The first time I heard Taylor Swift play “Fearless” was 16 years ago, at her first UK concert at King’s College London Student Union. I was 17, it was the first time my friends and I had travelled to London without an adult, the first time we’d met any other fans, the first time the handful of songs we so treasured would escape our teenage bedrooms and be shared with other people.

None of the 250 of us there were convinced it would really be her, until she skipped out onto the tiny stage in a sparkly black dress, black cowboy boots and glittery guitar. “Fearless”, from the album to be released two months later that would change her life for ever, was her last song of the night and we left with it ringing in our ears and beating in our hearts, shaking until 4am on the National Express coach home.

At the opening night of the UK leg of the Eras tour at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium, I tried to sing along to “Fearless” but sobbed instead. Everything has changed, but there was the same Swift, same sparkly dress, black cowboy boots and glittery guitar, transporting me and every other fan there with her for the last 18 years to every shade of hope, wonder, innocence and pain of our adolescence and letting us embrace it all. The most powerful thing about the Eras Tour is not the billions of dollars, the boosts to national economies, the ticketing frenzy, the TikTok sensation, but in how it allows a generation to experience real nostalgia for the first time. Seeing Taylor Swift live, it feels like we are singing along to the soundtrack to our lives, not hers.

But you don’t have to be a Swiftie to be stunned by Eras. This 46-song, three-hour-twenty-minute odyssey through 11 albums of girlhood to womanhood is a remarkable feat, of imagination, range, fashion, athleticism, high production and collective catharsis that demonstrates, for any who question it, exactly how she became the biggest pop star on the planet. Swift is 16 months into this tour and the slickness shows. But even if you have seen the concert film, know the set list, and watched a thousand TikTok clips of every costume change, eye roll, or intro, it is no less electrifying.

It would be easy for Eras to have become an indulgent, premature greatest-hits – though it would not have affected its popularity. But each of Swift’s eras clearly marks out the stages of her womanhood: Lover dreamy and content, 1989 defiantly independent, Reputation snarling and menacing, Fearless a reminder us of her Nashville beginnings (her self-titled debut is cut from this retooled European leg).

But rather than just perform these songs it feels as if she is stepping into her past selves, copying her old affectations – the literal, goofy dance moves of the Red era as she plays with the old choreography on “22”, the back-to-back camaraderie with her guitarist on “You Belong With Me” just like when she was 19 – with a kind of tenderness rarely displayed as women grow up and want to run from ourselves. “Style” was irresistible; the gorgeous, career-best “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” was absorbing; as if she was singing directly to you with no shade of emotion lost in this song she wrote at 21, now she’s 34.

The past provides for heaving emotion, but Eras is at its most thrilling when we see the artistry of the adult Swift. She has released five albums since her last tour in 2018, and hearing songs from these for the first time – especially in contrast to the music of her youth – demonstrates how much she challenges herself. You wanted to punch the air as she belted “The Man”, her riposte to sexist double standards; an acoustic rendition of “Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve” – one of Swift’s most excoriating reflections on mistakes of her youth – was one of two “surprise songs” and was one of the climaxes of the night, even though she had to stop because her hand cramped in the cold.

On “August” from 2020’s folklore, the album on which she departed from autobiographical songwriting in favour of a cast of characters, Swift howled, green dress billowing in the wind, the devastating bridge, “back when we were still changing for the better, wanting was enough, for me it was enough”. That song, like others on folklore and evermore, was robbed of some of its intimacy in a stadium and I longed for moody, close darkness. But the huge setting was perfect, however, for “Anti-Hero” from 2021’s Midnights – a power-pop reckoning with her position of fame and influence, and for the sexual, prowling “Vigilante Shit” during which Swift danced with a troupe on chairs.

Most exciting of all was the Tortured Poets Department era. The album, released in April, is internal, probing, dense, but on stage – transformed into a dystopian sci-fi asylum, white-suited dancers flanking Swift in a dress scrawled with lyrics – it is the opposite.

“But Daddy I Love Him”, a screed about the fans disapproving of her love life was cinematic and triumphant. (Given the anger with which the crowd joined in the chorus I assume that more toxic, judgmental faction were not among our number.)

Swift and a band of drummers threw themselves to the ground at the end of “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived”, before she flopped into a rag doll who needed to be dragged up off the floor by a pair of circus masters forcing her to perform the next song: “I Can Do It with a Broken Heart” – a banger about having to do the Eras tour while emotionally obliterated. It was genius, meta, and very funny.

That’s the thing about Swift: she is funny. Whether it’s the mania of “Blank Space” or the deranged “Look What You Made Me Do”, she is constantly sending up herself, winking, pulling faces, laughing as she works. There are three Taylor Swifts: the musician, the celebrity, and the performer. All three are what have made her the most famous person in the world, but it’s the third – the relentless energy, the wit, the way she cackles and shimmies with joy – that make Eras the greatest tour on earth.

Songwriting is how she processes her life but on stage is where she lives it: she is having the time of her life.

2024-06-08T11:16:26Z dg43tfdfdgfd