Taylor Swift inspires community across eras, generations, and stadiums
May 25, 2023
Review by Alyssa Goldberg
Amid a bejeweled mob of teenage girls in bedazzling dresses and their wispy frills glistening in the wind, there’s me – coming in at 22-years-old – and my mom. Mom is gaping at the outfits and looking down at her own, telling me I should have helped her plan a more dramatic outfit. Mom, I tell her, I told you it’s like a fashion show here. That’s why I asked you to dig the hair gems out from under the bathroom sink.
Mom’s not on Eras Tour TikTok, so I fill her in.
Taylor Swift isn’t just an artist, she’s a nation. Even if you’re not a swiftie, chances are you are and just don’t know it yet. If you grew up in my generation, you were somewhere between eight and ten when her breakthrough single “You Belong With Me” broke radio airwaves and topped at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100. If you’re in my mom’s generation, you may have found out about Swift from your children, or maybe just swooned over her country love songs like the rest of the world did. If you crack open my old iPod nano, the hot pink time capsule probably holds the melodic sounds of Swift’s Fearless and Speak Now albums.
As Swift’s fame continued to propel, new songs replaced her old hits, and in 2014, Swift became the first artist to replace herself as No. 1 on the Hot 100 when “Blank Space” dethroned “Shake It Off.” Throughout the 33-year-old’s many eras, loyal fans have watched as she’s made her mark across the country, pop, and indie folk genres. Her latest album, Midnights, featured intimate lyricism wrapped in pop anthems. Hits like “Anti-Hero” and “Karma” were instant fan favorites, and the album itself spent 12 consecutive weeks on Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart.
Teenage girls, per usual, are redefining fanhood, bringing a sense of both community and exclusivity to shows on the Eras tour. Despite being one of the most notable modern superstars, being a swiftie feels like having the golden ticket to a secret society. Sure, sometimes it gets too extreme, but without a doubt, the love between fans is palpable from the 68,000-capacity Philadelphia stadium. If you can’t see it on their faces, you can on their wrist – which are usually lined with handmade friendship bracelets that are “traded” between swifties outside the stadium. And, this connection doesn’t end after adolescence – there are swifties across every age, from three to ninety and beyond.
On this Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field, emerging pop artist GAYLE kicked things off with a short opening set, featuring her Grammy-nominated track “abcdefu.” Following GAYLE came the esteemed Phoebe Bridgers, who played an evocative seven-song set. Bridgers is known for her intimate lyricism and impassioned songs that scan love and friendship from a deeply poetic stance. A member of the highly-acclaimed band boygenius (alongside Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker), these dates on the Eras tour mark the end of her Punisher (2020) tours, making these last performances especially special. On stage, she was joined by The 1975 frontman Matty Healy, a crossover fans swooned over.
As Bridgers’ set ended with the piercingly beautiful sounds of 68,000 screams (“I Know the End” was her closer, IYKYK), excitement throughout the stadium only continued to rise. At 7:59 PM, a one-minute countdown appeared onscreen. My mom and I raced from the concessions to our seats, caught once again in a swarm of color and anticipation.
Among her many talents, Swift can surely make an entrance. The Eras Tour features all ten of her albums and kicks off with Lover (2019). Pastel pink, purple, and yellow tie-dye sheets wave across the stage before revealing Swift in a glittering outfit, the first of many she’ll wear throughout the three hour performance.
Throughout each era, Swift takes us through a whirlwind of emotions: regret, empowerment, disappointment, love, joy, and everything in between. The performance comes in waves of color, flashy dances and outfit changes, but also gentle intermissions from the chaos with folklore and evermore, two albums released during Covid lockdowns. These softer tracks were narrated with intricate set designs and theatrical storytelling. Namely, “tolerate it,” a brutal love song off evermore, is acted out by Swift and an absent lover. Swift sits across from her lover – both of them still at first, but her emotion builds as the song progresses. Swift climbs onto the table, crawling towards her lover, begging for a stronger, more just love. She sings: “If it's all in my head, tell me now / Tell me I've got it wrong somehow / I know my love should be celebrated / But you tolerate it.”
After the Reputation and Speak Now eras run their course, the highly anticipated Red era commences. Red (Taylor’s Version) was released last fall with the gut-wrenching ten minute version of “All Too Well” from ‘the vault.’ On the track, she also invited friends to rerecord old demos with her that never made the original album, one of those songs being “Nothing New” with Phoebe Bridgers. Bridgers joined Swift onstage, sharing a special moment with fans as they sang their duet together. Afterwards, Bridgers sunk back into the floor (that is, under the massive stage) and Swift stood alone with a spotlight and acoustic guitar, almost reminiscent of the early years of her career.
As the first chord of “All Too Well” was struck, I felt a gaping hole in my stomach open up and churn with flashbacks associated with the track, only to be filled again by the collective catharsis experienced between Swift, the crowd, and myself. And, don’t forget about my mom, who laughed in my direction at some of the hard-hitting lyrics (an indication of how much she knows about the intricacies of my love life. I mean, what better place to unpack dating with your mom than the Taylor Swift show? May as well let her lyrics do the talking).
Swift closes out with Midnights and at this point, she’s pulling all the stops. The dancers are thriving, the fits are glittering, and fireworks are lighting up the night sky. Under the guise of glamour, these songs may feel fit for any mainstream pop show. However, if you listen closely, you’ll hear the messages of mental health and self-reflection ridden throughout the album. The leading single “Anti-Hero” opens with a lyric that jarringly grasps the immensity of her depression and its impact on her relationships: “Midnights become my afternoons / When my depression works the graveyard shift / All of the people I’ve ghosted stand there in the room.” The track is self-loathing yet introspective, marked by the repetition of a simple phrase, “It’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it's me.”
Another track on Midnights that unveils new perspectives on Swift’s mental health is “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” Swift references disordered eating, a struggle she also discusses in her Netflix documentary Miss Americana and interviews (Variety). “I gave my blood, sweat and tears for this / I hosted parties and starved my body / Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss,” she sings.
Following the album’s release, fans took to Twitter to share how the songs made them feel seen in their own mental health journeys.
Research shows that celebrities opening about their mental health publicly can inspire others to do the same. Not only does this spread awareness, but it helps reduce stigma by showing that even people we look up to can struggle as well. So, if you take the nearly 100,000 fans Swift sings to each night and mix it with her millions of listeners, the impact of her honesty and openness has potential for a major impact.
As my mom and I exited to the pop anthem “Karma” our feet were tired but our hearts were full. Although I messaged friends in different sections of the show with our reactions to Swift’s surprise songs of the evening (acoustic versions of “gold rush” and “Come Back…Be Here”), there’s no one else I would have rather had by my side as I followed Swift not only through her journey, but her music’s narration of our own.