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Why I believe in Taylor Swift

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For a brief hallucinogenic moment while watching Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour last Sunday I considered the possibility that, were we able to harvest the collective goodwill apparent in the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, we might actually be able to enact some sort of lasting global peace. The positivity radiating from the stadium — the fem-ergy (for it was mostly women) — was so electric, I became completely overwhelmed.

Is this what apostles feel when they experience conversion, I wondered, as I heavy-sobbed while watching Swift emerge onstage via billowing lavender-coloured clouds? Is this pure ecstasy, I mused, while cry-laughing through her first Era (Fearless, one of the ten albums she cycles through throughout the evening), in which Swift performed her tweenage country breakouts wearing a gold-fringed minidress?

Like the crowd, I was overcome with Swiftian devotion. Even though I could not share my joy with them. Unlike those people in the stadium, in California, I was splayed out on a La-Z-Boy in the Swiss Cottage Odeon, in an Imax theatre some several thousand miles away.

The abridged cinematic instalment of Swift’s epic US tour opened last weekend, taking a global box office of $123.5mn in its opening weekend. Apparently the film’s receipts fell slightly short of some predictions, but it’s still the biggest concert film opening weekend of all time. Directed by Sam Wrench, the film offers a high definition version of precisely what you would have seen had you had a ticket to the show. A lame exchange, I hear you mutter: how could you even hope to capture the magic of a live event? And you would have a point. But did ticket holders get to swoop before the stage at eyeball level, so close you could take in every fibre of Swift’s snag-free shimmer hosiery and each follicle of her curling hair. Were you close enough to catch every side-eye, smirk and teardrop? To observe how her lipstick never, ever seems to smudge? There were no backstage moments, no self-reflection — this was no Maysles’ brother masterpiece, such as Gimme Shelter, their documentary take on Altamont. This was simply Eras, pretty much from start to finish, and it was one of the happiest 2 hours 48 minutes I’ve ever spent.

My screening was quite “lightly” attended, and made up of people I would never have imagined fans. Unlike the SoFi hoards of spangled Swifties, with their cowboy hats and fists of friendship bracelets, the Swiss Cottage Swifties were a very low-key tribe. The thirtysomething gentleman sitting to my right had a beard, and looked like he might work in fintech. He wore a hoodie and sat slumped low in his seat: I assumed he had been strong-armed by his girlfriend until I realised he was quietly singing every single lyric to every single song.

Much ink has been spilled over Swift’s supremacy, and what precisely her secret sauce may be. That fact that she infuriates male critics by not looking like a sexpot, is good enough for me. Some cite Eras as pure nostalgia in which, by acknowledging Swift’s growth across ten albums, we see reflected the different eras we have cycled through ourselves. There’s also much talk of her relatability, her spooky gift for transposing heartbreak into bridges, and the fact she can tap the smallest human failings (pettiness, social anxiety, clumsiness) and spin them into giant unapologetic karaoke songs. Then there’s her odd brand of beauty, part Barbie, part Southern belle: Swift’s career has always seen her playing with the tropes of femininity — the homecoming queen, the fairy nymph, the socialite — only to subvert them with a goofy charm.

On stage, wearing a velvet Kate Bush cape while pawing at a moss-covered piano, she gave us another glimpse into her soul. While describing her approach to Evermore, one of her two lockdown albums, she called herself “a lonely millennial woman covered in cat hair”, and how she had wanted to tell a story about someone made up instead. As preposterous as the moment seemed — I repeat, a moss-covered piano, in a stadium miles deep in fans — it still felt like the true confession of the eternal singleton.

Moreover, she then embellished it with details. Swift makes no apology for who she is: if she’s single it’s all out there in the lyrics, she’s obsessively jealous, a bit too speedy moving forward, and almost suffocating in her pursuit of true romance. No wonder she’s not “sexy”, she can be scary as all hell. Where most people try to hide their worst neuroses, Swift packages them all up and broadcasts them at full volume. People might identify, but few would surely want to be Swift, least of all herself (just read the lyrics of “Anti-hero”.)

Cynics will say that such knowing self-deprecation is what fills the stadium coffers — as of this week, Swift’s new boyfriend is the all-star American football hero Travis Kelce. But I believe her cat-hair lamentations are the essence of her appeal. Taylor Swift may be making up to $13mn per night of Eras, and she’s only now beginning the global chapter of the tour. She’s insanely successful, talented, funny and — suck it, losers — sexy. But, 17 years later, she’s still pursuing that lonely quest to find the perfect ending for her fairytale.

Email Jo at [email protected]

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