“Swifties are very ... You can just spot them,” said a fan, her voice tinged with fond admiration. Ahead of the screening of American singer, songwriter and most-streamed woman on Spotify, Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour film, it was not difficult to clock a Swifitie from a regular mall-goer. One group was a flurry of glitter and colour, wearing flowery dresses and glimmering gowns, each recreating an iconic Taylor look. A young woman had drawn sparkly red hearts on her cheek (from the Lover era), another had a shimmering green snake around her eye (from the reputation era, of course). One girl wore a T-shirt that said “A lot going on at the moment” along with a fedora and chunky black glasses, a reference to Taylor’s look in the “22” music video. The back of someone else’s T-shirt displayed their name with the phrase “Taylor’s Version” in brackets, a nod to the artist’s ongoing efforts to re-release her old albums so she can fully own all her music. Many fans wore home-made friendship bracelets (something Swift suggests in the lyrics of her song “You’re on Your Own, Kid”) and had the number 13 (Swift’s date of birth and lucky number) drawn on their hands with marker.
Cinépolis, Seawoods was ready for its Eras experience.
The Eras Tour was shot at a sold-out show in California’s SoFi Stadium, which seats over 70,000 people. For Swifties in places like India, this is as close as we’re likely to get to seeing Swift perform live in the country. Even if it is labelled a film and playing in a cinema, The Eras Tour is not a film at all. It’s a bona fide Taylor Swift concert — which began with a trailer of the upcoming Diwali release, Tiger 3. Not a single person in the auditorium paid attention to Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif’s promises of an action spectacle, choosing instead to take selfies and make friends with those sitting next to them.
Our row had one lone man who looked distinctly out of place. The bulk of the audience was made up of young women, some accompanied by mothers and boyfriends. The young man volunteered that he’d been dared by his friends to sit through the entire film. If he’s a closet Swiftie who couldn’t bring himself to admit that he’s come, of his own accord, to listen to the most googled musician of 2022, we can only hope that this concert experience gave him the confidence to own up to his fandom, because watching The Eras Tour with this audience was like communion.
After a countdown (starting from 13, naturally) to which everyone shouted along, a glittering aerial view of SoFi Stadium appears on screen, followed by a medley remix of Swift’s biggest hits. Forget the dragon, enter the concert.
People quickly left their seats, rushing to huddle at the foot of the screen to sing loudly along to the songs of Lover, our first era of the night. When Swift asks the audience in the film if they know the words to the bridge of “Cruel Summer”, everyone in the crowd screamed their confirmation. When Taylor points at different sections of the crowd, the audience in the cinema screamed as if she’d just pointed at them. The few people still sitting got to their feet for the upbeat “You Need To Calm Down”, shouting the lyrics in unison. “It’s going to go to my head,” says Taylor cheekily to the cheering crowd, “You make me feel so powerful.” Across the boundaries of time, space and geography, her fans are equally euphoric. When the ballad “Lover” came on, a few fans grabbed a dance partner and waltzed away.
Next up was Fearless — Swift’s sophomore album which was re-recorded in 2021, and has some of the biggest hits of her career, including “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me”. We were approximately 25 minutes into the concert and the young woman next to me hadn’t sat down for a second (I, on the other hand, was already exhausted, in awe of Swift's ability to do this night after night).
For the next era evermore, one of her two highly-acclaimed pandemic albums, Taylor and her dancers don black cloaks, and the mood and music takes a witchy turn. As “willow” played, two fans brought out spherical, golden lanterns (resembling a full moon) and held them above their heads, just like the performers on screen. Of one mind, the people at the front of the hall joined hands and went around in a slow circle with the lantern-bearers dancing at the centre (a Wiccan ritual if ever I saw one). The next track, “marjorie”, was slower, and everyone in the audience switched on their flashlights and waved their phones in the air.
Now, Taylor Swift sits at a moss-covered pianoforte. “I know I’m supposed to play it cool, but I really, really love you,” she says, beaming with giddy elation. People held their hands up to make hearts at the screen. There was frenzied guessing to predict the next song, and as the first notes of “champagne problems” rang out, someone yelled, “See, I told you!”
It is in the quieter moments of the concert that you get a chance to appreciate the excellent stage design and production of the Eras. Swift’s songwriting is vivid and lyrical; as such, many songs unfold very much like a play, with her dancers embodying different characters and expressing the song through their performance. In “tolerate it”, a song in which the protagonist’s love isn’t reciprocated, Swift lays a table with gleaming silverware and sits expectantly on one end as she sings, her disinterested lover at the opposite end. As the music swells, she crawls up on the table towards him, eventually standing on it to belt the final chorus. “She’s so dramatic,” said a fan indulgently.
A giant CGI serpent winds around the stage, signalling the arrival of my personal favourite part of the concert, the reputation era. Swift and her dancers brought the house down with their energetic performance of “...Ready For It?”, and a few fans at the front broke out into full choreography. The song never stood out to me when I listened to the album, but this concert experience really elevates it. When it was time for “Look What You Made Me Do”, a song about how she has emerged tougher and more bitter from everything her adversaries put her through, performers dressed up as previous versions of Taylor are trapped in giant glass boxes on stage, struggling to escape, while the real Taylor struts confidently around them. In the audience, many whipped out their phones to record themselves sassily mouthing the lyrics: Another box in which to encapsulate a performance, but with none of the darkness underlying Swift’s concepts.
Speak Now era came and went with just one fan-favourite song (“Enchanted”) but as Red begins in earnest, there’s an awkward rip in the concert experience. The lights came on and everyone groaned at the onset of the interval. (I was rather grateful for the opportunity to sit down and take a breather.) Everyone ignored the ads (and the Tiger 3 trailer) on screen and turned to others in the audience to discuss their favourite moments so far.
The film picked back up again with “We Are Never Getting Back Together”, a song that some in the crowd were definitely singing a little too emphatically. During “I Knew You Were Trouble”, the women next to me asked if I’d take a video of them singing the chorus. I took this task seriously, trying to film them in the best possible angles. They clasped my hand and thanked me profusely.
On screen, as Swift sang the 10-minute version of “All Too Well”, there was an unspoken consensus that it was time to be the main character. A boy in the row ahead of mine turned his back to the screen and held his arms out wistfully, while his friends scrambled to take a picture of him with Taylor Swift in the background. The women next to me were running a full-fledged operation, directing each other to come up with the most aesthetic Instagram photos.
Introducing folklore, Swift speaks of how she imagined herself as a woodsy Victorian woman living in a cabin in the forest when writing the album, rather than a lonely Millennial covered in cat-hair. She performs six songs from this era, each more gorgeous than the last. The elaborate costumes, choreography and large-scale storytelling for “the last great american dynasty” was particularly memorable. Swift bounds across the stage, dressed in a flowy white dress, like a princess in the meadows rather than a singer who has been performing for over two hours straight. It is an inside joke in the fandom that no matter how meticulously the artist’s hair is straightened at the beginning of the concert, it frizzes back up to her natural curls a couple of hours into the affair.
In advance of the beginning of the beloved 1989 era, the crowd started up a chant of “Taylor! Taylor! Taylor!” After singing till we lost our voices to “Style” and “Blank Space” — Swift, on the other hand, continues, progressively sweatier but without missing a beat or losing an iota of her infectious energy — it was time for “Shake It Off”. And it was at this point that the screening turned into a proper dance party. Everyone gave themselves up to Swift’s carefree choreography. A kid danced with the kind of enthusiasm that tells you this is her most-anticipated song of the night. The roaring response to “Bad Blood” drowned out the theatre’s sound system. This section of the concert ends with Swift pretending to dive into the stage, which now resembles an ocean, and we see her form swimming underneath from one end to the other. It’s a neat trick that allows the artist to pull off a magically quick transition, change costumes and prepare for the next set of songs.
For Swift’s most recent album, Midnights, we are transported to a cloudy sky suffused with lavender. The crowd was particularly enthusiastic as they chanted “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me”, from the chorus of “Anti-Hero”, which tells you a lot about the feelings that Swift’s lyrics help to articulate. The artist takes the sexiness up a notch in her performance of “Vigilante Shit”, spreading her legs wide and caressing herself as she sings. The crowd oohed and aahed at all the right spots. “Go Taylor!” someone yelled. After bringing the concert to a close with the vastly popular “Bejeweled” and “Karma”, Taylor shouts out her dancers, backing vocalists and band, all of whom receive great cheers from the audience. She looks around her one last time, mouthing “I love you” to the fans before bowing deeply and disappearing beneath the stage.
Off-screen, we were all spent but in bliss. There was the exchanging of Instagram IDs and outpours of “Hope you had fun tonight!” Those who entered the hall as strangers hugged each other goodbye as the best of friends. Three joyous hours of singing and dancing together tends to have that effect. Compliments flowed like water, with strangers pointing out references in each others’ outfits and gushing over how pretty the other person looked. It was a delightful explosion of feminine energy. After all, isn’t that precisely why we love Taylor Swift?