“You like Taylor Swift?”
Millions of people around the world can answer that question with a resounding yes. Myself included. But when I brought up going to the Taylor Swift Eras Tour on a somewhat whim, some of my closest friends and family were different levels of puzzled.
I understood; Taylor Swift is a culturally polarizing figure. Between calling out former boyfriends and industry rivals in her music and taking a stand on various political issues, Swift’s voice has often been a point of contention for many people. There’s hardly any neutrality in the discussion – you’re either a Swiftie to some degree, or you don’t like her at all. The former group usually offers a quick justification for it, as it’s not always obvious which kind of Swiftie you’re talking to. After all, they remain the only fanbase to have crashed Ticketmaster and force an investigation from the Department of Justice.
I’ve also never been too open about my Taylor Swift fandom. I really fought it for a long time. I fittingly remember sitting in the back of a pickup truck when I heard “Our Song” for the first time, one of the lead singles from Taylor’s self-titled debut album. I was a middle schooler when her follow-up album “Fearless” had released, and was deep into a classic rock phase. When my family hosted its annual Christmas Eve get-together, my older cousin was raving about “Fearless.” I had spent my whole childhood dying to be as cool as her, so I quietly downloaded “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” onto my iPod nano in the following days. Those are the only ones I like, I’d tell myself.
My earbuds kept the secret well. With every year into my teens, the only ones I liked grew into a pretty big playlist. I didn’t want to admit it, but there was a striking relatability in everything Taylor said, whether it was about crushes, coming of age or empowerment. Of course, liking Taylor Swift was “basic,” and that was the last thing I wanted to be.
Then I turned 20. On the verge of releasing “Reputation,” Taylor Swift was hard to ignore, but my fandom became even harder to ignore. That summer, I had a chance encounter with someone who felt like he was straight out of a fairytale. Indeed, I was “Enchanted” to meet him – inspired by the “Speak Now” classic – and the song became my most played on my Spotify that year. I’d blast it alone in my car, screaming every word to the studio version and the live versions – entertaining myself with every possibility, hanging onto every word.
This was the very first page
Not where the storyline ends
My thoughts will echo your name
Until I see you again
I never got a text back.
But that’s her superpower: the kind of songwriting that allows the artist and listener to feel every verse, every chorus, every bridge together. You both have the floor. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is encouraged. That kind of space is tough to find – but it was a tougher space for Taylor to break into. For generations, the emotions of men in entertainment have always been reflected as more valuable, pensive and profound. The emotions of women have always been ridiculed and dismissed – and in a powerful interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Taylor perfectly summarized the double standard:
"A man does something, it's 'strategic'; a woman does the same thing, it's 'calculated.' A man is allowed to 'react'; a woman can only 'overreact.' It goes on and on and on. A man does something? 'Confident and bold.' A woman does it the same way, and she's 'smug.' A man 'stands up for himself'; a woman 'throws a temper tantrum.'”
The Eras Tour is not your average tour. In 17 years, Swift has assembled one of the most iconic catalogs in recent pop history. She became the first and only woman solo artist to win a GRAMMY for Album of the Year three times (“Fearless”, “1989”, “Folklore”). She’s got 12 of those, to be exact. Eras marks a celebration of that long-spanning, collective “dear diary.”
I’ve been to a lot of concerts, but I’ve never been part of an audience as engaged or consistent. Before you walk into the stadium, there’s an unspoken dress code you must abide by. “Which era are you going as?” my Taylor Swift-loving friend asked. She had planned an ode to Swift’s debut. I considered going against it, nauseated every time I remembered how much I paid for a ticket (still hurts). I managed to throw together a “Reputation” influenced outfit, which felt appropriate given that was my gateway album. But my outfit wasn’t complete. Upon arrival, each concertgoer is given a color-changing light-up bracelet that corresponds to the given era’s performance (Purple for “Speak Now,” red for “Red” – you get it).
But the flashing lights only embellish the theme. At the Eras Tour, femininity has the stage – the microphone is her sword, and at times, her guitar becomes her shield. The entire stage feels like a fortress, with vivid colorful explosions timed to every melody. Tapestries, dancers, and appropriate backgrounds, from cityscapes to forests surround her. Even in her costume changes, there is hardly ever “down” time – donned in sparkly bodysuits, snarky tee-shirts, and Met-Gala-worthy gowns.
Throughout her entire career, Swift has championed every part of wearing your heart on your sleeve – and it doesn’t end in the studio. Lyrics like Draw the cat eye sharp enough to kill a man and Don’t blame me, love made me crazy can coexist. Built around the 44-song setlist, Swift gave her all for each era, paying tribute with a handful of songs from most of the albums in her catalog – even the mega hits she could probably do without hearing again.
Speaking of, I’ve got quite an unpopular opinion: I do not like “All Too Well.” And while I don’t think Taylor has a “bad” album, it doesn’t help that “Red” is among my least favorites, which is a take that will have me booed and tomatoed into oblivion. It’s a beautifully written song, but I’ve got no other explanation for it aside from the fact that it never quite resonated with me. It might have something to do with the fact that the “Red” era just happened to coincide with when I fought my Taylor Swift fandom the hardest, but even in retrospect, it just doesn’t hit the same way as her other ballads.
So when Taylor closed out the “Red” era with the ten-minute version, I sat down. Not in objection – but I just knew it wasn’t my moment. The forcefield of red that had illuminated the stadium for the past 20 minutes suddenly felt the strongest it had been all night. With her guitar in hand, Swift poured every part of herself into an ode to what she claimed was the most tumultuous part of her life. Serious or not, it felt like the fans all around me who sang with just as much – if not more passion than Swift – felt the same. I still have And you call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest etched in my brain, not from annoyance, but simply awe. The command she had over 68,517 people with a song she wrote about one of many heartbreaks was among the most powerful things I’d ever seen.
It was OK that I didn’t feel the same. That’s the beauty of the Eras Tour – there is a Taylor Swift for everyone, and that’s respected. I got my moment during “Enchanted” and paid tribute to my younger, more naive self. Based on the way I screamed every word, any onlooker might have assumed it was a song applicable to the present.
But I wasn’t alone. I’ve never had to be alone in any part of this, really – I chose to be. Taylor was there when I needed her, and she was there for my friends, too. It’s a collective journal on display, in a life that feels more disconnected than ever. Her music has withstood the death of monoculture and most generational gaps, where thorough discussions of song album theories and sing-alongs between teens and middle-aged women are totally normal.
She cuts even deeper. In the time my friends and I spend, when we’re too afraid to bare our souls to each other for the umpteenth time about the same anxieties, Taylor fills the silence between the road trips, dinners and trips to the bar. Without a single original word, it’s brought us closer. It was that night, at the Eras Tour, that I finally realized – all along, there was an invisible string tying me to Taylor.