‘This Is Extraordinary’: Why the Eras Tour Is Taylor Swift’s Greatest Live Triumph Yet

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“Jersey, welcome to the Eras Tour!” Taylor Swift yelled on Friday night. “There is one thing that I daydream about with the childlike enthusiasm of a hundred birthday parties, and that is MetLife Stadium Night 1.” That gets the mood about right. She spent this weekend at her long-awaited MetLife Stadium shows in New Jersey destroying the hearts and lungs of 83,000 of the planet’s most godforsaken messes. All three shows were chaotic jubilation, full of songs we’ve waited years to sing. And Taylor missed this more than any of us.

Taylor Swift keeps building the legend of her Eras Tour, week after week, city by city, making every night so much longer, wilder, louder, more jubilant than it has to be. There’s nothing in history to compare. This is her best tour ever, by an absurd margin. It’s a journey through her past, starring all the different Taylors she’s ever been, which means all the Taylors that you’ve ever been. Taylor always designs every tour to be the best night of your life. But she designed this one to be the best night of all your lives. Every Era you’ve ever lived through, it’s in here. She does 46 songs, plus snippets of a few more. That means this show has 22 percent of her songbook, and don’t even imagine she didn’t plan it that way.

This weekend I spent three consecutive nights at these shows, singing and weeping and suffering and agonizing through an emotional epic Tay-pocalypse every night. But it feels brutal that it’s over so soon. Nobody wanted it to stop. Not even Taylor, who paused on Sunday night at her piano during “Champagne Problems” to rave, “If you think I’m just coasting along thinking this is normal, I can assure you this is not the case. This is extraordinary.”

No matter how many Taylor tours you’ve seen before, there’s something extra about the joy, the craving, the ecstatic release that people bring to this one. She’s had six Number One albums since her 2018 Reputation tour, and we’ve got some serious overfeeling to catch up on. The woman behind me who responded to the intro of “All Too Well” by dropping on her knees and spending the entire 10 minutes sobbing in a fetal position, you are my goddamn hero.

The communal vibe is always intense at a Swift show, but never more than at this one. I was in the Night 1 parking lot about 10 minutes before someone I’d never met gave me a BETTY’S CARDIGAN friendship bracelet that I’m still wearing right now. I brought extra packs of pocket tissues, which came in handy when the Fearless interlude inspired a few meltdowns in my row Sunday night. When Taylor began the Evermore section into “Tis the Damn Season,” the security guy came over and said, “You the guy with the tissues?” Another couple of fans were having tear-duct emergencies, sobbing to me, “I really love this album!” ONLY at a Taylor show.

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The sheer bombardment of genius songs was physically overwhelming — there was a shock that went through the crowd all three nights, as she went from the Phoebe Bridgers duet “Nothing New” to the show-stopping, 10-minute “All Too Well,” with people ready to be carried out on a stretcher, only to realize We’re barely halfway through. It’s two hours into the show, but she’s not close to finished with the crowd. Taylor, what are you even doing to us right now? You know you won so what’s the point in keeping score?

One of the central paradoxes of Taylor Swift — and this woman is nothing BUT paradoxes — is how she writes songs about the tiniest, most secretive agonies, the kind you wouldn’t even confess to your friends, except the only way she knows how to process these moments is turning them into louder-than-life stadium scream-alongs. It is so weird to sing “My Tears Ricochet” in a stadium with 80,000 people, with Taylor swirling in a goth-priestess gown, leading a funeral procession of black-hooded mourners. For most of us, Folklore and Evermore are albums we learned to sing along with by ourselves, at a moment of quarantine, fear, and isolation. Hearing other voices sing these songs with us completely changes how they feel. The moment when Taylor gets to the almost-hidden line “when I’m screaming at the sky” — and she really does scream it at the sky — was cathartic on a level that’s totally new for a Taylor show.

Over the show, she celebrates every part of her career, except her 2006 country debut, which surprisingly doesn’t even make a token appearance, though she’s done some of the songs as acoustic one-offs. (There’s no other career where such a great debut could turn out to be Not Era Enough.) Some of the eras turned into full-blown dance parties, like 1989, Reputation, and Midnights. Fearless was the one era where she flashed her early twangy side — she made such a statement by stepping out on the catwalk after the first verse for a triumphant power twirl. It was pandemonium when she introduced “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” by asking, “Jersey, are you ready to go back to high school with me?”

Daringly, she kept Speak Now to just one song, maybe figuring that we’re all about to get a massive feast when she drops Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) on July 7. But what a song — “Enchanted” was the only song she needed for that era, the one that sums up all the glorious emotional excess in her songwriting that really caught fire on this album. She sang “Enchanted” in a princess gown (new for these shows) that captured the wonderstruck sparkle of the song.

By the time she got to the Folklore era, it was already a few hours into the show, but her emotional brutality never let up — honestly, the worst thing that she ever did was what she did to us. She sang “The One” on the roof of a mossy cottage — the line that blows up into a real audience screamer is “You meet some woman on the internet and taaaaake her hooome.” She did just the peak of “Illicit Affairs,” the “don’t call me kid” chant — a song about sordid meetings in parking lots hit hard coming an hour after “Fearless,” a very different song about a couple in a parking lot, but maybe the same girl a few years down the line. So many of the songs felt extra cathartic live, since virtually all of us in the crowd learned to sing these songs in a moment of extreme solitude and isolation. She did “Betty,” “Cardigan,” “My Tears Ricochet,” and the unstoppable “August,” pouncing on that final “get in the car!” Also, it wouldn’t be Tay’s style to forget that MetLife Stadium is literally behind a mall.

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She slips acoustic surprise songs into the set list every night, one on guitar and one alone with her piano. On Friday night, she did “Getaway Car” (with Jersey boy Jack Antonoff) and “Maroon.” On Saturday, it was a pair of New York love songs, “Holy Ground” and “False God.” But the peaks were Sunday night, when she did a stripped-down “Welcome to New York,” leaning hard on the line that people chose to overlook in 2014 — “You can want who you want/Boys and boys and girls and girls.” Then she did a devastating “Clean” on piano. Her enthusiasm spilled over with quips like “You guys always give 113 per cent” or “You will get a treat for that!” Early on Friday night, she declared, “You guys are historically a great crowd. Do you think that you want to continue that tradition?” When the fans roared, she replied, “I was hoping you would say that. In case you said no, I was going to just ditch this plan completely.”

Evermore really loomed large — it might be the most Era of the Eras, the one that transforms most in a live setting. It’s startling how her moodiest, most introspective songs translate as stadium bangers, from the U2 guitar pulse of “’Tis the Damn Season” to the heartache of “Champagne Problems.” “Willow” became a goth ritual — the fans next to me said, “This is where she has a seance.” “Marjorie” had Taylor singing along with the voice of her late grandmother Marjorie Finlay — almost exactly 20 years to the day after she passed away. “She would have loved to sing at MetLife Stadium,” Taylor said on Sunday night. “I guess technically, she just did.”

“All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)” was the coup de grace, filling up the enormous space with the sound of just Taylor and her thousands of confidantes. It couldn’t help but evoke the moment when she sang it the first time she played MetLife Stadium — 10 summers ago, in July 2013. That night, it already seemed incredibly to think of how far she’d come so fast. But 10 ears later, hearing “All Too Well” in that same venue, it seemed to sum up everywhere she’s traveled in those past 10 years. Like the rest of the Eras Tour, it was a celebration of all the holy ground she and her audience has covered.

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Phoebe Bridgers played all three nights with a fantastic guitar-hero set — what a kick to see “Kyoto” and “Garden Song” take on their rightful grandeur as stadium bangers. These were her final Eras shows, and unsurprisingly, she and Taylor got sentimental about it. When she came out on Sunday to duet on “Nothing New,” Phoebe confessed, “You are my hero,” making Taylor groan, “What are you doing right now?” Tay told her her, “Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for making the best music ever.” Then she apologized to the crowd. “Sorry you had to see that. It was like the last day of summer camp for us.” (We’re Taylor fans. We’re used to seeing “that,” whatever “that” happens to be at the moment.) Taylor also lavished love on her openers Gayle, Gracie Abrams, and her “Lover” video co-star Owenn. She also went onstage to a brilliant old-school feminist anthem: Lesley Gore’s 1963 classic “You Don’t Own Me,” a song Taylor could have written.

She ended all three nights with a very special guest: Ice Spice doing her guest verse on “Karma.” Friday night she debuted their “Karma” video during the show, sitting on the stage with her dancers to view it on the screen along with the crowd. “Karma” was a high note to end on, but the amazing thing about the Eras Tour is that it’s so forward-facing, a complex pop history that’s so rich and deep and multilayered, but one that’s still being rewritten right before our eyes, week after week. And there’s no doubt this mastermind is at the absolute peak of her creative powers, after 17 fairly relentless years. This show makes an excellent case that in so many ways, Taylor Swift’s era is really just beginning. (And oh yeah — over the weekend she also released a new song with the hook, “I wouldn’t marry me either.” Yeah, she’s got a lot going on at the moment.)

At one point on Sunday night, during the Midnights finale, I heard voices and thought the security guard near me was arguing with a fan. It turned out they were just trading friendship bracelets. It’s THAT kind of show. That’s the world this woman and only this woman creates, on an epic scale, night after night. There’s no experience in music like being part of that world Taylor Swift creates for a few hours. And there’s no way not to feel joyful about taking it all with you when you leave.