ArticleSeo Seongdeok (Music Critic)
Photo CreditDisney+

Concerts are sometimes made into films. Of course, there’s some truth to the skepticism that even with the big screen and sound system of a theater, they don’t come close to the live experience. Nevertheless, some concert films deliver sufficient excitement and value to the audience. In other words, good concert films exist. But capturing the on-the-scene audience’s perspective is not enough. This is proven by a sea of videos shot by people of all ages uploaded on YouTube. Let’s look back at some historic attempts. Prince’s masterpiece Sign “☮” the Times is punctuated with dramatic vignettes filmed on set to connect the concert's energy with the album’s context. Depeche Mode’s live album and documentary concert film 101 tracks the artist and fans as they come together for the 101st and final concert of the tour and juxtaposes the connection between them with the footage of the explosive onstage performance. What about Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour (Taylor’s Version)? The historic success of this tour is more than just a number, as Taylor Swift herself explains before singing “Lover.” Each song from her 17-year career captures the emotions and thoughts of a moment in time, but you will remember every single one of them in your own way from your time with her. This performance had to resonate with you, who weren’t in the audience, in its most intact state.

“The Eras Tour” kicked off in March 2023 in Glendale, California. The show went on to play 57 performances in the U.S. and Mexico through August before taking a short hiatus until November. But Taylor Swift didn’t give us a break. In late August, news broke that she would be releasing a concert film called Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour in North America on October 13. The film was shown Thursday through Sunday at AMC theaters. The audience came dressed up, danced, and sang along to the songs just like they would if they were attending a concert on a weekend. With a first-weekend box office of $92.8 million in the U.S., the film became the second-highest domestic opening in October and the highest-grossing concert film of all time. It also became the only concert film to spend two consecutive weeks atop the box office. The Eras Tour made $180 million in the U.S. and $260 million worldwide. This far exceeds the typical fan-driven one-off box office performance of concert films, which usually spans one to two weeks.

The film was shot during the first three nights of her six-night stand in LA from August 3 to 9, 2023, which closed out the U.S. leg of the tour. “The Eras Tour” generally lasts three and a half hours and features a setlist of more than 45 songs, two of which are surprises that are performed differently at each show. Unfortunately, not all of them could make it to the big screen. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, the theatrical version of the film, was forced to cut a few songs, including “The Archer,” “Long Live,” “cardigan,” and “Wildest Dream,” to keep the running time under three hours. Instead, the version released on Disney+ on March 14 of this year clocks in at three and a half hours, including the setlist from the LA show and the six surprise songs from all three nights. With everything included, what should we call this version? The Eras Tour (Taylor's Version), of course. (Actually, there's one song missing. “no body, no crime,” sung with HAIM as a guest at the LA show, is not included in either version.)

Taylor Swift hasn’t performed since her “Reputation” tour in 2018. In five years, she has released four studio albums—Lover, Folklore, Evermore, and Midnights—with Taylor’s version of Fearless and Red in between. Although the tour spanned the entirety of her career, it was natural that the show leaned more heavily toward her recent work that hadn’t been touched on before. In particular, it was logical to begin the show with a song from Lover (2019) era, of which she had previously announced and then canceled a tour. Taylor Swift emerges alone mid-stage and sings “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” to open the first act of the show, followed by “Cruel Summer.” The latter, which was supposed to be the fifth single on Lover but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remained a fan-favorite and made a comeback on the charts after the tour. It was eventually released as an official single in October 2023, hit No.1 on the Hot 100, and became one of Taylor Swift’s biggest hits. Even with a crude YouTube video, the power of this song in performance is clear, but the official video does it justice. "Cruel Summer" is a song made for stadiums that features one of the best sing-along bridges in pop history.

After singing the single releases from Lover and closing the first act with “The Archer,” the second act, Fearless (2008), begins with the screen showing gold raining down. The singer performs “Fearless,” “You Belong With Me,” and “Love Story” back to back. If you’ve been missing Taylor Swift knocking around with her band on stage, here she is. And what's wrong with lyrics that remind you of your high school days? There’s no reason to exclude them from the setlist.

The third act, evermore (2020), features a forest aesthetic. The performance visualizes this era in an even more spectacular way. With an impressive intro that chants “wait for the signal and I'll meet you after dark” like a mantra, “willow” utilizes choreography, props, and stage effects to convey the mood of its music video. Swift continues with “champagne problems” on a moss-covered piano and is enthusiastically received by the audience. While not captured in the film, the eight-minute-long standing ovation at the final show on August 9 in LA was an imposing moment, even if you considered the entire tour. She then hands the piano over to her pianist and joins a male performer at the table in the center stage to perform “tolerate it.”

In the snake-themed fourth act, Reputation (2017), Taylor Swift delivers a high-energy performance of “…Ready For It?” She placidly follows with “Delicate.” In “Don’t Blame Me,” Swift, alone on stage, enhances the mood with mise en scène and light beams. The filming of Taylor Swift's descent to the stage as the elevated platform lowers at the end of the song creates a sense of excitement that is missing from the actual performance. While the platform merely brings her down to the ground in person, the film showcases a magical moment where Swift goes from exuding energy from all the way up to casually walking down to the ground through the art of framing. This intensity leads into the iconic “Look What You Made Me Do,” which closes out the era. After the purple-themed fifth act, Speak Now (2010), the show transitions into its latter half.

A hit parade continues, alternating between Red (2012) and 1989 (2014), the pinnacle of Taylor Swift's pop years, and folklore (2020) and Midnights (2022), which redefine Taylor Swift post-pandemic. The 10-minute version of “All Too Well” amply explains why we need Taylor’s version of Red and then seamlessly transitions into the seventh act, folklore. After a simple introduction reminiscent of the Disney+ special “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions,” where the entire album was played and sung, Swift's performance goes on to emphasize the fact that this is still Taylor Swift's work, not some rustic folk album forced by the pandemic, but one that is still fit for stadiums. 1989, the eighth act, commences as a city skyline covers the cabin setup from folklore. Swift performs the first five singles from the album. If you don’t know Taylor Swift's catalog very well, this is probably the era in which you'll find the songs to be most familiar.

In the ninth act, Swift performs two surprise songs each on guitar and piano. Every show becomes a one-of-a-kind night for the audience. The Eras Tour (Taylor’s Version) includes six surprise songs.

1. “I Can See You” (From Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), performed first live at the August 3 show)
2. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” (From Lover)
3. “Our Song” (The third single from the debut studio album Taylor Swift)
4. “You Are In Love” (From 1989 (Deluxe))
5. “Maroon” (From Midnights)
6. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” (From Midnights)

The film contains “Our Song” and “You’re On Your Own, Kid.” After the closing credits, you can listen to the acoustic set of all six songs.

After singing, Taylor Swift dives into the center stage and appears to swim underwater. It marks the beginning of the grand finale, Midnights. The staging, production, and costumes undergo the most colorful transformation yet, seemingly summarizing all the different facets shown throughout the past years. It's as if declaring that Midnights is not just her most recent work, but a compendium of her past. It's a presentation that can only be done in a concert, not on an album or in a music video.

The Eras Tour (Taylor's Version) has become the most successful musical project in the streaming industry, with 16.2 million watch hours in its first weekend on Disney+. It’s new to both those who attended the concerts and those who only saw it in theaters. “The Eras Tour” has set a record that will be hard to break in the future and it's still going strong. In 2023 alone, the tour played 66 shows with an estimated revenue of $900 million. Adding in the merchandise sales and streaming performance impacted by the tour, it's hard to imagine its full economic impact. The tour kicked off again in February in Japan and will run through December with 85 shows. During the tour, Taylor Swift released Taylor’s versions of Speak Now and 1989. In April, she will release the new album The Tortured Poets Department. Taylor Swift won the 2024 Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her Midnights, becoming the first artist in Grammy history to win the category four times. She also won the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's (IFPI) Global Recording Artist for the fourth time. It’s also a first. All of this is not a recollection but an ongoing process. The Eras Tour (Taylor's Version) focuses solely on the concert itself and does its best to bring it to the screen. There's no explanatory backstory, no secretive behind-the-scenes stuff. The bond between the artist and fans, the effort and care put into the performance, it's all there on the stage. That's why this film is as good as a miracle. It allows us to witness the moments that won't ever be repeated again. Watch it in the best possible conditions.

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