All Too Well”: “Women remember every detail of their relationships. We hold on to those little moments.”
Looking around the stadium I noticed every age group is represented: little girls with signature “Swiftie” friendship bracelets on; millennial women holding Swift’s “Midnight Lemonade” cocktail; grandmas sitting with their grandkids and dads with teary eyes over how happy their daughters are. In my early days of listening to Swift my mom was like one of those parents weeping over her ecstatic daughter until she became a fan herself. Now, I get a call from her when Swift releases new music.
Nearly three hours into the show Swift’s favorite part of this tour commences: the surprise songs. Every show she plays two songs acoustically that are not in the set and can be from any part of her career. This night she played “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” which she says she has never played acoustically before. Her next song was off of Red, “Everything Has Changed.” The crowd sang along with her as she played with no crazy costumes, no set pieces, nobody else on stage, just her and her piano.
Swift ends the night with songs from her latest album, Midnights. Purple blossoms dance across the stage as Swift sings her “Lavender Haze,” and a sexy cellblock tango number for her song “Vigilante Shit” makes dads in the crowd wonder if they should avert their eyes. In true Swift fashion she manages to keep every generation in the crowd entertained. Her final song was “Karma,” which was to be expected given its popularity at the moment. Fireworks erupted into the sky, and as Swift leapt inside the stage I felt frozen in time.
The lyrics from “Long Live” — “And bring on all the pretenders/ One day we will be remembered” — echo in my brain as we all pile out of the stadium. “She was just like how I remembered her,” I recall saying to my mom and sister. She’s the same Taylor Swift who wrote 13 on her hands before every show in the same way I’m the same Emerson Brady that sang “Enchanted” at the fourth grade talent show. We’re all grown up now, but we did it together.