Taylor Swift’s concert documentary “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” was as brilliant in the theater as it was to witness from the nosebleeds of SoFi Stadium. I won’t say it was better because the collective effervescence of a concert cannot be created without an arena setting and thousands of screaming Swifties, but the film transported me.
The only expectations that weren’t met (because the unexpected is almost always expected from Swift) were those that imply she may hint at the next re-record — rumored to be “Reputation,” which came out originally in 2017 — or anything of that nature.
With the grand entrance Swift makes at the start of the concert memorialized on film in high definition, the “Eras” tour became cemented in history and popular culture. Her choice to start with the “Lover” era, specifically with “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” (after which her first documentary on Netflix was named) sets the tone for a concert experience in which the “soulmate crowd situation” Swift describes in the documentary is guaranteed.
Swift knows her fans, which is evident in her next song choices of “Cruel Summer” — the should-have-been hit single that became so through streaming on Spotify — and “The Man,” for which her transition is characteristically theatrical and quirky. Her heart-hands pose and the sequence in which she spot-spins during “Fearless” melts the nostalgic hearts of Swifties who have been with her since the beginning.
Touches like the three-dimensional graphic transitions between album eras (like the “Reputation” snake, the “Evermore” forest, the “Red” balloons, the wave that washes “1989” away for “Midnights”) heavily immerse the viewer into each new set, whether it be the gigantic scaly snake sparking fear and adrenaline or the red balloons calling back to the circus theme of the “Red” tour. Close-ups of Swift herself magnify her presence, both as a performer and as a human. Her face glistens with sweat, though her makeup stays put. Her straightened hair curls back into its natural wave as she progresses throughout the nine eras.
Even the chipped gray nail polish on her “Folklore” nail puts her on a more even level with her fans. Swift knows by now that she has achieved a high echelon status of fame, but her polished humility when she laughs at her attempted arm pose on the mossy evermore piano or how she talks about how she’s “supposed to play it cool” on a tour this big keep her grounded throughout.
The zoomed-in shots of her dancers and backup singers also bring about more appreciation for their costumes, with each able to express themselves within the theme of the respective era. Dance details reinforce Swift’s brand of teamwork and spotlight-sharing, like the two male-presenting dancers swirling around in the “Lover” dance number with three other couples, all of which include one woman and one man. Each dancer gets unique roles, whether they hand Swift her color-coded microphones, fuzzy or shimmery coats or play her scene partner in the more theatrical numbers.
The precision with which all these choices were made begs for Oscar consideration of the film alone. Swift puts on a stellar performance as the star of the show and her dancers and backing vocalists make a great ensemble supporting cast. Her band is responsible for the crisp, clear sounds, and if anything, the graphic transitions that enhance the experience deserve some love because they’re well done and not overstated.
The selection of specific cuts from the three nights of the tour filmed in LA also speaks volumes about Swift, director Sam Wrench and whoever else was involved in the curation of the moments. At the beginning of the “Red” set, Swift gives her “22” bowler hat to a lucky audience member along with a big hug. The film captures the moment she gave the hat to Bianka Bryant, daughter of the late Kobe Bryant, and it might have been disappointing if it didn’t. The following night Swift presented the hat to an unknown young woman who definitely earned her spot, but had this clip been included in the doc instead that would have been off-brand for Swift, who makes a big deal of generosity with other celebs, especially those younger than her.
The spliced-together surprise songs included “Our Song” from the Friday, August 4 show and “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” The inclusion of “Our Song,” from Swift’s debut, self-titled album ensures representation of all ten of her eras, while “You’re On Your Own, Kid” nods to the trend of friendship bracelet exchanges that marked the tour.
It looks as if she performed both songs on the same night but these were two separate shows, with her piano rendition of “You’re On Your Own, Kid” taking place on Saturday, August 5. The pink dress she wore in both segments helped weave the flips together. This begs the question: which other segments were from which nights? Even eagle-eyed Swifties might have a tough time deciphering, but I wouldn’t put it past them.
As a major Swiftie who appreciates the deep cuts, I remained skeptical after seeing the concert because I felt the “Red” and “Reputation” sets didn’t acknowledge some of the sleeper hits of those albums, but watching the film changed my mind as to how powerful the singles and radio bangers can be in a crowd of SoFi capacity. The “Evermore” and “Folklore” sets involved more elaborate staging, props and choreography, which points to the growth and development of Swift as a musician during the pandemic. The exquisite details reflect how she carefully layered the songs of the sister albums.
Choreography standouts included the titled “Willow,” with the dancers in swirling and flourishing green velvet capes juggling glowing orbs that call back to the music video, the somber march of Swift’s backup dancers during “My Tears Ricochet” and Swift herself pulling strings and acting like a puppet master controlling her dancers on the hypnotic black and white stage floor during “Mastermind.”
I can’t forget to point out that Swift starts the concert in a bright, bedazzled bodysuit for “Lover,” which she covers with a sparkly blazer for “The Man.” She does the same thing, but in reverse order, for the “Midnights” set, where she appears in a thick fuzzy jacket with a T-shirt dress and underneath wears a deep blue sparkly bodysuit. “Lover” and “Midnights” give off twin flame energy for sure. What a mastermind, indeed.
“Long Live (Taylor’s Version)” with the clips of fans in the credits sequence seals the deal of an artist who celebrates her biggest supporters. Swift has always been so fan-driven and “The Eras Tour” marked a new achievement that she can wholeheartedly celebrate with them after climbing and moving mountains of criticism and rumors to find peace, success and best of all, “Karma.”