Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras Tour’: The Ultimate Pop Triumph

taylor swift performing at her melbourne show as part of the eras tour

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In this day and age, we’re blessed that stadium shows in Australia are once again a regular occurrence. But when Taylor Swift comes to town for the first time in six years, it’s an event — with Flinders Street Station lit up to welcome her fans, and local news media revolving around her like she’s ABBA in 1977. Coming off two more record-breaking achievements — the Eras Tour film and her fourth Grammy for Album of the Year — the hype meter is well and truly broken.

It’s a gorgeous Friday evening in Melbourne, at her first of seven Australian dates. The atmosphere is palpable throughout the city — never has there been a larger gathering of glittery high femmes, as well as everyone from proud Swiftie dads to a baby in a pram.

With the sun still hanging brightly over the MCG, Sabrina Carpenter warms up the stage and its lengthy catwalk. She delivers country-tinged synthpop with a rich alto and effortless charisma, sounding much fuller live than on record — especially when she belts out a cover of Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’. The Eras Tour is the first time that Taylor’s opening acts have been young enough to have grown up on her songwriting, and on ‘because i had a boy’ — with its chorus of “I’m a homewrecker, I’m a slut” — Sabrina proves herself a worthy successor indeed.

When Taylor emerges from the stage like the birth of Venus, she powers through six songs from Lover in 25 minutes. For any other artist, playing a song as beloved as ‘Cruel Summer’ second would be frontloading the show; for Taylor, it’s a warmup. The first act is a glimpse of the 2020 Lover Fest tour that never was — and as great as that could have been, tonight promises so much more.

When she returns in a gold dress for ‘Fearless’, it’s like turning back time to 2009 — almost. Singing ‘You Belong with Me’ and ‘Love Story’ for the 500th time, she’s no longer the wide-eyed, curly-haired teenager reaching from country to pop radio, but a far more confident 34-year-old woman, strutting and slinking her way across the stage. While much of the audience is reliving their memories of Fearless, high school, first loves and hand hearts, these now-classic songs are just as much for the children in attendance who’ll grow up with them.

One of the biggest questions going into Eras was — how would Taylor translate Evermore’s more introspective songs for a stadium crowd? As it turns out, simply through the gravity of being Taylor Swift. Not all of the crowd knows every word, but for the diehards, songs like ‘marjorie’ and ‘champagne problems’ are deeply cathartic. After the latter, she visibly wipes away tears, and the crowd responds by cheering her on, uninterrupted, for minutes. Amazingly, tonight is the largest audience of her entire career, with 96,000 in attendance. But even more remarkable is that there’s time for organic moments like this — for both the performer and fans to soak in the mutual adulation for what feels like an endless moment.

At one point, Taylor thanks the fans for always following her musical whims, and she jokes, “like making Reputation, whatever that is”. Sandwiched between other albums, Reputation somehow feels even noisier and more raucous than in 2018 — and more fans have been won over by its singular blend of brashness, melancholy and desperation. ‘…Ready for It?’, ‘Delicate’, ‘Don’t Blame Me’, even ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ — these are some of the best pop songs ever written with stadiums in mind.

Curiously, her 2010 coming-of-age album Speak Now has become the emotional centrepiece of the show. Fan favourites ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Long Live’ have largely been out of rotation since 2012, and their Eras returns feel like a grand reunion. Like remembering a moment when you were younger and looking forward to the future, they’re the songs most likely to bring now 30-year-old women to tears. 

If any pop artist has discovered the ability to time-travel, it’s Taylor. For Red’s trio of pop megahits, she has only to don a familiar t-shirt and sweep her bangs into a fringe, and it’s 2012 again. The choreography and staging have been updated, and often improved, for seemingly every older song, most noticeably on the hits — she and her dancers move with a looseness across the full dimensions of the stage. ‘All Too Well’ has been updated too, into its epic ten-minute final form; “fuck the patriarchy!” gets one of the biggest singalongs of the night.

Lying on the grassy roof of the Folklore house, Taylor almost seems lost in the moment. As great as she is at being a popstar, her 2020 album is pure magic live — her deepest, richest and most mystical vein of emotionality. ‘Betty’, ‘The last great american dynasty’, ‘august’, ‘cardigan’ — all were songs initially written and heard in isolation. Seeing them brought to life with a full band, in her stage’s forest setting, is utterly transcendent.

You could call 1989 its opposite — pure spectacle, complete with pyro for a verse-less ‘Bad Blood’. But Eras forces you to reconcile her works; they’re all part of the same songwriter’s vision. Though she’s in a different headspace to when she wrote that blockbuster album, ‘Style’, ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Shake It Off’ truly have never sounded better now that she has nothing to prove.

In the nightly acoustic set, Taylor brings out the dearly-missed ‘Red’, and gives us the live debut of the recent vault track ‘You’re Losing Me’. Between the songs, she announces a vinyl edition and bonus track of her upcoming 11th album The Tortured Poets Department. Speaking about its backstory for the first time ever(!), she explains, “It was really a lifeline for me… I’ve never had an album where I needed songwriting more.” The prospect that Taylor Swift — lifelong chronicler of heartbreaks, billionaire in the making — might have made her most intense album to date, is exciting, and frankly a little intimidating.

But for now, Midnights is a victory lap on top of a seemingly endless imperial phase. In the show’s third hour, even the audience members still on their feet are feeling the fatigue. Taylor, however, moves and sounds like she just started. From ‘Lavender Haze’ to the outro of ‘Karma’, the final act plays like a Super Bowl halftime show of glittering synths, stage-length struts, and (literal) fireworks to send off the night.

Experiencing Eras in person is almost overwhelming — enough to inspire post-concert amnesia in some. Yes, Taylor’s doing it as an act of generational legacy-building. Yes, it’s easily one of the all-time great pop tours — and a deliberate flex on every other living popstar who isn’t Beyoncé or Madonna.

But ultimately, why has Taylor crafted such a gloriously excessive three-and-a-half-hour-long show? I think it’s simply because she can; for her own amusement. Because at 34, at the height of her powers, she’s still seeking new records to break. Now, with another album due in April and The Eras Tour extended until the end of 2024, the question is — how can Taylor Swift outdo herself again?

Kristen S. Hé is an artist and award-winning journalist. She tweets at @kristenisshe.

Image: Getty