Wildest Dreams | Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (2023)

Taylor Swift always catches me when I least expect it. By and large, I stick with the pop brunettes: Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa. I’m not sure why they appeal more, though I know I can’t chalk it up to hair color. I was 17 when “You Belong With Me” came out—you know it even if you don’t know, “But she wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts / She’s Cheer Captain, and I’m on the bleachers”—and I was wise enough to know even then that it was the cheer captain singing, not the person on the bleachers. Still, fifteen years is a long time. I got caught up in the faux-nostalgia of
1989; I let myself swoon to Lover. What can I say, I’m not made of stone.

Swift’s Eras Tour, which began this past spring and will continue worldwide through next year, broke Ticketmaster and caused an earthquake. It is beyond a phenomenon. She is now a billionaire. She strives for monoculture, even in the face of an also very successful Beyoncé world tour happening simultaneously.

Eras Tour tickets were so few and far between—I was lucky enough to stumble my way into a seat—and thus Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie was filmed, in theory, to grant movie-going audiences a chance to experience a tour they may have not been able to afford for the hundreds, or thousands, of dollars an actual ticket cost could cost. Eras has dominated the box office, pushing aside even Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon the weekend of its release. People sing and dance in the aisles. It is meaningful, clearly, and not only because it’s making a lot of money.

Sam Wrench directs Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour as more of an exercise about its star than what follows after the colon in the film’s title. This is a Swift-heavy piece of work. Which is not to say that the Eras Tour itself wasn’t—this is always, all of it, staggeringly about Swift herself. The nature of the film, however, is that it isn’t directed so much as it is focused, with Swift in all parts of the frame at almost any given time. Shot mostly in mid-range, we get endless glimpses of Swift from the chest up, proof of every smirk or glance or tongue out or eye roll. Like Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, Wrench wants us to see what we might not have seen from the nosebleed seats.

And what we see, of course, has Swift’s stamp of approval. Mostly this framing feels repetitive. Though it’s truly pleasurable to hear her songs played “movie theater loud,” there is not much to absorb and look at after a while. I found myself easily distracted by the stitching of her costumes, how the mic sat adhered to her back, the way her hair grew frizzier and wavier as the night went on. If Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is about anything other than its star, it is about the sheer labor involved in putting on such a production. When a song tries her more than most, we hear Swift’s voice waver. 

When I saw the Eras Tour live, I was struck by the pain of its conceit: if we are to accept that Swift’s output is relatively autofictional, to perform seventeen years’ worth of music is to wade through the murky waters of nostalgia and romantic frustration. The act of putting on a bombastic show which doubles as a form of self-therapy felt exciting, if also brutal. When I saw Swift in person, it was mere weeks after her separation from actor Joe Alwyn. As she began to sing songs from her 2019 album Lover, a work that is undeniably about having a blonde British boyfriend, it was hard not to feel as though she rushed through them. She didn’t want to give the songs the heart she’d given to that relationship. And I don’t blame her. You couldn’t pay me to relive the last seventeen years of my life; just kidding, at Swift’s rate, I’d do just about anything.

As a film, however, it’s hard to get a sense of that wear and tear—on the heart, on the mind, on the music. The Eras Tour is a remarkable achievement, whether you consider yourself an acolyte or not. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, however, mostly abandons—or misses—this sense of wonder and scale. I wanted more of the fans, more of her dancers, more of her great band. I do think the intent of just about any concert documentary should be to make you feel like you’re seeing the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, that this moment in time is the most important thing to ever exist. So, while it’s fun to see flashes of all the work that went into the Eras Tour, I often found myself longing for more of that feeling. The Eras Tour mattered because of the people who went, who overwhelmed cities, exchanged bracelets, and cried. It is lovely, in part, that Swift brought these people together, but it feels like she owes them more than Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is willing to give.

Still—it’s not for nothing. Or rather: there’s something, a lot of something, to the experience. The violent pop of Reputation, the eerie lust of evermore, the eternal appeal of Fearless. I eased back into a half-edible and let 1989 wash over me. Swift’s pop persona invites contradiction, disarray. Everything is always her fault in songs—unless it’s someone else’s. Her kaleidoscopic albums shift, magnifying and obscuring, until they recenter once again on her. A few seats down, a set of parents sat on either side of their daughter who stood in the aisles dancing for the whole last hour of Swift’s 160-minute odyssey. Her dad watched the Denver Nuggets game on his phone. I was not called to rise and dance and sing at the screen (let’s blame the edible), but I was moved to check on our rowmate every few minutes where she kept cruising (can’t stop, won’t stop, moving).