One of the questions raised by Taylor Swift’s recent single “Karma” is whether the titular force is something that can be, like, aggressively courted. And, if so, is writing out $100,000 bonus checks to one’s tour truck drivers a form of metaphysical insurance payment? These are the deep thoughts that may woozily cross your mind on the Eras Tour, as the clock nears midnight while Swift is bringing things to a close by performing “Karma” at the end of a 3-hour-and-25-minute marathon set. It’s a weird, funny finale that leaves an audience with the idea that virtue is even better than revenge, or that maybe these can amount to the same thing. And who’s to argue any of this when you’re witnessing the insane success of the soon-to-be-billion-grossing Eras Tour?
Swift is paying her good fortune forward with an exhaustive, exhilarating show that is making millions of international fans justifiably joyful. As re-witnessed in Thursday night’s performance at the L.A. area’s SoFi Stadium — the first of a six-night stand in Inglewood, Calif. — the Eras Tour represents the apotheosis of what a pop superstar tour can be. It’s massively overscaled, oddly intimate and even, at its heart, extraordinarily musical in a way we don’t expect, much less demand, out of pop extravaganzas. It feels generous and sweet, and it absolutely flexes like a goddam acrobat.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Swift told the crowd early in Thursday’s show, “but this is the last city on the U.S. leg of the Eras Tour, and we really wanted to spend it somewhere special.” Flattery will get her everywhere, but there’s an asterisk she could have put on that statement and didn’t, which is that the SoFi run marks the end of just one U.S. run for the tour, as she announced earlier in the day that she is adding North American dates for fall 2024, albeit more in what looks like a regional mopping-up exercise than a full-scale return after the Latin American, Asian and European globetrotting to come in the next year. No matter — Angelenos do like to believe we’re special, and were happy to treat it as a closer to what began in Phoenix four and a half months ago, even if, in the overall picture, she’s only just begun.
Any of the fans who’ve already caught the tour — which, if you count people watching shaky, illicit livestreams, means almost all of them — will know not much has changed about the set since the March opening in Arizona. The most overtly autobiographical song about a love affair now known to be broken up, “Invisible String,” was cut months ago, in favor of another great “Folklore” song with nearly the exact opposite viewpoint, “The 1.” “Long Live” was added to the set upon the release of the “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” re-record. Just a week or so ago, “Tis the Damn Season” was dropped from the “Evermore” portion of the set to make room for “No Body, No Crime,” thanks to that song’s featured artist, Haim, coming on for the last stretch of the tour.
Otherwise, the map remains the same, apart from the two surprise songs that arrive as the penulimate section of the show. Thursday, the first of these was the very much anticipated live debut of a Vault track that became her latest single, “I Can See You,” treated in concert as a real rocker, even if performed as a solo acoustic guitar number. The other was a “Midnights” track that hadn’t previously made the grade, “Maroon” — even better on piano than enmeshed in Jack Antonoff’s booming co-production on record.
The biggest changeup for L.A. might have been something as seemingly basic as the glowing wristbands left on all 70,000 seats or so prior to gates opening, making for a light show far beyond anything seen at the beginning of the tour. When Swift launched into her abbreviated version of “You Need to Calm Down,” perhaps needless to predict, the SoFi audience became a huge, blinking rainbow flag in surround-vision. It would probably not be a spoiler for the remainder of the run to reveal that red gets some special consideration, but clearly a lot of thought as well as expense and effort went into the color-coding for each of the nearly 45 numbers that bring the audience’s wrists into the picture, above and beyond what will seem like glorified glow sticks the next time you see an artist passing these trinkets out. It has a particularly startling effect on the senses at SoFi Stadium, which, built deep into the ground, has such an extreme rake in its medium and upper seating areas that it’s almost like being surrounded by canyon walls, now set aglow by benign alien forces.
Swift does her very capable best of making sure the crowd feels part of the show, and not just because of what’s been handed to them: “Is there anyone here tonight who put in an extensive amount of effort to be with us at the Eras Tour?” she asked. And then, even more solicitously: “Did anyone here tonight put a lot of thought and preparation into one of these two things: lyric memorization, and your cute outfit?” As is customary on the tour, only one audience member is allowed near the actual proceedings, typically a tyke brought onto the B-stage for the gifting of a hat during “22.” On Thursday, it was Bianka Bryant, the 6-year-old daughter of Kobe and Vanessa, getting the bestowing.
Sadly, Taylor Swift doesn’t sing “Mean” on her Eras Tour. Even in a set that now encompasses 45 songs, certain greatest-hits sacrifices must be made. But the show might make you think of that song anyway, because if it proves nothing else — and it proves plenty else — it’s that Swift… can… sing. And that she can provide bravura interpretations of her own deep catalog for a concert that lasts 205 minutes, only about five minutes of which, tops, find her offstage for costume changes. (Many of the outfit transformations happen on-stage, before the crowd’s eyes, saving the band from doing any more instrumental vamping than absolutely necessary.) Few pop stars at her level aren’t giving in to at least a little lip-synching during the heavy choreo moments, but there’s little doubt she’s bringing it all live, even if there are numbers that incorporate some of her own background vocal stacking alongside the in-house vocalists. It’s easy enough to get distracted by how much she puts into visually acting out each number — not to mention the ever changing production design — that you might forget the acting that goes into actually singing this material, flawlessly, across three-plus hours.
It all adds up to an athletic feat a fan might undervalue just because the audience is busy being self-impressed with its own athleticism — getting into the stadium, walking down those ramps for another 10 minutes if the ducats are floor seats, and then standing from 6:30 p.m., when opening-opening act Gracie Abrams first goes on, until 11:45, when Swift has finally finished her last karmic duty for the night. (Seats, at a Taylor Swift concert, are ways of marking out personal space, not something really intended to bear weight.)
Sitting alone at the production’s mossy piano, Swift explained in the most basic terms, accessible to even the fans Brianka Bryant’s age, what exactly her mojo is. “The reason we didn’t tour for five years — that was not a normal or scheduled thing. We had a global pandemic; we had much more important things that we had to worry about. But I’ve been playing shows sort of as a coping mechanism my whole life, since I was about 12 years old. I go through this process where I feel things, I write a song about that thing, I show it to you and I go, ‘Do you like it? Did you ever feel this way too?’ And so when you guys are at at a show, if you even nod your head or make eye contact with me or sing the words to a song during a show, that to me validates that emotion and makes me feel like I wasn’t alone in feeling it. It’s sort of my coping process in life — so all of a sudden that was gone. And so I decided,” she continued, “in order to keep that connecton going, if I couldn’t play live shows with you, I was going to make and release as many albums as humanly possible.”
Hence, she explained, touring behind four new albums instead of one. The thought that kept driving her toward an eventual tour, Swift explained, was: “How cathartic would it be to get to sing ‘Champagne Problems’ with you?” She was even kind enough to call out “Bridge!” just before getting to one of this decade’s oddest pieces of sing-along bait — the forceful reading of a passage describing the spurning of a marriage proposal, including the shout-along line “What a shame she’s fucked in the head!” This is not the portion of what Swift does that she would explain for the pre-teens in the audience, necessarily, but the 30-and-up crowd that’s grown up with Swift certainly recognizes the value in the songwriter being outrageously free in sharing her neuroses, probably most of all in “Anti-Hero.” The day that “Midnights” came out last fall, we confidently predicted that it would be deeply cathartic to hear an entire stadium chanting “I’m the problem, it’s me,” and, dear reader, it feels like as blissful a moment of mass self-effacement as anyone could have hoped.
What’s startling about the Eras Tour setlist is how many climaxes it has along the way — and with the recent addition of “Long Live,” a song that never did anything but close shows prior to now, it wouldn’t be surprising if some members think that is the lead-in to an encore break, rather than just a casual halfway point in the proceedings.
But what’s especially fulfilling about that is, by the time Swift closes the show with seven selections from last fall’s “Midnights” album, the obvious career bangers are already well out of the way. It feels for that last, looser stretch like we’ve joined the artist at an after-hours joint, with music that happens to feel clubby, even if it includes some of her most sophisticated lyric-writing. The after-party has been built into the fabric of the show. And how many superstars would end a hits-packed extravaganza with “And now here’s a solid half-hour from my new album”— and make it feel like a welcome and even deliriously appropriate conclusion, not a forced one?
At the point she kicks into the “Midnights” material, Angelenos may feel tempted to act like Angelenos — i.e., to start running for the car to beat the traffic, like Dodgers fans confident that it’s in the bag and nothing important could really happen in the final couple of innings. But that’d be a mistake at this show: Yes, the show has already climaxed 25 times, and this is the wind-down. But “Karma” — and karma — demand seeing it out to the finish. Chances are we won’t see a life-flashing-before-eyes tour like this again, not even from Swift. The memory of that epic-length bonding will be more than just a relaxing thought, if her Eras are the ones that help define yours, in the way that only great pop can.