October 13, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Sam Wrench
Culture Representation: Taking place from August 7 to August 9, 2023, at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, the concert documentary film “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” features a predominantly white group of people (with some black people, Latinos and Asians) who are concert performers or audience members at a Taylor Swift concert.
Culture Clash: Music superstar Taylor Swift gives her last 2023 U.S. concert on her 2023-2024 “The Eras Tour,” where she performs songs from every era of her career so far, including songs about her relationship breakups and personal problems.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Taylor Swift fans, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” will appeal primarily to people who enjoy watching high-energy and stylish pop concerts.
“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” shows an artist in full command of her craft and stage presence. Even if you don’t particularly care for Taylor Swift’s music, this concert documentary radiates positive energy. However, the on-stage talk seems too rehearsed. Swift is known for reinventing herself through her music (she has done albums of country music, pop music and folk music), but she has maintained a public persona that’s a mixture being of confident celebrity and being a relatable “regular person” who confesses her insecurities and failings in her songs.
Directed by Sam Wrench, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is a documentary showing highlights from concerts that Swift performed on her mega-successful The Eras Tour. The concerts took place at the SoFi Stadum in Inglewood, California, from August 7 to August 9, 2023. There is no backstage or off-stage footage, until the end credits, when there are clips of her rehearsing and footage of fans in the parking lots of her concerts. Except for the end credits, which has “Long Live (Taylor’s Version)” as the song playing in the background, this is a concert film from start to finish.
Wrench has directed several other concert documentaries, including 2022’s “BTS: Permission to Dance on Stage – LA,” “Lizzo: Live in Concert” and 2023’s “Billie Eilish: Live at the O2” and “Brandi Carlile: In the Canyon Haze – Live from Laurel Canyon.” His experience with concert documentaries is very apparent in this slickly helmed film that has plenty of close-ups of Swift smirking and preening for the cameras like a diva in total control of her audience and very aware of where each camera is on stage. She plays acoustic guitar on many of the songs and occasionally plays piano.
The movie opens with giant billowing orange-red fabric engulfing the stage and looking like giant flower petals before Swift emerges like a sparkly butterfly in her sequin-filled leotard and Christian Louboutin boots. The part of the stage that extends to the audience is shaped like an electric guitar. During this 168-minute movie, Swift performs hits from every album she recorded up until The Eras tour: From her self-titled 2006 debut album (released when she was 16 years old) to her 2022 “Midnights” album. Each era is named after one of her albums. On stage, she’s flanked by a small army of musicians and diverse backup dancers.
There are expected numerous wardrobe changes for Swift during the show—her outfits are either close-fitting, sparkly pop star gear or romantic-looking frilly dresses—from designers such as Robert Cavalli, Alberta Ferretti and Atelier Versace. She also gives the predictable declarations of gratitude to the fans for all of their support. The song-and-dance numbers are well-choreographed and enjoyable to watch. However, even though Swift has won numerous awards in her life, she’s never going to win any awards for Dancer of the Year.
Early on in the concert, Swift points an index finger at the audience and swerves around the stage to get people to scream wherever she’s pointing. She then flexes up one of her arm muscles and coos to the stadium full of adoring fans: “You just made me feel so powerful. I guess I’m trying to say, ‘You’re making me feel like the man.'” And (you guessed it), she then performs her hit “The Man.”
For someone who is famous for pouring her personal life into her songs, Swift doesn’t get too personal when she talks to the audience in between songs. During this concert, the most that she will mention about her personal thoughts is saying when she wrote her Grammy-winning 2020 “Folklore” album, she decided to make it a concept album of a fantasy world of imaginary Victorian-era characters, in order to forget that she was a “lonely millennial covered in cat hair” (she famously has cats as pets) and “watching 700 hours of TV.”
But it seems somewhat misleading for Swift to describe herself as a lovelorn bachelorette when she wrote “Folklore.” At the time, she was in a committed relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn, who co-wrote and co-produced several of the album’s songs under the pseudonym William Bowery. Swift and Alwyn began dating in 2016, and they split up in early 2023.
You’d have to be completely cut off from pop culture not to have heard at least one of Swift’s catchy songs. It’s why people who don’t really like Swift’s music have to admit that she has a knack for writing songs that stick in people’s heads. This concert flm is also a good overview of how she’s evolved from a teenage country singer writing songs about high school romance (“You Belong With Me”) to an adult pop star cursing when expressing dark and angry thoughts (“Vigilante Shit”). A high point of the concert is a very rousing rendition of “Bad Blood” that will get most viewers, at the bare minimum, moving their heads or feet in time to the music.
The concert has some visual effects that look very impressive in a movie. Before the “Reputation” Era part of the concert begins, a giant snake hologram appears to take over the stage. Before the “Midnights” Era part of the concert begins, Swift jumps into a chasm on the stage, with the visual effects making it look like she’s swimming in a pool underneath the stage. The stage design includes some stylish props, including a moss-covered piano for her “Evermore” Era songs. For “Look What You Made Me Do,” her backup dancers are in plexiglass cages that are meant to make them look like toy dolls in boxes.
“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” breaks tradition with most concert documentaries released in cinemas because it’s distributed by AMC Theatres Distribution (owned by cinema company AMC Entertainment) instead of a movie studio or a special-events movie company such as Fathom Events or Trafalgar Releasing. AMC worked with sub-distribution partners to bring the movie to its rival cinema companies, such as Regal and Cinemark. In Europe, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is at Odeon Cinemas. Pre-sales have guaranteed that “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” movie is a blockbuster hit.
What does this mean for the future of concert documentaries? Movie theater companies can now bypass movie studios by distributing movies themselves and thereby not have to share the ticket revenue with movie studios. Likewise, artists can keep their rights to their concert films, instead of selling the rights to a movie studio that can distribute these films. Swift’s trailblazing success with “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” will ensure that other artists will follow the same business model. “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” (a concert documentary from Beyoncé’s 2023 “Renaissance” tour) is already set for release through a similar deal with AMC, on December 1, 2023.
“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is pure escapism, full of glitz and glamour. Don’t expect to hear any sob stories or political rants from Swift on stage, because that’s not what her fans want when they see her in concert. On the other hand, everything she says and does on stage looks so calculated, there aren’t any moments that truly look spontaneous. Swift also mentions the words “SoFi Stadium” so many times during the show, you have to wonder if she got paid extra money for this brand promotion.
Even when Swift goes to the front of the stage to embrace a girl (who’s about 5 or 6 years old) in the audience, it looks like this girl was chosen well in advance. (And based on her front row seat, whoever brought this girl to the concert paid enough money to ensure this kid would be seen by Swift on stage.) It would’ve been more admirable if Swift did something like that for a fan who didn’t have such privileged seating.
Swift shows a little too much neediness for the audience to adore her while not particularly opening up to the audience on a personal level in return. It’s the type of concert where she could say the exact same things but just change the name of the location to wherever she happens to be doing the concert. That’s a “cut and paste” style to performing live—not making each concert audience feel truly unique.
“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is enjoyable to watch but it will not go down in history as one of the all-time greatest concert films. The best concert films (such as 1970’s “Woodstock,” 1978’s “The Last Waltz” or 2021’s “Summer of Soul”) are transformative experiences that go beyond what a well-oiled machine looks like. “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is a well-oiled machine that gets the job done in delivering entertaining and mostly uplifting hits but doesn’t give any further insight into the artist’s soul.
Here is the song list for “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour”:
“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” (intro)
“You Need to Calm Down”
“You Belong With Me”
“…Ready for It?”
“Don’t Blame Me”
“Look What You Made Me Do”
“Speak Now” Era
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
“I Knew You Were Trouble”
“The Last Great American Dynasty”
“My Tears Ricochet”
“Shake It Off”
“You’re On Your Own, Kid”
AMC Theatres Distribution released “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” on October 13, 2023.