By Ann Hornaday
Pro tip: if you’re going to see “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour”, make sure you see it with a packed house of grade-school-aged girls primed to shriek, rush the screen, take selfies and make heart hands through this delirious, dizzying celebration of Swift-mania.
Sure, that’s probably redundant. (Is there any other way to see “The Eras Tour” than with a crowd of screaming girls?) And yes, oldsters will need a couple of ibuprofen when it’s all over.
But to fully appreciate “The Eras Tour”, a simultaneously intimate and spectacular documentary of Swift’s record-breaking, earth-quaking, career-spanning victory lap of the past year, it’s best simply to surrender to the whole thing: the sparkly cowboy hats, the boots, the friendship bracelets and the screaming (there will be a lot of screaming).
Swift has been a compelling screen presence from as far back as 2009, when she quietly stole the show from Miley Cyrus in the feature film spin-off of “Hannah Montana”.
Today, with a net worth just shy of $800 million (R15 billion), a seemingly limitless creative output and just enough chips on her shoulder to keep things interesting, it’s Swift’s movie and we’re just living in it.
When it comes to “The Eras Tour”, that parallel world isn’t such a bad place to be.
Filmed with multiple cameras during Swift’s engagement at SoFi Stadium near Los Angeles, this impressively immersive chronicle has every technological gizmo at its disposal but wisely keeps things simple.
After a brief drone shot of the immense arena, director Sam Wrench zooms down to the stage, where dancers appear waving giant, parachute-like wings – a dazzling, lyrical segue into Swift’s triumphant arrival in a crystal-encrusted body suit and matching Louboutin boots.
The conceit for “Eras” is a concert that will cover every Swift album, here organised in gratifyingly non-chronological order.
Fans who have seen the shows know the set list; those who want to be surprised will be subjected to no spoilers here, other than the news that, yes, she plays the hits.
The stage show, during which Swift struts and play-acts with a troupe of dancers (who happen to be very good actors), toggles between straightforward performance and stylised set pieces, casting Swift as the star of her own film in an office whose multiple levels recall “Jailhouse Rock”, or a wrenching kitchen-sink marital drama that unfolds over a dining room table.
That segment – set to a ballad from Swift’s 2020 album “Evermore” – is one of the most effective moments of “The Eras Tour”, during which the singer-songwriter shape-shifts into different personae through extravagant costume changes. (The values on this production are set to Maximum.)
Swift isn’t the most instinctive or graceful dancer – her moves are limited mostly to posing and pointing, strutting and smizing – and, after three hours, the uninitiated might be struck by the repetitiveness of her music.
But the cumulative effect is nothing short of astonishing. In the 2020 documentary “Miss Americana”, Swift was on the ascent but still coming into her power as a performer and aspiring political thought leader; the viewer sensed she was still in formation.
In “The Eras Tour”, she has taken full command as a dominant chieftain in the experience economy, often stopping on the stage to give knowing nods to her adoring audience, basking in the ability to get 70 000 crying fans on her vibe. (You might even say she’s a mastermind.)
Morphing from pop vixen to ethereal wood nymph to just-a-girl-with-a-guitar, Swift builds the show to a gratifying, even cathartic climax, backloading it with her most triumphant albums, including “Red”, “1989”, “Folklore” and the recent “Midnights”.
With its elaborate sets, special effects, smoke and props, the concert unfolds in chapters, some more convincing than others: the edgy, sexualised contours of “Reputation” feels a tad forced and monotonous.
But by the time Swift strips things down to sing “All Too Well” – just a girl and her guitar – the song grows from a familiar heartbreak ballad to something profoundly moving and, ultimately, monumental.
Of course, that’s if you can hear the song through all the squealing, shouting (“Yes, Taylor!”) and singing along.
One of the delights of “The Eras Tour” is that it makes movie-going a contact, call-and-response sport, with audiences literally dancing in the aisles and waving at the screen as if their idol can see them. (Considering Swift’s proven superpowers, it wouldn’t be surprising.)
“The Eras Tour”, like the show it captures, is so carefully calculated and precision-machined that it can begin to feel airless, even ersatz. But criticism is superfluous. Cynicism’s no good here. You can put the snark away.
After years of dabbling, lyrically and literally, Taylor Swift has come for American cinema, and we can only wait for her next move. For now, it’s heart hands. Like, times a thousand.