Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

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It’s Taylor Swift’s Era and We’re All Just Living In It [Live Review]

What went down when Taylor Swift brought her record-breaking Eras Tour to Australia.

I am standing on the corner of Olympic Boulevard, Richmond, walking towards the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Taylor Swift is due to perform on the opening night of the Australian leg of her Eras Tour. 

A girl in a fuchsia Western outfit stands to my left as we wait for the lights to change. 

“Heading to Taylor?” I ask. Although, the answer seems obvious. 

“No,” she replies. “I couldn’t get tickets. But I’m going to stand outside the stadium anyway.”

Australia shattered records when more than four million people tried to get tickets to the Eras tour. Such is the gravitational pull of Taylor Swift, arguably the world’s biggest pop star in 2024. As has become commonplace at Swift’s shows, the legions of fans who missed out on tickets will ‘Taylor-gate’ outside the stadium, finding a way to participate in this mass cultural moment on their own terms. 

It’s an astounding concept to hold, considering this is Swift’s largest show of her entire career. 96,000 spectators have flooded the biggest stadium in Australia for an opportunity to witness pop superstardom. 

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

And still, the fervour of her fanbase spills out onto the parklands surrounding the ‘G. It lends the event a dizzying, carnival-like atmosphere as groups of fans — all dressed as their favourite Swift avatar — flutter around the grounds trading handmade friendship bracelets with each other inscribed with their favourite Swift songs. 

Outside the stadium, I meet my thirteen-year-old cousin. She is a Taylor Swift megafan, or ‘Swiftie’ as the most ardent members of her fandom are known. There’s less than an hour til showtime and she is overjoyed. 

Among Swift’s many gifts as a songwriter, her greatest may be the ability to translate the experiences of young adulthood – particularly those that illustrate the female experience and girlhood – into some kind of universal songbook.

Her music acts as a map for listeners to overlay their own journeys of heartbreak, triumph, breakup and transcendence. To put it simply: “I like her because she’s relatable,” says my cousin. “She makes me feel everything.”

We’re given light-up LED bracelets upon entry and link arms to navigate the percolating crowd as we venture inside to find our seats. 

After months of anticipation, the first night of Taylor Swift’s Australian run is about to begin. The crowd is a sea of glittering cowboy boots, Travis Kelce jerseys, ball gowns, sequinned bodysuits, cottagecore cloaks, and oceanic pastels. The electricity is reaching a fever pitch.

The premise for the Eras tour stands alone in the current pop landscape

Each show comprises a monolithic three-hour set, in which Swift performs hits, deep cuts, acoustic renditions, and fan-favourite ‘surprise songs’ spanning 18 years of her career. What sets it apart from a mere retrospective, however, is how she transforms these eras into a self-contained universe — each complete with its own lore, characters, aesthetic, and narratives. This world-building creates a deepened connection with her fans who aim to unearth hidden secrets with each listen. 

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

To witness the Eras tour live represents the closing of a feedback loop. The moment she appears on stage, swathed in billowing orange and lilac tapestry, the realisation sets in. Fans have the opportunity not just to listen to her music and follow along with the pop culture narrative that unfolds in her wake, but to strive for a moment of connection with her — and in the process, form deeper bonds with each other.

It speaks to the magic of Swift’s fandom, which when unshackled from the online sphere takes the shape of a genuine community. My cousin is beaming; a fellow Swiftie is offering her a Taylor Swift trading card. She astutely offers up a homemade rainbow charm in return. 

And so it unfolds.

A career-spanning set that is nothing short of polished perfection

Swift is nothing if not professional, performing to the biggest crowd of her life with the utmost ease. She points to a corner of the stadium and the audience erupts in a roar. The control and connection she exerts over the masses is spellbinding.

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

As Melbourne’s sky turns dusk-violet, it’s fitting that Swift begins with songs from her Lover era.

‘Cruel Summer’ bounces with a lightweight bliss, while a gregarious rendition of ‘The Man’ is granted additional weight through Swift’s offstage business acumen. After a much-publicised battle with music industry tycoon Scooter Braun over her masters, Swift famously wrestled back control of her artistic vision by choosing to re-record her first six studio albums.

In the process, she effectively regained complete control over her music. It also bears stating that Swift’s Eras Tour is the highest-grossing concert tour of all time, cementing her place in music industry history. 

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

As such a consummate performer, the challenge with a Taylor Swift show can be finding the moments that seemingly veer off-script. As she surveyed the crowd and brought the Lover era to a close, she allowed herself to bask in the moment. A single tear rolled down her face. Yes, it was an impossibly perfect pop star tear — the kind that only seems to appear on film sets. But it was authentic nonetheless. Arguably, these small human moments that puncture an otherwise maximalist show are the most compelling.

Much of Swift’s back catalogue is undoubtedly rooted in millennial nostalgia. If you were 14 years old when ‘Love Story’ came out, you’re now entering your 30s. Perhaps more so than any genre, pop music can fuse with our memories — so much so that it can feel like a soundtrack to a former life. Performing cuts from her Fearless era, Swift created a time-space warp that swallowed fans into portals of heady youth.

While the music was unlocking core memories for the masses, it also presented a chance to create new ones. It was as if fans of the Fearless era were singing along with their inner teenagers, unifying their former selves with who they are today. Such is the power of pop.

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

The same could be said of renditions from the Red era, most of which hold up as well-crafted tunes — outside of the odd dubstep drop that rears its head. Of course, it wouldn’t be true teenage nostalgia if it wasn’t metered with a healthy dose of cringe.

The era is rounded out with a 10-minute version of ‘All Too Well’, which incites the collective shout of ‘fuck the patriarchy’ from the crowd as the song reaches its lyrical climax. I look towards my cousin, who is thoroughly locked in. Before I can think any further about Taylor Swift acting as her gateway to punk music, we’re covered in artificial snow that falls from the rooftop of the ‘G.

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

It’s rare for an international artist to tour with the entirety of their production rig, making the fact that history’s highest-grossing tour may also be one of the most comprehensive in recent memory. The stagecraft is faultless and all-encompassing — both through attention to detail and sweeping setpieces. For the evermore era, ‘champagne problems’ is the highlight — underscoring the song’s narrative with heated contemporary dance.

As for folklore, an album Swift created during the global pandemic, the era comes to life with its complete cottage installation, translating the moody forest nymph vibe to the stage with total immersion.

Recently, an influx of international artists have cancelled their Australian tours, citing impossibly high production costs to make them viable. In this context, it’s refreshing to see Swift reward fans — some of whom have paid thousands of dollars in tickets and interstate travel to see their idol live — with a show that chooses fan service over cutting corners. Songs from this era may be some of her strongest. Despite its isolated writing methodology and hushed tones, the record holds up well within a stadium environment.

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

Swift has long been in the public eye. At this point, her connection to pop culture discourse is inseparable from her artistry. The Reputation era represents Swift’s response to this — with the record presenting her first major attempt to reclaim her public identity through a new musical persona.

In a live setting, songs from this record seem to illicit a similar catharsis from audience members, several of which scream-sing the entire run of songs (…Ready for It?, Delicate, Don’t Blame Me and Look What You Made Me Do) to the point of exhaustion. If half of Melbourne’s population has lost its voice by Monday, I can hazard a guess at the reason why.

The accompanying visuals to this era coat the MCG like an oil slick before reaching the point of immolation. The tracks come to life with subtle reinventions that offer up a brooding hard rock edge.

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

Taking centre stage behind a simple upright piano adorned with hand-painted flowers, the highlight of the night unfurls. As is tradition, Swift performs her ‘surprise songs’ — a simple, stripped-back, acoustic moment that gives each audience of the tour something just for them.

Performing ‘You’re Losing Me’ for the first time, she pulls off an incredible magic trick by conjuring a feeling of intimacy within an impossibly large crowd. Put simply, it’s as close as you’ll come to hearing the version of Taylor Swift that exists behind the carefully curated eras.

For a few minutes, the audience is offered a glimpse at the Taylor who sits behind her piano at home, puts pen to paper, and begins to write. 

Photograph by Michelle Pitiris for Rolling Stone AU/NZ

The closing act arrives as a victory lap of sorts

The stage is lit with washes of purple as Swift emerges in a faux-fur coat to set the scene with the slinky pop-funk of ‘Lavender Haze’. ‘Anti Hero’ is on-brand as ever, while ‘Vigilante Shit’ offers a nod to the burlesque choreography of Chicago. Finally, ‘Karma’ closes the night out — giving way to an endorphin rush of fireworks, laser beams and confetti rain. For a moment, time is frozen as 96,000 people allow themselves to be swept away in a wave of joy.

This is the power of pop music. This is the power of Taylor Swift. Say what you will, but one universal truth remains. It’s Taylor’s era. We’re all just living in it. 

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