The last time we saw Taylor Alison Swift on the big screen, she was unceremoniously pushed under a moving vehicle in David O. Russell’s Amsterdam. The time before that was the actual car crash that is Cats. This latest slice of cinéma véri-Tay sees the singer-songwriter-champion-of-the-friendship-bracelet back on home turf — an extravagant, big-ass concert flick spanning her entire career.
Shot over three nights in Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium filled with 70,000 fans, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour distils, in Swift’s words, “17 years of music, one era at a time”, each presented as its own epoch with different staging, costumes and moods (happily for the great unwashed, the eras are signposted on screen). There’s Lover (a Luc Besson-esque sci-fi film), Evermore (the New Forest at dawn), Reputation (more snakes than the Well of Souls), Folklore (a grand woodland cabin straight out of Grand Designs). The impressive stagecraft is all slickly, if impersonally, captured by director Sam Wrench, who has done similar huge scale things with Billie Eilish, Lizzo and BTS, running through all the moves in the modern concert movie playbook — eye catching drone shots for scale, endless cutaways to fans mouthing lyrics for intimacy. But, along with his five editors, he makes the smart choice of letting Swift strut her stuff without over-cutting to gussy up energy and excitement — he has the confidence to know his star is enough.
It’s a portrait of an artist both on fire and still evolving
For the best reason to see The Eras Tour is to marvel at Swift. As a writer, she is playful and perceptive, bombastic and confessional, invoking every conceivable mood and nailing it. Of course, there are songs about getting over exes (‘Champagne Problems’ and a 10-minute acoustic version of ‘All Too Well’ simmer with anger) but there is more on Swift’s mind here, skewering topics ranging from homophobia (“‘Cause shade never made anyone less gay”) and workplace gender hypocrisy (“If I was a man, then I’d be The Man.”)
As a performer, even when revisiting songs about high school and teenage break-ups that are long behind her, she commits. The joyous stomps of ‘Never Getting Back Together’ and ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ (the Red album set is bathed in more scarlet than Snoke’s throne room), the pop perfection of 1989’s ‘Blank Space’ into ‘Shake It Off’ into ‘Bad Blood’, the vivid storytelling of ‘Betty’ and ‘The Last American Dynasty.’ It’s a portrait of an artist both on fire and still evolving. The between-songs banter is mostly paying tribute to the crowd, the most interesting insight coming during Folklore, when Swift admits she sees herself as a woodsy Victorian lady rather than who she is: “an old millennial woman covered in cat hair watching 700 hours of TV.” Global megastars, they are just like us.
It’s a downside of the Eras format that closing on the latest album Midnights — disappointingly ‘Mastermind’ is not about Clive Myrie — delivers a low-key last stretch compared to more obvious crowd-pleasing bangers. At 169 minutes, there is also a sense, like the early Harry Potter films, the filmmakers are frightened to editorialise in case they upset the faithful (only a couple of tracks of the tour are absent). But, as a showcase and celebration of 17 years of boundless creativity, smart song writing craft mixed with hard graft and her willingness to go the extra mile for the audience, The Eras Tour gets it pretty much right. And you don’t have to wait hours to get out of the car park.