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STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
Taylor Swift's Eras Tour is on pace to become the biggest and most lucrative concert tour in history. Each night's show offers up a career-spanning, three-hour epic with a sprawling set list that includes a nightly assortment of surprises. But what made the tour such a juggernaut this summer? I'm Stephen Thompson. Today, we are talking about the Eras Tour on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
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THOMPSON: Joining me today is NPR senior editor Bilal Qureshi. Hey, Bilal.
BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: Hey, Stephen.
THOMPSON: Also with us, Margaret H. Willison, communications manager of Not Sorry Productions. Hey, Margaret.
MARGARET H WILLISON: Hi, Stephen.
THOMPSON: And rounding out our panel, Jordan Crucchiola. She's a writer and producer and the host of the podcast "Feeling Seen" on Maximum Fun. Hey, Jordan.
JORDAN CRUCCHIOLA: And Swiftie. Hello. Thank you so much for having me.
THOMPSON: Yes. Your credentials also include Swiftie. So there are lots of different metrics I could use to make a simple point. The Eras Tour is very big, and it has already been very lucrative. The first American leg wrapped up last month, and there are nearly a hundred more shows planned for all over the world, running well into next year. By the time it wraps up, it'll almost certainly be the biggest money maker in history as far as tours are concerned, which is saying nothing of the economic impact on each city where it's stopped.
In many ways, this is a perfect time for Taylor Swift to take a victory lap. Her last scheduled tour to promote her album "Lover" had to be scrapped due to the COVID pandemic, so it's been five years since the last Taylor Swift tour. In that time, she's released four albums, and that's not even counting the three older albums she's rerecorded in that time, including "Speak Now," which she released and promoted during this tour. And she announced on stage she's rerecorded her album "1989," and that will come out in October. If you missed the opportunity to see her in person on the Eras Tour, fear not. An Eras Tour concert film is coming to theaters in October. Basically, if you are a Taylor Swift fan, you are being super served.
To talk Taylor Swift and the Eras Tour, we have assembled a crack assortment of Swifties as well as the Swift-curious. Jordan Crucchiola, I so often come to you for enthusiasm of so many stripes. Where do you stand on Taylor Swift, and on a scale of one to 100 million, how excited were you to see her on the Eras Tour?
CRUCCHIOLA: My level of Swiftie-ness is that I have a commissioned 24-by-36 painting of Taylor Swift that hangs above my bed.
THOMPSON: So 100 million is the answer to that question?
WILLISON: I'm going to need you to text me a picture of that as soon as we're off air.
CRUCCHIOLA: I love it very much.
WILLISON: Love it.
CRUCCHIOLA: And I had tickets to Lover Fest, but that friend and I maintained our plan to see Taylor. So once Eras was announced, me and Angie (ph) were on the chat being like, we're doing this, right? And then I proceeded to not look up a single thing for the entire duration of the tour till it's final stops in LA. So everything was a complete surprise to me, including that it was three hours long.
CRUCCHIOLA: Best surprise ever. So, like, obviously I knew that, like, HAIM popped up. It's like, oh, OK, they're there with her and, like, they're playing "No Body, No Crime." But when we were on hour two, and I was like, we have so many eras left to discuss, I was like, how are we - is she just going to stop at a certain point? No. It was three hours. And I went back-to-back nights, so I had two days of six hours of Taylor Swift.
THOMPSON: Wow. That's like seeing "Oppenheimer" on back-to-back nights.
CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah. I Barbenheimered the Taylor tour.
THOMPSON: All right, Margaret. Same question for you - how excited were you to see her on this tour?
WILLISON: OK. I think to, like, your average passerby on the street, I would be considered a Swiftie. Like, I taught a class about Taylor Swift this summer in confessional writing. You know, I've written about her in a bunch of different places. I listen to her music a lot, and I really, really love a bunch of the albums. And I think that she's just, like, an incredibly fascinating figure. But as Jordan just so handily demonstrated, like, that does not make me a Swiftie.
THOMPSON: Yeah, you didn't even have her face tattooed onto your face.
WILLISON: And I'm happy with that. I am happy to, like, stand on the sidelines and, like, let the Swifties explain to me wild fan theories. And I was very excited to go and see the show. My experience of being at the show was even better than I could have anticipated. There's a lot of music from her large career that, like, I did not understand until I heard it played live in a stadium - chiefly, the "Reputation" era stuff. That was stuff that had kind of passed me by 'cause I didn't really like any of the lead singles from that album.
WILLISON: And you hear those things in a stadium and you're like, I get it now. This slaps.
THOMPSON: Oh, interesting.
CRUCCHIOLA: As any Swiftie will tell you, the lead singles are never the albums.
WILLISON: No, I know. I've learned this now. Just 2017 me wasn't informed.
THOMPSON: Got you. All right. I have not seen the Eras Tour, and I did not like the album "Reputation."
WILLISON: There you go.
THOMPSON: And now I feel like I've been robbed of the experience of enjoying it. Bilal, you've been quiet.
QURESHI: Well, I mean, I'm just, you know, enjoying, like, hearing from the members of the parish. I mean, I went as a Swift-curious attendee, I have to now confess, and partly because anybody who's interested in culture, she has been, obviously, a figure in our culture for such a long time. And I'm actually a very proud member of the BeyHive, and I don't want to involve myself in the duel here, but I felt...
QURESHI: ...Like a stray bee that had, like, left the BeyHive to go buzz into this sort of stadium, because I was very curious what was going on. And I live in LA. Like, when that tour - when the Eras Tour came for this six-night residency to SoFi Stadium - which was insane - everywhere I went in my neighborhood, I heard somebody mentioning, do you have a ticket? Is this happening? The other, like, hot take confession is that I did not have a ticket for this and was not involved in any...
QURESHI: ...Of the - until an hour before the show. And I was like, is there a resale ticket that may have, like - I don't know - dropped in price an hour before? And it's completely impractical to drive to a football stadium...
QURESHI: ...Across LA traffic with an hour's notice, but that's what happened. So I found - you know, I was alone - adult male alone, sitting in the crowd...
QURESHI: ...Feeling a little bit, like, out of - you know, I was going to be, like, spotted and exiled. And then that was not what happened. It was an amazing concert.
CRUCCHIOLA: No, it's a big tent.
QURESHI: It was a big tent, and I felt so included and participatory. And I still - maybe accidentally and maybe not - have my LED bracelet that was handed out to all of us because I just felt like the inclusiveness of it and the big tent of it was really amazing. And other confession is I wasn't maybe as excited about the tour when I saw the visuals of it, which seemed - I don't know - technicolor, like, Lisa Frank...
QURESHI: ...Sort of vibe to me at the beginning, which is fine. But I will say that, like, as a very big fan of the "Folklore," "Evermore" albums, I was very curious how she was going to relay that. And like you, Stephen, I was at the Tiny Desk Concert at NPR a couple of years ago, was very much blown away by what she was doing. And then I think she brought that, and she brought the technicolor with it. So all of those multitudes in one show - that was a lot of show for last-minute purchase. So I was very impressed and very served.
WILLISON: What a cool experience.
CRUCCHIOLA: For someone who has five moves...
WILLISON: Yeah (laughter). And, like, four of them are rhythmic walks.
CRUCCHIOLA: Yes. And they're - those are my...
CRUCCHIOLA: ...Favorite ones - the model walks.
CRUCCHIOLA: I am - I continue to be just bowled over at what a captivating presence she is for someone who doesn't move like Beyonce, for someone who doesn't sing like Beyonce but is a generational storytelling and songwriting talent who truly manages to make the most intimate experience of a 50, 60,000 capacity arena.
THOMPSON: Oh, and I got to push back against the whole notion of stan culture where you have to pick one.
THOMPSON: You have to be in the BeyHive, or you have to be a Swiftie, and never the twixt shall meet. Like, we all contain multitudes. You can love multiple artists, and you can experience two completely different kinds of stage shows, right?
QURESHI: I think I bring that up partly 'cause I just think that's been one of the, like, problematic narratives around her. And I felt like - and I think what's really impressive about her - and I love that "Miss Americana" documentary on Netflix that came out a few years ago 'cause I do think - and one of the things the tour does so well is in addition to all the things that you were saying, Jordan, about what an amazing, compelling presence she is in a 70,000, you know, person stadium, I also think she's so self-aware of all those narratives around her. And I think the way that she was pitted against, you know, not only Beyonce but other kinds of music, other kinds of stans - and I had a lot of friends, like, messaging me, like as if I had gone astray. They were like, you went to a Taylor Swift concert? Like, there is a kind of tribalism around it that I think I myself felt, like, a desire to overcome because I think it's such a false choice, you know?
And yet there has been this narrative around her. Like, oh, she's kind of got this - I think especially the "Reputation" era was, like, a big part of that. She reclaims - right? - which is great. I mean, she comes out with this snake slithering and, like, the full surround sound. She marches in with that walk, and then - you know, it's part of her multitudes. And I think that's what I really like about what she's been doing these last few years.
THOMPSON: So there's been a lot of news coverage in kind of the last few months about disruptive fans at concerts. I wanted to get a sense of what you felt the vibe was among the fans in the crowd. Was the enthusiasm disruptive, or was it more kind of communal? What was the feel?
CRUCCHIOLA: The two LA shows I was at, I did experience multiple - 'cause I didn't have any bracelets the first night, and Swifties took pity on me. And a woman just walked up to me while I was waiting in line for my chicken sandwich, and she was like, here. And it was a "Red" bracelet 'cause I had my "Red" tour tee on. And I was like, that's my favorite album. She was like, I knew it was for you.
QURESHI: You have to explain the friendship bracelets...
QURESHI: ...Like, that whole culture. Yeah. Yeah.
CRUCCHIOLA: The friendship bracelets have been a hang-around, like, Taylor Swift sort of unifying fan item since, like, "Fearless," "Speak Now." And Taylor used to wear a lot of friendship bracelets when she performed. Like, that was something fans would mirror back. And then, like, the trading of friendships became, like, a sort of community thing at a Swift concert. And that came back for the "Eras" tour. And it was really beautiful to see people, like, swapping their stuff around. And to see the costuming at the "Eras" tour was so phenomenal to see. Like, which area did you pick? But my favorite costuming choices were either the junior jewels - reference to the Taylor Swift "You Belong With Me"...
WILLISON: "You Belong With Me" video.
CRUCCHIOLA: ...Video because anybody can make that shirt...
WILLISON: It's true.
CRUCCHIOLA: ...And also, any Jake Gyllenhaal T-shirts. Any Jake Gyllenhaal T-shirts were hilarious. The number of, like, Jake with, like, a caution X through him and, like, where's the scarf, Jake, shirts - like, those, to me, were my favorite fan nods.
WILLISON: My experience of the fan response was a lot like Jordan's, where it was exclusively positive. I just had, like, such a strong, emotional experience of being in a stadium with that many people and all of us connecting as deeply to the art as we were. That came up for me, like, a couple of times. Phoebe Bridgers was the opener at my show, and she's a very popular artist but, like, not on the stadium scale yet. And getting to see a whole stadium - like, everybody came in, and people were super-engaged in her opening performance. And that was really emotional for me because that's something that I've kind of had beef with Taylor Swift with over the years - is when she collaborates prominently, it's often been with male artists. And that's really changed in the last couple of albums, and it's so exciting to see. But, like, the moment above all others where you're like, wow, this is a church, is when she starts playing the 10-minute version of "All Too Well."
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TAYLOR SWIFT: So casually cruel in the name of being honest. I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here. 'Cause I remember it all...
CRUCCHIOLA: I mean, the set goes away, and it's truly her, guitar and sparkly cape, period.
WILLISON: And the existence of that song in and of itself - right? - is evidence of, like, the Swiftie community. There have been rumors of the long version of "All Too Well" for years. Like, this was fabled. And to be in a stadium of, like, 55,000 people and just have all of us rapt, singing along to that song. And, like, we've all had situationships (ph)...
WILLISON: ...Right? Like, you can hear the heartbreak behind it. And I was just like, what a cool space to be in. What a cool way to just see the career this woman has built for herself - right? - by, like, just being unabashedly honest about her emotions, even when people keep telling her she should make them smaller.
QURESHI: I mean, I will say that during that "All Too Well" performance, especially the new verses that were added in the longer rerecord that are particularly cutting and brilliant, you know, the singing along was much louder than I've ever heard any concert. Like, people aren't just singing along to this, they are like...
WILLISON: Yeah, they're like howling in pain (laughter).
QURESHI: ...They're howling in pain to it. And so everybody around me, from the parents to the kids to, like, you know, another guy who was next to me who was also kind of like, should I be here? - felt like they were - everybody kind of got wrapped up into it.
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SWIFT: (Singing) And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes, I'll get older, but your lovers stay my age. From when your Brooklyn broke my skin and bones...
QURESHI: But I will say that the thing that was really remarkable was that performance where she comes out, as you said, solo, and, like, beyond the friendship bracelets, there are these, like, wearable tech that are handed out at the show that turns the entire audience red in that moment, you know - surprise, surprise. And that happens with just her alone on the stage. And I was just really blown away by the stagecraft of, like, the transitions of these eras. 'Cause it's not chronological, and it's not by album, but the way that it happens that she does the, like, "Folklore" cottage set and then it disappears and then she comes back to do a couple of, like, solo things. She performed part of "Evermore," you know, just on the piano by herself. And I think that these kinds of, like, shifts being done so seamlessly and so compellingly, and she's inhabiting all of those eras, as per the title - and I think that "All Too Well" performance, I think, what I recall, came right in the middle as the sort of centerpiece...
QURESHI: ...Feeling. And it was just really an amazing moment that kind of also grounded you in, like, you are in the middle of something amazing. And then, I don't know, but snakes or something must have appeared...
QURESHI: ...Right afterward. But, like, but it was a pretty, like, remarkable, like, whirling around and so well done in, like, a sequencing way.
THOMPSON: Well, I think you hit on an interesting point about the concert experience, which is 50,000 people singing in unison is incredibly moving - and sort of inherently on key. One person...
THOMPSON: ...Singing along...
THOMPSON: ...Is jarring...
THOMPSON: ...And potentially (laughter) ruinous.
QURESHI: The way she locks into everyone in that stadium...
CRUCCHIOLA: It's her superpower.
QURESHI: It's incredible. Like, I felt like everyone was having a personal experience with her and an audience with her. And that's very different from even, I would say, the Renaissance Tour, which is a bit like having an audience with a sort of deity that has landed...
QURESHI: ...In a spaceship. And then, like, you may get, like, you know, sucked into the spaceship. But, like, it's a very different feeling than this kind of, like, extremely personal sense that she creates with everyone.
QURESHI: That's crazy to do in a stadium. I don't even know how that's done.
WILLISON: The Eras Tour is like seeing your best friend married.
WILLISON: Like, you may not get a lot of individual time with her, but you're just there to witness something so beautiful...
QURESHI: You're there.
WILLISON: ...In her life...
WILLISON: ...And it's incredibly moving and you're like, oh, my God, she made it. This is great.
WILLISON: And it's so fascinating with Taylor Swift because, obviously, people have had parasocial relationships with singer-songwriters since before we knew to call them parasocial relationships. What I think is shocking or unique about Swift is how she can make the size of her audience still feel like it is not a parasocial relationship.
WILLISON: Like, there is a friendship there. It's like we know each other. We care about each other. We care about the same things. Your victories are my victories, and vice-versa.
CRUCCHIOLA: One hundred percent.
WILLISON: But it is so, so cool just to get to see what that looks like live.
CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah. The one I hoped most for that I was almost certain I would hear and I did was "Long Live."
WILLISON: Ugh, I'm so jealous (laughter).
CRUCCHIOLA: Like, "Long Live" is - it's either one of - or her, like, favorite song of her catalog. And to see her perform it live is really special because it embodies that somehow - at the worst of times, it was sort of like the biggest sort of thing you could wield against her, but in the best of times, it's, like, something that endears her to - you to her so much - is like, somehow Taylor Swift manages to maintain the energy of an underdog, even in the middle of the most profitable tour, perhaps of all time.
CRUCCHIOLA: And that used to feel like something that could be leveraged for, like, sympathy. But now it feels more, I think, consistently like something where it is a point of connectivity between her and her fans in that sense of what Margaret was saying of like, I don't just know you, you know me. And when you hear her sing "Long Live," she puts this special emphasis on the, like, all the mountains we moved. I've had the time of my life fighting dragons with you. And when she says you, she's saying it to every single individual in that stadium personally.
WILLISON: Such a good line.
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SWIFT: (Singing) All the mountains we moved. I've had the time of my life fighting dragons with you. I was screaming, long live that look on your face...
CRUCCHIOLA: And she always ends that song with a little bit of, like, a move to, like, gesture to the crowd, like, wow, like, we did move mountains. And there's just something deeply emotional. And it's, like, to see that...
CRUCCHIOLA: ...And hear the tens of - it was like, this is the Swift experience to me condensed into a single song.
QURESHI: I do want to say one thing, though, about the idea of, like, the you component, which is the you as consumer part of this, too, in essence of, like, how much all of us have paid to be the you in that room or the efforts that we had to make. 'Cause I definitely found myself thinking about how expensive both of these stadium tours that we've discussed today, or just concerts in general have just gotten. And, like, I think - I've actually felt recently, in going to certain shows, that it's, like, a lot of things make me feel like they're not worth it and I wasted my money or, like, was this really worth the effort?
And these being some of the most expensive tickets people have paid for, I haven't heard a single person, you know, echo any of that regret. And I think that is what's really remarkable is that the show being as big as it is and covering so much ground and offering something for everyone and there's so many onramps to the show, like, it also really feels like you get your money's worth. But I do think that, you know, the fact of, like, it being more than three hours, like...
QURESHI: ...Almost 3.5 hours, I think, and feeling like it covers so much and you get - everybody has something that they take away from it. So I think that, you know, that felt like, wow, how many shows happen where somebody doesn't give you what you paid your ticket for?
CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah (laughter).
QURESHI: The fact of it, of the cost value element is, like, pretty significant here.
THOMPSON: Yeah. And I don't want to defend exorbitantly high concert ticket prices, but, like, nobody really talks about how much, like, sports fans pay to see, like, big games. If you pay a thousand dollars to see your team lose...
THOMPSON: ...It can be a completely miserable experience. And, I'm sorry, like, if you're paying a thousand dollars or however many - God knows how many dollars to see Taylor Swift live, she's at least going to win the game.
WILLISON: And what I would also say is just in terms of fan participation, it's like - May 19 is when I saw Taylor Swift at Foxborough. And then I followed everything that happened on her tour. So it's like, you know, like, I know that in Philadelphia, in the middle of "Bad Blood," she, like, stopped to, like, chastise a security guard who was, like, hassling a fan and was like, no, she's fine. And then I know at the next night of the Philadelphia show that people were making little bracelets, initials for what she said in the middle of that break in "Bad Blood" because there were all these people recording things on TikTok. The algorithm figures out real quick that it can just keep throwing Taylor content at you. And they were all - it was all gold.
WILLISON: So even though I didn't get to see all the later concerts, you got to experience so much more of it than I've ever been able to experience of a similarly exclusive live event situation before.
QURESHI: I guess what I just feel like listening to all of this makes me think about is, like, what happens to concerts next? I mean, is - if this is sort of the new - like, if that is what sort of becomes not only the gold standard, but she's, like, just changed the game in such a huge way with this tour. And obviously, like, it's making records already. Like, you know, not everyone can also pull off a show like this, but I'm sure we're going to have a lot of, like, attempts to do similarly, like, way too big, you know, like, Marvel movie-style...
QURESHI: ...Versions of certain people who shouldn't be doing tours like that. But it's like, are we all spoiled now...
QURESHI: ...From the shows? I don't know. 'Cause I went to a Sigur Ros concert this week, and it was like - I mean, I'm not trying to compare these two at all, but it was - I was definitely ready to go to bed, like, within the - after...
QURESHI: ...The first half of that show. And I'm like, am I spoiled now? Have I - do I - am I too much in need of, like, a major rush?
QURESHI: Anyway, not - again, they're not comparable at all, but they were very different experiences.
THOMPSON: I'm imagining a Beyonce versus Taylor Swift, like, arms race.
CRUCCHIOLA: Her live arrangements of her music are actually phenomenal, and she does such a good job at giving you what you know with just enough of what's different to make it feel like a fresh experience, especially with her back catalog. She does an excellent job of arranging her archive for live stuff.
QURESHI: One small thing that was a special moment in the LA first night was that she - I think it's in every show - she gives her hat to somebody in the audience.
CRUCCHIOLA: She gives her "22" hat away.
QURESHI: Thank you for the specificity. But in the LA first night, she gave that to Kobe Bryant's daughter, who was in the audience. And I think that, for LA, was, like, this - you know, one of those, like, very special moments.
CRUCCHIOLA: Oh, my God.
QURESHI: And I think people feel like each show has a special thing that happens, and that was one of those special things in LA.
THOMPSON: So we have barely scratched the surface. We didn't even get to talk about the surprise songs.
WILLISON: Jordan and I didn't even get to talk about all of the ways the shows are gay. It's shocking.
CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah. I didn't even say Kaylor till right now.
WILLISON: I know. Thank God we've got it in now.
CRUCCHIOLA: Yeah (laughter). Follow the breadcrumbs, Swifties.
THOMPSON: All right, well, we want to know what you think about Taylor Swift's Eras Tour. Last I checked, people had opinions. Find us at facebook.com/pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Margaret Willison, Bilal Qureshi, Jordan Crucchiola, thanks so much for being here.
WILLISON: Thanks for having me, Stephen.
CRUCCHIOLA: Thank you so much.
QURESHI: Thank you so much. It was really great to be here.
THOMPSON: We want to take a moment to thank our POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR+ subscribers. We appreciate you so much for showing your support of NPR. If you haven't signed up yet and want to show your support and listen to this show without any sponsor breaks, head over to plus.npr.org/happyhour or visit the link in our show notes. This episode was produced by Hafsa Fathima and edited by Mike Katzif and Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all tomorrow.
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