Taylor Swift’s biggest concert film yet, about the US’s biggest tour of the summer, gives fans an “as close to live as possible“ experience.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Make no mistake, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, the highly anticipated film version of the career-spanning spectacle the singer-songwriter-popstar toured stadiums with this summer, is essentially a victory lap for her in the wake of massive critical and commercial success. Despite that, it still works because it never feels like what it could have been—a final cash grab for a show that already pulled in enough money to rival the GNP of several developed nations. Instead, it plays like a summation of Taylor Swift and her ever-expanding artistic ambitions. It makes a definitive case for her as one of the most significant musical artists of these times. And it has a lot of sparkly, sassy fun while doing it.
In putting the show together, Swift’s foremost problem was the embarrassment of riches to choose from. On top of an extensive array of top hits and fan favorites from earlier albums, she also had no less than four #1 albums—Lover (2019), Folklore (2020), Evermore (2020), and Midnights (2022)—released since the last time she hit the road for 2017’s Reputation. She solves the issue by dividing the show into ten sections. Each one highlights a particular album with tracks ranging from radio singles to fan-favorite deep cuts, including a climactic seven-song set from Midnights. On top of that, each night of the tour included a brief acoustic set featuring two additional titles from her considerable songbook.
Directed by Sam Wrench and shot during the tour’s final U.S. stop at L.A.’s Sofi Stadium, the film is a largely straightforward presentation of the concert experience. Aside from a few stray bloopers shown during the end credits, there is no behind-the-scenes material to speak of. Although the film may not completely heal the wounds of the countless Swifties unable to secure tickets for the live show, it certainly easily beats the shaky videos of the show posted on YouTube and TikTok. In a theatre packed with fans, it carries “the next best to being there” visceral and emotional impact. It may even allow viewers to pick up on details and images that actual concertgoers missed in their efforts to take it all in.
The show is an elaborate technical spectacle from start to finish, jam-packed with visual flourishes and intricate choreography throughout. Yet, as impressive as these elements are, they somehow never take away from the real focus, the evolution of Swift’s music over 17 years. Although not presented chronologically, it is still fascinating to hear her music go from her early works’ youthful exuberance to more adult matters with Red–the 2012 album that is about the closest that contemporary music has come to an equivalent to Carole King’s Tapestry–to the pop perfection of her 2014 masterpiece 1989 to, finally, the unexpected and often rewarding detours of recent efforts.
For Swifties, the entire film will no doubt feel like one extended highlight without a single dud.
The most striking thing about Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is watching Swift embody each album’s varying moods as she goes from one to the next. Instead of merely running through the hits, she channels their distinct emotions—ranging from the girlish romanticism of tunes like “Love Story” and “Enchanted” to the more complex narratives of the Folklore and Evermore songs. She gives each such detail that she practically acts them out–and literally so in a couple of cases, most notably in the staging of “Tolerate It.”
Some rock stars struggle to make the charisma of their live appearances show up on camera or vice versa. Not Swift. Although her stabs at an acting career have been a bit uneven–though I persist in my belief that Amsterdam will one day be worshipped like Walt Whitman–what she does in Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour demonstrates that she does have the goods if she ever decides to make a real go of it.
For Swifties, the entire film will no doubt feel like one extended highlight without a single dud. Still, there are a few undeniable standouts. To these eyes and ears, the top performances include her cathartic piano rendition of “Champagne Problems,” the impassioned rendition of the teen romance saga “Betty,” her enthusiastic takes on the 1989 faves “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood,” and recent hits like “Vigilante Shit” and “Anti-Hero.” The aforementioned surprise song section is represented here nicely by two choices spanning the breadth of her career, the early “Our Song” and the newer “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” The high point, however, is her galvanizing rendition of the extended 10-minute version of Red’s “All Too Well.” It does justice to her single greatest song.
The film’s sole flaw is that it reduces the live show’s near 3 1/2-hour run time to a more manageable 2 hours and 45 minutes. That costs Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour five songs from the regular set list and a collaboration with opening act HAIM on “no body, no crime.” Perhaps, they’ll return when the film arrives on home video. Hell, Swift could do an entire Wake Up, Ron Burgundy-style alternate film consisting entirely of the surprise song performances culled from other shows throughout the tour. The film also eliminates the various pauses for applause and costume changes, allowing for more songs but cutting some chances to take a breather. As a result, some viewers may come away from The Eras Tour feeling a bit exhausted.
Despite that, Swift proves such a skilled performer that even after the film finally comes to an end, she still leaves you wanting more. During the bridge of her final song, “Karma,” she states, “Ask me what I learned from all those years/Ask me what I did with all those tears/Ask me why so many fade but I’m still here.” After watching Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, my guess is very few audience members will still need to ask any of those questions.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is currently welcoming any and all into Swiftie-hood in theatres.