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Taylor Swift: the Eras Tour Movie

4/5 stars – A glittering three hours of musical escapism and indulgent parasocial obsession.

Friday 13th proved lucky for some in October 2023, as megastar Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour Movie took UK cinemas by storm. The film afforded fans the chance to watch a crystal clear (albeit slightly abridged) viewing of the star’s Eras Tour, for an apt £19.89, as opposed to the potentially hundreds of pounds required for concert tickets.

The stadium tour marks Swift’s first since 2018. In this time, she has re-released three albums in her quest to claim back her music sold without her permission, and released four new albums including the highly acclaimed ‘quarantine album’, Folklore. This has led to unprecedented appetite from fans for concert and cinema tickets and, surprising nobody, the Eras Tour Movie has subsequently become the highest-grossing concert film of all time.

The tour is divided into a series of nine sections, one for each album, accompanied by a dazzling array of sets and outfits to lurch you into each universe one by one. Swift’s acclaimed songwriting ability and unshakeable fan base has allowed her to flit between genres throughout her career, from cowboy-boot country to effervescent pop to whimsical indie-folk. Swift has thanked fans in the past for allowing her this flexibility, but has also stated she feels it is expected of female stars in the music industry. Either way, it makes for a bolder concert (and cinema) experience than artists with more sonically consistent discographies could achieve.

Although unable to quite convey the visceral experience of live music, the maximalism of the tour allowed the movie to reach beyond the plane of streamed music, swooping from song to song with verve and sparkle. For example, Swift’s most recent album Midnights – apart from a central strand of unpretentious, stable pop – is relatively discordant upon listening, with clashes of new-money sequins and moody 70s imagery, and anecdotal lyricism drawing from seemingly random strands of Swift’s life. But as my friend turned to me in the cinema and announced – ‘Midnights makes sense as an album now’. The purple cloud props wheeled out for Lavender Haze, the sultry dance for Vigilante Shit, the glittering sass of Bejewelled – Midnights was an album brought to life by the hyperbolic nature of the Eras Tour, a universe in which to get lost and have fun.

This kaleidoscopic whirlwind of production was maintained throughout. Swift wore a variety of designer outfits including multiple custom-made rhinestone bodysuits by Versace and a sweeping maroon gown by Jessica Jones. World-building props including billowing pastel tapestries, curling tangles of tree branches and a whimsical cottage in the woods were unfurled one after another. In a year where nothing went untouched by the glitz of the Barbie movie, Swift’s tour affirmed the power of aesthetics to delight the viewer. However, this sense of maximalism bodes poorly for the planet – beside the waste created from plastic use and one-off outfit purchases, live music has been reported to be responsible for 85000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year in the UK alone and the Eras Tour was by far no exception, with her show in Seattle reportedly triggering seismic activity.

While Taylor’s team undoubtedly have a responsibility to address environmental concerns, attacks on the tour as vapid and superfluous feel dismissive of its experiential value to fans. Reports of fans singing and dancing in cinemas – in a way otherwise confined to Taylor Swift club nights or teenagers’ bedrooms – illustrate the frivolous high of getting swept away with the rest of the crammed cinema and, by extension, the thousands of fans in the concert movie itself.

One disappointment was that the film remained strictly within the bounds of Swift’s concert. As a viewer paying to watch a three-hour one-woman show, you have already- guiltily or not – indulged in parasocial obsession with the star, enraptured by every swish of her hair and cheeky grin to the crowd. Interspersing backstage vignettes could have added an element of contrast and would have been hungrily embraced by fans. The precedent of 2020 documentary ‘Miss Americana’, where Swift drew the curtain back somewhat on her personal and political life, added to this sense of something missing. Depth could alternatively have been added by the inclusion of snippets from opening acts, such as the haunting whimsy of Gracie Abrams, or the unabashed Girl in Red. But you can’t deny that the film is about showcasing Taylor herself, and perhaps it was intended to portray Taylor as musician and communicator, not as an individual behind the sparkly outfits.

In conclusion, cynics may say Swift’s empire, with the Eras Tour smugly secure as its crown jewel, is a money-making machine. But, seeing the crowd of giddy teenage girls leaving the cinema, you can’t help flippantly thinking – so what if it is?

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