Since humankind has been walking upright, and maybe even when we still had fins for arms, we’ve been attracted to shiny, shimmering things. In concert, Taylor Swift is exactly that. Tickets for the Eras Tour, Swift’s first concert tour in five years—set to conclude in November 2024—were costly and difficult to get from the start, which meant you had to either be very, very lucky or fall within a certain income bracket to see the show. But the spirit of the Eras tour is now available to almost everyone in the form of a concert film, one that is perhaps unsurprisingly exuberant and delightful. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is 2 hours and 48 minutes of an irresistibly shiny, shimmering Taylor Swift. She’s the lure skimming through the water; we’re the gawping trout, dazzled to the point of transcendence. All that for less than 20 bucks.
We are trout, it seems, of many different shapes, sizes, ages and orientations (even if, statistically, three quarters of us are white). I saw the film in one of the smaller multiplex auditoriums in Times Square’s Regal Theater on what was originally supposed to have been its opening night, though in one of Swift’s trademark last-minute moves, she’d decided to launch the film a day early. (Swift, who self-produced the film, is distributing it in partnership with the AMC theater chain, though other chains are showing the film as well.) My low-key but enthusiastic audience was about one-third teenagers and young women, one-third little girls in sparkly attire (accompanied by their parents), and one-third gay men. A whole troop of the latter marched in at one point, one of them calling out, “Hey, Swifties!” as he passed a cluster of Brownie-scout-aged fans. The same guy came over to me a little later and asked if I wanted a friendship bracelet—I hadn’t realized I was supposed to bring a supply of them to trade and give away. He handed me an elastic circlet strung with turquoise and smoke-gray plastic beads, apologizing for its tiny circumference—one of the little Swifties had given it to him—though it fit me just fine. “Now you can be part of the experience,” he told me.
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I’m sure there are plenty of people who could resist that experience, but it turns out that I—a moderate Swift fan who, even so, can go for months at a time without thinking about her at all—am not one of them. The Eras Tour is a cleverly if somewhat haphazardly stitched-together approximation of an Eras Tour live show. (The director is Sam Wrench, and the footage was captured at the end of the tour’s first leg, at SoFi Stadium outside Los Angeles.) Some of the cutting may be reckless; there’s the occasional WTF? camera angle. But Swift’s command of her audience—and of the moment—is so complete that she instantaneously airbrushes every questionable filmmaking decision into oblivion. The Eras Tour is so named because it hopscotches through Swift’s nearly 20-year career. You could make a gaudy, jumbled show from that wealth of material, or a grand one, and Swift and her team have done the latter. Every number is like a room in a sprawling mansion, executed in just the right tone and color—like Mad King Ludwig’s castle, only conceived by designers, and one performer, who are only slightly mad and otherwise intensely practical.
And so, when Swift takes the stage for the show’s first round of numbers—among them “Cruel Summer,” evoking a dangerous seasonal romance of ice and heat—she does so in a spangly pale lavender tank suit with over-the-knee high-heeled Louboutin boots to match, their soles as red as a cartoon devil. It’s a highly impractical outfit, but on Swift it looks normal, even low-key. When she segues into the Fearless era, she steps out in mini dress of golden fringe, once again with boots to match, only these are a bit more grounded—Swift, wisely, knows how important it is to switch between heels and flats. For “Ready for It…” and “Delicate,” off Reputation, she slinks out in a one-legged black catsuit, iridescent snakes slinking around her limbs. The sets are elaborate, at times veering close to magical. For “Willow” and “Marjorie,” off the smoky-forest LP Evermore, Swift appears to emerge from a projected backdrop of spooky-elegant trees, wearing a velvety black hooded cape over a flame-orange dress. Her dancers, also clad in dark cloaks, close in protectively around her, bearing mystically glowing orange orbs. Swift can be anyone she wants to be: a heroine from the cover of a gothic-romance paperback, sensibly fleeing a foreboding castle; a drum majorette sans baton, but with a mic instead, and plenty to say.
Read more: How ‘Cruel Summer’ Became Taylor Swift’s Song of the Moment
Victim, survivor, temptress, storyteller-by-the-fire: Swift gives herself permission to be the woman she wants to be at any given moment, which may be why so many little girls are magnetically drawn to her before they have any real sense of what womanhood is. Well, that and the sequins. There’s no easy way to break down Swift’s appeal. The veteran rock critic Ann Powers has made a convincing case for her similarities to Bob Dylan, in the sense of building her own shape-shifting world. (“In a patriarchal society that favors white men, how can a young woman who looks like a supermodel dare to think she could be historical? And yet she does,” Powers has said.) Swift has captivated some unlikely people. Paul Schrader, the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and the director of such twisted delights as The Comfort of Strangers, adores her. He spent his 72nd birthday, in 2018, at a Swift show. “About Taylor Swift, let there be no doubt,” he wrote on Facebook, “she is the light that gives meaning to each to all our lives, the godhead who makes existence possible and without whom we would wander forever in bleak unimaginable darkness.”
Hyperbole aside, the Eras Tour movie shows, to stark effect, Swift’s power over an arena full of people. When she gazes out at the audience, which she often does (thanking them repeatedly for their generosity, which, admittedly, is also the very thing lining her silken pockets), she’s like the Romper Room lady with her magic mirror—is it possible she knows each and every one of our names? With her kitty-cat smile and her Cleopatra eyeliner, she’s flirtatious, erotically suggestive, but non-threateningly so. Even at 33, there’s something girlish about her, a characterization that some women might consider an insult, though it’s really a gift, suggesting not innocence or helplessness but a capacity for delight. It’s the kind of thing you want to hang onto until you’re 100 or beyond.
Watching Swift in her Eras Tour movie made me wonder what kind of a performer she’ll be at 50, 60, 70. It seems there are still many unexplored rooms in her mansion. Let’s not forget, though, that she’s also one of the most ambitious musical performers of her generation—ambitious in the way only men (the Beatles, Elvis, Little Richard) used to be. It’s estimated that the Eras Tour has already generated some $4.6 billion in consumer spending, and the beyond-robust ticket sales for the Eras Tour movie mean that the doubloons in Swift’s bank account are multiplying exponentially with every passing minute. She’s already one of the richest women in the world. Is there a distinction between shrewdness and outright greed?
Swift will make a ton of money off The Eras Tour movie, off those little girls trading bracelets, off those now-middle-aged ladies who have grown up with her, off those gay men—and some straight ones—who adore her balls-out showmanship. At a runtime of nearly three hours, The Eras Tour is enough Taylor Swift in one sitting for just about anyone, with the possible exception of Paul Schrader. Yet by the end of this rather long sojourn, Swift looks as if she’s just getting started. Her hair may have frizzed slightly, but that’s about it. No matter how much money she stands to make off this enterprise, there’s no sense that she’s kept the meter running. She’d give even more, if we wanted it.
The era of women having the means to make enough money to take care of themselves—and, in Swift’s case, much more than enough—is relatively recent. Just ask Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart. My Eras Tour ticket cost less than $20, and I begrudge not a cent of it. Swift doesn’t need more money, but I had much more than $20 worth of fun. And got a bracelet to boot.