On St Patrick’s Day of this year, Taylor Swift kicked off her Eras Tour, a 52-stop showcase encompassing all ten of her studio albums. Since then, people have fallen into three categories: either you won the Ticketmaster lottery and attended the tour, a genuinely epic event in which the 33-year-old singer plays 44 or more songs over roughly three and a half hours; you did not get tickets, and have instead viewed innumerable videos of the show – her outfits, her choreography, her stage banter, the crowd, the celebrities; or you exist somewhere outside the Swiftie-verse and have been forced to pay attention to the Eras tour through consistent headlines and hype.
A Taylor Swift stadium tour – her first since 2018, owing to the pandemic – was always going to be an event. But the Eras Tour has surpassed mere pop spectacle and become an ongoing mass cultural moment. It exists in the physical world, bringing record-breaking crowds to a different US city each weekend. It has generated unceasing buzz, with headlines on anything from how demand broke Ticketmaster (and led to lawsuits and a congressional hearing) to her romantic life to how far people are willing to go for tickets. (One Massachusetts father, for example, shelled out $21k to go last-minute.) And it exists in a vast, ever-expanding digital world of clips, reactions, live-streams, dissections and analysis. After viewing a few videos several months ago, my discovery pages on Instagram and TikTok are still predominantly Eras Tour content; even the algorithm loves Taylor Swift.
The national takeover by The Eras Tour owes in part to the show itself, which is a stunning showcase of pop’s most prolific songwriter’s ridiculously prodigious catalog. I reviewed the opening show in Glendale, Arizona, and found it stupefying – a concert the length of the movie Titanic, covering 17 years worth of potent nostalgia, turbocharged by the screaming of 70,000 people. It was the loudest place I’ve ever been. Especially considering the hoops people jumped through to obtain tickets, it is fan service at its most bombastic and virtuosic – a flex and a celebration, tying together years of growth and hype.
It’s also the culmination of years of world-building and Swiftian mythology. Ever since her debut in 2006, Swift has cultivated a uniquely close relationship with her fans, posting on MySpace, commenting on their Instagrams, embedding secret messages in the liner notes of her CDs. With each album cycle, she has expanded on Easter eggs and clues playing on color coding, numerology and of course her lyrics. The result is a very loyal (and enormous) fan base primed to close-read Swifts every move, on-stage or off, as an all-consuming search for clues with personal ties to the star. As Swift told Entertainment Weekly in 2019 of her fans’ detective work: “I’ve trained them to be that way.”
The fixation on details reached a fever pitch last October, during the rollout for Swift’s tenth album, Midnights. Swift teased track titles in a TikTok video series called “Midnights Mayhem With Me”, and published a full cross-platform release schedule on Instagram. The ever-bubbling Swift online ecosystem was at full boil and, as one expert put it to the Atlantic, had almost all the hallmarks of a true metaverse: a huge virtual community unmoored from a single platform, based on a world around Taylor Swift, missing only the 3D virtual space to hang out in.
The Eras Tour offers a physical space for many of her fans to coalesce and a tangible hold on the real world. It has also provided ample material for fans to dissect, at a crucial time in Swift’s personal life. In April, it was revealed that she had split with her partner of six years, the British actor Joe Alwyn, an unnamed figure in many of her songs since 2017. (If you know a Swiftie, you know this was a very big deal.) Weeks later, she was rumored to be dating Matty Healy, the lead singer of the band The 1975, who has since appeared at several of her shows (and dueted with opener Phoebe Bridgers) and whose history of controversial comments has thrown some of the fandom into turmoil. (As one Twitter user put it, the gossip around Swift-Healy is like “the inner workings of the Catholic Church … worth keeping tabs on since it effects the wellbeing of millions and has tremendous financial influence”. On the financial point – the Eras Tour will likely gross anywhere from $500m to over $1bn, counting international dates.)
All of this, plus Swift’s habit of switching out acoustic songs every show, has fans hyper-trained on each stop of the tour. It’s best to understand The Eras Tour not so much as a series of concerts, but as an ongoing, sprawling, interactive and ever-mutating reality show, with new chapters every week. Or, as internet culture journalist Kate Lindsay put it in her newsletter Embedded, “post-reality TV” – everything at the show becomes online content, from Swift to the celebrities to peers to potentially you.
On TikTok and Instagram, there are videos capturing snippets of the show for posterity. There are videos scrutinizing Swift’s behavior on stage (did she seem sad after the breakup? Did she and Healy mouth the same words at their respective shows?), her interactions with fans, changes in her stage banter or song choice (swapping out a love song for the wistful track The 1 after news of her breakup seemed pointed, or was it?). There are videos discussing fan etiquette (is it appropriate to hold up a photo of Swift’s late grandmother when she sings a song about her?). There are videos capturing the VIP area, feeding the gossip trades with footage of Healy conversing with Swift’s famous friends and family or singing along to her songs. There’s a video in which the country singer Keith Urban dances along with his wife Nicole Kidman and accidentally captures rumored couple Phoebe Bridgers and comedian Bo Burnham kissing.
The show is ongoing – just this week, Swift announced a new deluxe version of Midnights. When she performs this weekend in New Jersey, there will be special, limited-edition physical copies of the album featuring a new song called You’re Losing Me (From The Vault), which alludes enough to a break-up to have fans in a tizzy, ready to scour lyrics. There will be a feature with the rapper Ice Spice, which is maybe or maybe not a nod to a Healy controversy. And there will almost certainly be more content and headlines, fertilizing the Swiftverse and dissolving its borders with everything else even further. Welcome to the Eras era.
Source: The Guardian