As I wrote a few weeks ago, there is a marvelous opportunity to bond with one’s children when you both conceive an interest, even an obsession, with the same musical act. Once upon a time, it might have been the Beatles, or Bowie or Madonna: now, it’s Taylor Swift, the all-conquering pop songstress who has not only taken over the world, but has made yet more untold millions with her concert film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. In practice, most of those seeing it will not have been able to get tickets to see her three-and-half-hour live show, so this slightly abbreviated version (a mere two and three quarter hours) will have to do. And my seven-year old daughter Rose is a Swiftie par excellence. We are going to have fun, I declare, and she rolls her eyes and says, “If you say so, Dad.”
Well, I do say so, and we present ourselves at the theater, appropriately dressed and eager; that is to say, she’s wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt and I’m in a sports jacket and brogues. (Someone has to maintain the sartorial end.) I glance around, after paying $40 for two tickets (ouch) and another $10 for popcorn (my God). The screen is pretty much full, and about half the audience are girls aged between about Rose’s age and their late teens. A good number are unchaperoned and have the air of the sophisticate about them. Those who are accompanied, meanwhile, are looking at their parents — a fairly even split between mothers and fathers, I’d say — with deep embarrassment, as if to say that our presence is going to act as a check on their fun. I smile and shrug at a man next to me, as if to say “Kids, eh?” Then I realize he is attending by himself, and do not attempt further contact.
The adverts and trailers unspool in silence, and then as the film itself begins, in full Dolby-blaring glory, several of the audience stand up and start shouting and cheering. “TAYLOR! TAYLOR! WE LOVE YOU!” I am not sure if they’re expecting a live response, for their idol to somehow break the fourth wall, but Swift, clad in a variety of versatile outfits that have to combine the ability to remain athletic and sing, seems to be playing not just to the nosebleed seats somewhere in the SoFi stadium where this was filmed, but to the millions of people who will be watching this in the theater. And the opening salvo, of a half-dozen or so songs from her Lover album, is a suitably dramatic beginning: a mighty “You Need To Calm Down” gets such a titanic reaction from the audience, including Rose spilling her popcorn in glee, that I begin to fear that I will stagger out of the cinema a pathetic shadow of the man who walked in.
Thereafter, the set ebbs and flows in quality, if never Swift’s unflagging commitment; she plays acoustic numbers as if they were stadium epics, which of course they are, and even the dull Reputation songs shine. Yet it isn’t until “All Too Well” that the energy is fully captured once again. When the 1989 bangers begin to hit the audience with almost clinical precision, Rose yells, “She’s doing ‘Style!’” in delight as it becomes clear that Swift is, indeed, performing one of her finest tunes. I smile in the happy knowledge that a seismic, dramatic “Shake It Off” is around the corner, as it is impossible not to be swept up in the giddy exuberance of it all. I would have stood up and danced, but would have run the risk of public humiliation — pictures might have gone viral. So instead I contented myself with some light toe tapping and, if I dared, a sotto voce singalong, until a stern look from my daughter silences me.
We leave about three hours after we entered, exhilarated, a little punch-drunk by the sheer scale and noise and impressed by Swift’s sheer stamina; however many millions she is earning, to be doing this all over the world for months, even years, is an astounding achievement. But it’s her universe, and we just live in it now.
“Did we have fun, Rose?” I ask, tentatively. My daughter — seven going on twenty-seven, I fear, shrugs and says, “It was great, but don’t ever try and sing in public again.” And that, frankly, sounds about right.