[Editor's note: We are delighted that Reader theatre reviewer Madeline Dudziak has agreed to cover the concert-film version of Taylor Swift's current tour. As a longtime fan of the artist, Madeline is far more acquainted with the subject than the Swift-ignorant fellow who would otherwise assume the task.]
Move over, Gilligan: There’s a new three-hour tour that’s more popular than yours.
Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. After all, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour was trimmed down for the film version. She cut out five whole songs and costume changes, and honestly, not having to sit through transitions is one of the movie’s benefits. So it’s now a two-hour-40-minute tour not including previews. And I loved every single second of it.
After being thwarted by Ticketmaster from seeing this tour in person – not once, but twice – I was eagerly awaiting the chance to catch this filmed rendition. While it came out last week, I held off on first-look tickets, because this past weekend was my daughter’s birthday and I was excited to celebrate her milestone with fellow Swifties. I may not have been able to get her to the concert, but the movie? Totally doable. There’s a safe chance that if you’re a Taylor Swift fan, you’ve already seen The Eras Tour. Or perhaps you’ve already made plans to go. If you haven’t, I am going to safely exclaim, “It’s totally worth it!”
I’ve read a few of the one-star reviews online. They’re either people who truly dislike Taylor Swift or perhaps they wanted the movie to be a documentary or have a plot. Let’s be clear: This is a filmed, edited version of her latest concert tour, “Eras.” Directed by Sam Wrench, the film version was recorded in August at the first three of six Los Angeles shows played at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
Previously, Swift toured every time she had an album come out. 2018’s “Reputation” tour was the last time she went out into the world pre-”Eras.” (If you want to catch it on Netflix, it’s also a good watch.) But since then, there have been four albums and a global pandemic. So what to do?
A deep dive through every one of her albums, and “Eras” was the result. Taylor Swift has recorded 10 albums since 2006 and the “Eras” tour features mini-sets from each album – or era, as the case may be. Fantastically, the set list doesn’t go in chronological order, but rather jumps around through different moods. Admittedly, slightly more attention was paid to her most recent albums Lover, Folklore, Evermore, and Midnights, as that music hadn’t yet been heard on a tour at all. And because Swift broke Ticketmaster with people clamoring to buy tickets, somewhere along the line they decided to release the filmed version in the theaters. There you have it.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour offers anyone the chance to grab a front-row seat to the show. Like any great concert, the artist interacting with fans is one element you go for … anyone can listen to the music on their own time. But to feel like just maybe a favorite artist is actually connecting with you is clearly a plus. One such filmed conversation had Swift explaining how the “Eras” tour came to be. Other moments of her interacting with the audience are proof that she’s just a crazy cat lady… ya know, when she’s not writing and performing her own music … or hanging out at NFL games.
Swifties, and those they dragged along, were clearly happy to be there for the movie, as it doesn’t appear to be having any trouble selling tickets. Maybe you wouldn’t bring your littlest fans to a live show, but a filmed version is an entirely different thing. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour does a great job appealing to a wide fan base. In just my Saturday-afternoon showing, there was a range of fans from about three years old to those north of retirement age. The collective anticipation for the film to begin was palpable, and it was so much fun to see how people dressed up. With their outfits running the full gamut from Swift merch to glitter and sparkles, everyone was ready to party.
After a brief countdown (less than I imagine the actual concertgoers had to sit through), audiences got their first listen to the “live-music treatment” Swift and Wrench picked for each song. Obviously, a concert isn’t just singing through full album versions of every song. While, for the most part, I enjoyed the cuttings and mixes, I was bummed that “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” was trimmed, given that it's the kick-off track.
Admittedly, my daughter, who hasn’t been to many concerts yet, said, “What did they do to my favorite song?”, because it so wildly differed from the album recording she’s used to. For what it’s worth, 24 hours later, she’s talking about how cool the experience was; it just took a moment to disconnect what she was expecting from what she got.
One of the most endearing things about Taylor Swift is her broad range of music. She started writing her own songs when she was a teenager, so her earlier stuff is a little bit more saccharin than her more recent albums. Because now she’s in her thirties, that makes sense. Folklore and Evermore, her pandemic offerings, are almost morose and fantastical. Swift does an excellent job of shifting between eras and knowing when she, and her audience, need to slow down or gear up.
Say what you will about Swift and her ability to write music, but I personally find her to be a really excellent lyricist. Okay, maybe not every lyric is going to go down as epic poetry. Case in point: “sexy baby” in the song “Anti-Hero.” I get the sentiment there, I really do, but it’s not a great lyric. However, Taylor Swift: The Era’s Tour offers plenty of opportunities to showcase what Swift is capable of. Take a song such as “Marjorie” from Evermore. Anyone who’s ever lost a grandmother can find catharsis in those three minutes. And I’m not even going to pretend I didn’t tear up watching the poignant performance of Taylor’s tribute to her late grandma Marjorie on a big screen.
I love a close-up of Swift as much as anyone, but I also love a good spectacle. The way Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour was filmed, a lot of the choreography and exciting concert visuals were cut out. While there were certainly cool lighting effects that did make the final cut – the beginning of the Reputation-era snake being a prime example – and there are great dance numbers featured, a few more long shots would have been welcome … although the long shots we were given were extraordinary.
My God, did those “Eras” dancers look like they were having a rocking good time! There’s a lyric in “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” in which Swift exasperatedly says, “This is exhausting!” and honestly, it’s the only thing I can think of her dancers saying night after night. But clearly, that’s not how they feel, because they seem to bring their all.
It would be so easy to take Swift’s lyrics and dance them literally, almost as if playing charades. But for this tour, Swift worked with Mandy Moore. (Not the actress; the choreographer.) The result is that the choreography felt emotionally driven. Moore effectively captured the mood for each song and the dancers performed the moves to perfection. I appreciate the representation of the dancers: In this case, gender and race played no role in who danced what or with whom. I loved it – especially during “Lover,” in which the lyrical, ballroom-eqsue partner dancing was so lovely to watch. The visual splendor of the costumes throughout the entire concert just added to the experience.
It was also a treat when the cameras caught awesome little moments in which a dancer and Swift were doing the choreography as previously arranged but exchanged a look that was clearly just those two people sharing a moment. It's things like that that make the movie ticket worth it. Even if you attended the “Eras” tour live, the cameras obviously got a lot closer to the action than most of the fans’ in-person perspectives would allow.
I readily admit that I was a little worried that some of the choreography was going to be a bit risqué for younger audience members. But it truly wasn’t a problem. If you’re at all familiar with Swift’s music and the moods she explores, you will have a good sense of what’s coming. If you’re walking into the cineplex blind and maybe only know one of Swift’s songs, just hang on to your hat, because she’s got something for everyone.
If you want a ballad, a girl-power anthem, angry revenge music, or anything in between, it’s all accounted for during Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. I’ve already established that the movie’s kind of long. The set list isn’t hard to find online, so pick your least favorite song and schedule in a bathroom break then if you think you’ll need one. (I realize that is a bit like choosing a least favorite kid for some people, in which case I’d say … limit your beverage intake.)
For each night on the tour, there were two acoustic “secret songs” performed outside of the typical “Eras” set list. These choices throughout the tour varied: sometimes Swifties petitioned on social media for a favorite and were heard; other times audiences were treated with whatever Swift’s whim was that evening. However, it really wasn’t a surprise to me that “You’re On Your Own Kid” was chosen for this filmed version. There’s a lyric toward the end of that song that goes “Make all the friendship bracelets.” That one little, nearly throwaway lyric inspired concertgoers to do just that and exchange their handmade bracelets with others in the audience.
In a world that's full of cynicism, there’s something really beautiful about the simplicity of making friendship bracelets for total strangers and then exchanging them – where the only connection between you is a fondness for Taylor Swift. During the film, there were many shots of the audience showing arms full of friendship bracelets.
While the enthusiasm at the movie theater wasn’t quite as dramatic as that, with our wrists as our testaments, there were still plenty of beaded bracelets exchanged both before the movie’s start and after it was over. Age didn’t matter, and it was just as much fun as it seems. A wholesome little inside-secret bonding experience for fans: The first two closing credits are even styled as friendship bracelets, leaning into the fad.
The absolute worst thing about Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is that it will inevitably create more fans. Certainly, people will be dragging along friends who might not be fully aboard the Swiftie train, but the “Eras” tour is likely going to convince them and make the next tour’s tickets even more difficult to come by than they already were. Yet I can’t recommend that you stay home if you’re in that camp, because the overall experience was truly excellent. If you’re a new Taylor enthusiast, reliving the “Eras” tour, or if the film is simply the closest you’re going to get to seeing the artist live in 2023… it’s a great time.