What, in pop music history, is anyone to compare Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour to? If you’re at all flummoxed by that question, join the club, populated by scores of journalists and commentators who’ve tried and failed to find reasonable parallels. “I promise that you’ll never find another like me,” Swift sang a few years ago, and although she meant that as a sing-along, not a superstar’s statement of purpose, truer words really never were spoken
On a pure business level, everyone can agree that it’s unprecedented. Pollstar reported recently that, by estimates, the Eras Tour will be the first tour to cross the billion-dollar mark in grosses (Elton John’s multi-year farewell tour holds the current record, with $939 million), and that this $1B milestone will likely be reached some time in March, when she is over in Asia. Mind you, if this projection proves true, she’ll have achieved it seven months before the tour actually ends in Toronto in November of 2024, if that Canadian stop does even represent the actual wrap-up of her time on the road. No one needs to waste a moment wondering if anyone has ever matched her commercial draw, then. When was the last time an artist sold out six nights at a stadium in Los Angeles, with such a demand for resale tickets that she easily could have booked six more, still without sating demand? The world hasn’t seen that, and won’t, again, in any foreseeable future.
Cutural impact is a little harder to make specific superlative claims for. Even without wanting to be mean about it, some who remain resistant to Swift’s charms would like to see her touring success as part of an ever-repeatable series of cyclical phenomenon. Most students of pop history can pull out a few landmark tours that felt like signal moments: The Jacksons’ “Victory” tour, capitalizing on Michael’s “Thriller” success. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band bringing a New Jersey sensibility to global stadiums after “Born in the USA.” Madonna’s short but impactful “Blonde Ambition” outing in U.S. arenas and international stadiums at the height of her iconography. U2’s provocative “Zoo TV” spectacle, circa “Achtung Baby.”
Having seen all those tours at least once in their day, and now having seen the Eras Tour on four occasions, I can vouch that as much as those moments in touring lore deserved their reputations, there are few direct correlations with with the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon we’re seeing today. Really, the only thing it can be compared to is a Beatles tour.
But not a Beatles tour that, like, actually happened. The Fabs did tour, of course, but those shows were remarkable almost entirely for the screaming, not for any level of serious artistry or true engagement between performer and audience. The Beatles pulled one of the most boss moves in entertainment history by quitting the road before they made most of their best or most significant music, retiring from live performance so that they could actually focus on making great records instead of flogging their under-equipped amps to no good purpose in the deafening maelstrom of a Shea Stadium. You could say it all worked out for the best, when we got masterpieces like “Sgt. Pepper,” the White Album and “Abbey Road” as a result of that reluctance to mark time doing what amounted to public pantomime. Yet something was indisputably lost when the band broke up in 1970 without ever having toured behind the most fruitful period of their career. Imagine what it would have been like if the group had found a way to stay together long enough to do its own version of an Eras Tour — something that allowed an explosion of the pent-up energy any fandom has in wanting to hear great music as part of a collective, public experience? They were the originators of bedroom pop, the stuff that changed your life through a set of headphones, but there’s an experience of rock ‘n’ roll that never reaches its complete fulmination until it’s shared with an electrically charged audience that feels the same way you do about what you’ve all been identifying with and devouring in the privacy of your own homes.
Not that John, Paul, George and Ringo, in this imagined scenario where they continued and carried on live, would have had the foresight, exactly, to put on a show where they went back through their songbook on an album-by-album basis, offering mini-setlists within a gigantic setlist. Because what other star besides Swift has thought to do that in the last 60 years? But then, what other stars have a catalog that represents the sort of constant evolution and changes that would support that and make it interesting, where each period of a couple of years has its own dominant emotion as well as aesthetic?
If you’re under a certain age (and maybe just a smidgeon less profoundly for some of us who are over it), the Eras Tour has an aspect of feeling a life flash before your eyes — hers, and yours — even if Swift was clever enough to present in non-sequential order. That mutual coming-of-age feeling was true of the relatively quick trip from “She Loves You” to “Helter Skelter,” and it’s just as true of the lickety-split, generation-defining journey from “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” to “Vigilante Shit.”
At the risk of bringing down the wrath of some of my own generational counterparts, I’d stretch to make another relevant comparison between Swift and the Beatles. Her combination of rich, rampant, prolific creativity and utter world dominance is … well, to quote Don Henley in a context he might not approve of, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” To put it more directly: This feels like the first time since the Beatles caught their last wind that there’s a star commanding the landscape above all others who also happens to be music’s sharpest current talent. Seeing that twain meet in a stadium setting is what I’ll most remember about the Eras Tour in eras to come, long after I’ve misplaced the “Reputation” friendship bracelet someone gave me at SoFi Stadium closing night.
I’m accustomed to the concerned looks I get from friends outside of Swift’s key demographics every time I contend that she has proven herself a songwriting talent I feel comfortable mentioning in the same breath as the heroes so many of us share, from Lennon & McCartney to Irving Berlin to Carole King to Pete Townshend to Stevie Wonder to the Gershwins. But no one has done more this century to reestablish the primacy of songs