“What song is this?”
The woman sitting next to me at the river asked me this question as hundreds of people gathered around us on the concrete steps to watch Taylor Swift perform across the water at Acrisure Stadium. From where we were sitting you could see Swift’s performance on one of the stadium screens, a sight so mesmerizing that parties were held on boats to watch from the water – hand painted signs and beers alike raised each time the global superstar appeared. Despite the ongoing phenomena, the woman and her teenage daughter appeared to be caught in the middle of something they didn’t quite understand.
Photo by Alexandra Rae
”It’s called Champagne Problems. It’s one of my favorites.”
She smiled and nodded her head, and then proceeded to google the very lyrics that I, among the many other teary-eyed women, were screaming at the top of our lungs. Within a few minutes she was bobbing her head to the music and whispering “Your midas touch on the chevy door” to herself. This was the power of Taylor Swift: uniting the world through music in an age of incessant division. Perhaps it was an enchantment she casted over everyone that drew us to the water that night; thousands to stadium doors; millions more to their phone screens just for a glimpse of her iconic performances. Or perhaps the camaraderie among her fans serves as evidence of her undeniable talent & her evolving title as one of the world’s most powerful artists.
I witnessed her starpower for myself the night after watching her from the river. Gates for the venue didn’t open until 4:30 pm, and Swift herself wouldn’t be appearing until 8:00, but the entire city of Pittsburgh – or, as the mayor himself declared, “Swiftsburgh” – was more than ready for the event in the early hours of the morning. On our way to breakfast, my friend and I saw crowds of people already in their designated Eras outfits, snapping photos by brick walls and street corners. Coffee shops redid their menus to be Taylor Swift-themed for the weekend, with items such as the “Evermore Latte” enticing me to extend my budget just enough to hold a warm cup filled with the flavors of one of my favorite albums (cardamom, oatmilk, nutmeg, hints of a gray November) in my hands. Boutiques sold Swiftie-approved t-shirts, buttons, water bottles, sunglasses and even votive candles with the singer’s face stamped on them. Seeing my favorite artist take over each city she performs in begs the question: how is it that where so many others fade away, Taylor is still right here – dominating the music industry and making grown women cry with her lyricism?
The answer, like Swift, is multifaceted. For one, her musical versatility has led to diversity among her fans. Each one of her albums showcases a different side to her approach to making music and taking on different aesthetics to create her now quintessential “eras”; the differences between her 2019 album Lover, a collection of pop songs about the highs-and-lows of being in love and being proud of who you are, and the alternative album Folklore that came out less than a year later are evident of how far her versatility, and imagination, stretches. As she has come a long way since her country days represented in her self-titled debut album, her fanbase consists of those who may only know her most popular songs from Red or 1989 played on the radio, or diehard Swifties who have been with her since the music video for “Teardrops on My Guitar” was released. Her musical range allows for a multitude of different individuals to find a song (or two) of hers to enjoy, or even a whole era – something that not many other artists can accomplish as switching between genres can be extremely difficult to do successfully.
Another reason behind Swift’s stardom has to do with her relevance in pop culture. Whether it’s due to drama on the Internet with other celebrities or a song written about one of her past relationships, her name has been floating out of people’s mouths & on social media alike for years. Those who despise her music and those who love it use their platforms to either attack or defend Swift, often interacting with each other in order to prove the other wrong. These kinds of Internet activities bring attention to Swift each time she releases something new – which, in 2023, is quite frequent; her ability to display her level of craftsmanship & creativity every few months for a new re-recording of her old albums or a music video she directed is both impressive & rare. The attention she gains from, at this point, the entire world when she creates something new leads to another record breaking and her name becoming one you can’t go without hearing for very long.
If there was any doubt of Swift’s ability to perform, one would feel it melt away as soon as they stepped inside the stadium doors and heard the introduction for the Eras Tour begin to play. The excitement from the over 70,000 people attending my show was enough to have me screaming and jumping several minutes before Swift ever appeared on stage – how else was one to cope, so close to seeing their favorite artist in person for the first time ever? An aerial view of the venue would reveal women, men, and even young children dressed in cowboy hats and poofy dresses and leather (I opted for the latter, with snake accessories, to represent perhaps her most iconic era) all waiting for the moment in which the dancers’ multicolored flags would raise and their favorite blonde woman would appear on stage, singing to them, “It’s been a long time coming.”
And when the moment did come, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Within minutes my voice became hoarse from screaming lyrics I had been singing in the car for years (especially the now appreciated bridge in “Cruel Summer”). A stunning array of visuals — ocean waves, snake skin, lavender clouds, a giant version of Taylor lurking over a cityscape – captivated my attention even from my club seats. The dancers, the strobe lighting, the closeness one felt with thousands of strangers singing songs they loved since they were twelve, the fast costume changes, the light up bracelets, the fire (yes, actual fire from the stage that I could feel from above), the minutes Taylor spent talking to us in between – all of it came together to create a night that I knew we would all remember for years to come. There was no other live event that I ever attended that compared to what I saw, felt and heard on June 17th. For three hours and forty-four minutes, I was completely suspended from reality. Instead, I was immersed in the novelty and magic of the Eras Tour – a feeling that, had I not waited for over eight hours to obtain tickets back in November, I would have never felt rise from my chest, tickle my throat, and send tears of happiness down my cheeks.
Those hours spent waiting on Ticketmaster, as well as the money that flew from my bank account and months spent waiting just for this one night, were more than worth it to me. But that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m not writing this as a fan trying to convince you to stream her albums and search for videos of the tour to understand my fascination with this artist. I write this as someone who walked back home on a crowded pathway in the dark, feeling safer than I had in a long time within this city, whispering my favorite songs all over again. I write this as someone who saw glitter and feathers and rhinestones and stars left behind on the concrete; temporal evidence of the night we all shared. I write this as someone who sat next to a stranger and was seen as a stranger – but within a few hours they didn’t feel so strange to me anymore, and I to them. I write this as someone who has felt and seen the power that music can have on humans; how a single chord can resonate with us so deeply it’s as if we know the pain and loss and confusion and elation the singer once felt all too well.
Moral of the story: go to that concert. You never know what you may take away from it. And don’t be afraid to ask about the songs you don’t know – but wish you did.
Alexandra Rae (she/her) is a 20-year-old aspiring writer from the U.S. studying Creative Writing and Public Relations & Advertising at Point Park University. She loves exploring all genres, but her favorites are Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry. She is also a content writer for The Young Writer's Initiative (@TYWI on Instagram) and runs her own writing account as well
(@theresonationofalexandra). Her biggest writing inspirations are Taylor Swift, Lauren Slater, Stephen King, and Joy Harjo.