And I was enchanted. “Enchanted to meet you,” she sings in one of her songs. I don’t usually write about this. But there’s nothing like watching one of the best artists on the planet at the top of her career.
At a time when the world is shaky – a war in Ukraine that can go nuclear, with superpowers scratching at each other, with global warming flooding and asphyxiating us, and with the resurgence of authoritarianism – I took refuge for exactly three hours in a Taylor Swift concert in a football stadium in Tampa, Florida. And the experience was fascinating. And educational. There’s a lot to learn from the singer and her fans. It was a grand lesson in optimism. There is a young generation of Americans full of confidence in the future.
The initial ticket sale was a mess. But after months of chasing after the elusive seats on the re-sale market, I was able to fulfill 13-year-old Carlota’s dream of seeing her idol. She has been turning me into a swiftie – a devoted fan – and it was worth every second.
Outside the stadium, in what has become the norm for the United States, groups of police and other law enforcement, armed with rifles, stood ready to avert or react to any shooting or violence. And Covid? What Covid? I didn’t see a single person with a mask. Welcome to the musical spring of 2023. All the performers who stayed home have now left, and the concert schedule is enormous.
The Taylor Swift concert started at 8pm on the dot, with some men/butterflies on stage. And she mutated, with a dozen costume changes, as she hopscotched through her 10 albums, from her country period through Reputation, the award winning Lover and now Midnight, her most recent and sophisticated production. That’s why her tour is titled Eras.
Performing before 70,000 people must be one of the hardest things for any singer. But Taylor did it with surprising ease, looking over the audience slowly and suddenly looking into the cameras broadcasting her face to a super-giant TV that made her look 10 times bigger. Creating that sense of proximity and intimacy – in the middle of lights, speakers and a mass of dancers and recording cell phones – is one of her great talents. Taylor takes the time to talk to her audience, as she plays the piano and guitar as though she was in her living room. There’s nothing like watching an artist at the top of her skills.
Her songs are true reaffirmation anthems for a generation of women who have learned to take power, not wait to receive it. Her songs have phrases like “I’m the only one for me,” and slam adults who believe that “when you’re young they assume you know nothing.” She knows.
The women at the Tampa concert, in a sign of impatience or rebellion, took over the men’s bathrooms, and any man who dared to go in had to walk past an intimidating line of women. Taylor, who in one interview said her life was “not normal,” is normalizing a new balance of power that has women at the front.
More than a fad or a trend, Taylor Swift has created a movement. Her concerts create a chorus from tens of thousands throats. I saw girls eight and nine years old, but most were adolescents under 20. Almost all were accompanied by their mothers or other adults, who tried to pass unnoticed or were absorbed in a sea of pink and white sequined outfits. Pink power.
Left out of the picture was the 2009 incident when Kanye West grabbed the microphone from Taylor at the VMA awards after she won best video by a female artist. The 2020 documentary Miss Americana made clear that the moment changed the singer forever, and far from dragging her down it turned her into “the best performer-singer in the world,” in the words of one of her composers at the concert.
Her formula for success? Be a good person and write songs, she tells us in the documentary. Many swifties on social networks say her next album will be titled Karma, to reference her growing influence, earnings and power – and the public self-destruction of Kanye West. Taylor, who has broken all sorts of records, will never again hand the microphone to anyone.
I don’t want to play psychologist here, but there is an illusion of parallel lives when tens of thousands of people sing and dance along with their favorite performer and video themselves on their phones. In my time, you went to a concert to listen. Not any more. Now you go to sing and dance with the artists, record the experience and post it on social networks – although posting it live is even better. For Millenials and Gen Zers, to go to a concert without a phone is like not going.
Even though most of her songs are autobiographical, and at 33 she’s older than the average fan at her concerts, Taylor knows well the soul of her fans. And in many ways she speaks for them. That’s what makes her so powerful.
My only criticism of the Taylor Swift concert is that her audience did not have that tradition, so Latin American and so embracing, of shouting “more!” at the end until the artist comes back for one or two encores. At 11pm on the dot, after an extraordinary show without interruption, Taylor introduced her dancers, band and backup singers and left. There was no “more!”
The stadium lights went on suddenly, like waking us up from a dream. “I never saw anything like this in my life,” I told Carlota, who could not stop smiling. Left almost voiceless after all the singing, she asked, “When can we go to another Taylor Swift concert?”