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Taylor Swift helps us look back our eras, holding our love and pain together
In a tireless three-and-a-half-hour performance, Swift chronicles her own history as a musician, claiming back her songs and triumphing through the pain of her past.
(Author’s note: a break from my usual material, I write a review of a Taylor Swift concert I attended during her Eras tour.)
A surprisingly down-to-earth Taylor Swift welcomed her hometown crowd to her final performance in Philadelphia, as she started singing hits from her 2019 record Lover. Indeed, she tells us of the cruel summer where she has a love/hate relationship vowing to not tell her lover if she bleeds, and claiming that she’s fine, even if it’s not true—and finally screaming, “for whatever it's worth, ‘I love you,’ ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?” The choreography, the set design, and the power of her performance, in my estimation, makes her worth all the money she’s collecting from these adoring fans. In spite of this, Swift’s style and lyrics are so profoundly relatable that they managed to create an intimate environment even in a packed-to-the-brim Lincoln Financial Center, full of fans of all ages.
Taylor’s passion and longing for love and connection is resonant with her ideas—her longing to go where her lover goes, always being this close. Forever and ever, she sings, expressing the poignant desire to love knowing that pain may still follow. She’s been the archer and the prey – who could leave her and who could stay? The torn and divided self over the prospect of long-lasting love pierced my heart, as we cut off our noses just to spite our faces for the hope to be loved. The heartbreak and yet the passion of love melts away our cynicism and our shame, as the stadium sang along with Swift.
Her heartbreak demonstrated in that summer record was erased as the stage changed and we traveled eleven years back in time to the feel-good, love-song-filled Fearless. A younger Taylor wonders why she would “dance in a storm in [her] best dress,” with this newfound and innocent love. Taylor belongs with her new love who will later propose to her, calling her Juliet, saving her from her loneliness and knowing nothing but love for her – and he’s talked to her dad, to boot, and so it’s time to buy the white dress. “It’s a love story, baby, just say yes.”
The heartbreak of Lover and the young and innocent love of Fearless gives way to the pandemic-produced solemn and melancholy evermore. Her sad resignation deep in the despair of the lockdown is pensive and contemplative as she refuses to ask her lover to wait if he doesn’t ask her to stay. She sings she’ll go back to L.A. and “wonder about the only soul who can tell which smiles [she’s] faking.” The aching and devastating pain of lost love is apparent here, and even if the relationship died, it doesn’t stay dead. Our past, our eras, our loves are alive in our hearts and minds. Her words are filled with regret; she was never ready for commitment, and she watched her lover go. Not sure what is next for her, Swift admits that sometimes you don’t know the answer until someone asks. Her heartbreak and longing end with the declaration that she’s made this person her temple, mural and sky, and now she’s just begging to be a footnote in his life. Painful, and poignant, Swift captivated us from a beautifully set forest.
Her reflective self transformed into a darker version of Taylor as she sung 2017’s Reputation. This time her sadness turned to anger and energy – as she spit out “knew he was killer,” and he if he’s a ghost, she’s ready to be his phantom. Swift claims her power and assertiveness and is ready to confront her heartbreakers. No vulnerability and weakness in her presence now, as she got “smarter,” “harder,” “in the nick of time,” her lover’s name in red underline – look what he made her do. She trusts nobody, no body trusts her, ending her set naming that she’ll “be the actress starring in [his] bad dreams.
The brutality of Reputation is balanced by a brief foray into Speak Now¸ this time, enchanted to meet her lover. She transitioned then to the critically-acclaimed Red, not only powering the stadium with her mega-hits “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” but ends with the climax of the evening her new and ten-minute version of “All Too Well.” The tear-jerker tells the long story of a breakup between Swift and an older lover – one that held her like a secret, but whom she kept like an oath. He never called it love, never called it what it was. This love affair continues to resurrect itself, but it remains are troublesome as ever. She forgets about it long enough to forget why she needed to. She wondered if it was a masterpiece before he tore it up – she’s left as a crumpled piece of paper lyin’ there. With her characteristic charm, Swift causes us all to empathize with her as we think of our lost loves.
At the height of the emotional intensity of the show, we enter another era, this time a fantastical one where Swift song songs off of her second pandemic-era record, folklore, from a staged cabin, fit with a smoking chimney. In this era she writes stories with new characters and about different episodes in their life, and for once, she’s not in the spotlight, but her experiences are thinly-veiled even in the factiousness songs. She wonders in one song if a character’s lover will finally have her, and love her, and kiss her on the porch in front of all his stupid friends. Taylor wants to be known and loved, and her traverse through his own discography shows us this consistent theme.
1989 is her penultimate era, this time she sings again of her love, but it is with a passion and fervor that transcends it beyond the feel-good country style of her earlier records, without the anger or the sense of loss of her later offerings. Here she has that red lip classic thing going on fit with that good girl faith and a tight white skirt, and despite the relationship crashing down, it comes back every time. Indeed, as the night drew to an end, we remembered that nothing lasts forever, but this truly was getting good now.
In her final era, Swift is honest and vulnerable, but not unguarded. Midnights chronicles her late night thoughts – where she is under scrutiny and wishes to hide under a haze, where she’s a problem, and when she wishes revenge on the selfish leeches around her, or where she fantasizes about allying with a former lover’s ex-wife. Swift ended her night with Karma, a proverbial flipping of the bird, to all her haters along the way. She can rest now, she owns her music, has a stadium sold-out and packed (for the third night in a row) of adoring fans, and can look back at her history holding the good and the bad with ease knowing that karma is a relaxing thought – and to her enemies, she wonders if they are envious because for them it is not.
I was entranced during her epic three-and-a-half-hour performance, but within it, she gave me permission to look back at my own eras, my own development, and how I got to this moment in my life despite adversity and difficulty. Swift’s confidence and grace led us all to have the same confidence and grace, vulnerability and tenderness. Her life is not without its pain, but not without its love, and that is the risk of intimacy, isn’t it? To experience pain and suffering is a possibility when we are also filled with the possibility of hope and acceptance. Attachment is always a risk, and Swift tells us we can feel all of our feelings that come with that risk: happiness, anger, grief, anguish, joy, nostalgia, and satisfaction.