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Taylor Swift’s Eras Concert Gave Me Emotional Whiplash

My hands were held high in the shape of a heart, the wristbands of 70,000 people glowed purple around me, and Taylor Swift was spinning with her guitar in the spring rain, casting a spell.

Yes, it was. As I sang along with her and everyone else in the stadium, I felt “Fearless” and “Fifteen” and “22” and 31 — the age I actually am — all at the same time.

In other words, Night 1 of the Eras Tour in Nashville was pure magic.

Between Swift’s powerful performance and unmatched stamina (the show is over three hours), and the concert’s lengthy setlist (45 songs, including the added duet of “Nothing New” with Phoebe Bridgers) and stellar production (sets, costumes, special effects), I have a feeling that every show feels just as transcendent, especially for fans like me who have grown up alongside Swift. I’m about two years younger than her, and Swift’s music has been the soundtrack to every phase of my life since I was in eighth grade and she released her self-titled debut album.

On social media, I’ve seen some fans describe the concert as the best night of their lives, others compare it to therapy, and another who said it was the most emotional she’s ever been at one of Swift’s shows. I understand all those descriptions. Personally, the best way I can summarize it is that I felt like a nesting doll; each era and every song contained a piece of every version of myself that’s existed since I was 14.

The author and her friend at the Eras tour in Nashville.

Courtesy of Sarah Hunter Simanson

Living in Memphis — a city that consistently makes headlines for the ongoing surge in violent crime — and living in the United States — a country besieged with gun violence — safe is something I never feel. I’m always looking over my shoulder, noting exits, wondering if a trip to Target or the grocery store is worth whatever could go wrong.

It’s also been an especially hard year to be a woman in this country, to watch my bodily autonomy and access to equitable health care be taken away. So, while I expected to love the music, I wasn’t prepared for how overwhelming of an experience standing inside Nissan Stadium would be. I didn’t anticipate the freedom and joy I felt being in a public space where I could just exist. I danced and jumped and sang, unafraid of the man next to me who was dancing and singing just as enthusiastically and unworried about the threat of violence.

Maybe that feeling of freedom was false. Maybe I should have been more worried. But, singing along to “Love Story,” I couldn’t find it within myself to feel those things. I couldn’t feel anything else except joy or, dare I say, fearlessness.

In the first third of the show, Swift paused on the moss-covered “Evermore” piano bench to talk about everything that has happened since her last tour, 2018’s Reputation. She talked about the (impressive) number of albums she’s released — “Lover,” “Folklore,” “Evermore” and “Midnights” (in addition to her re-recordings of “Fearless” and “Red”) — and a global pandemic that kept her from performing live.

While she spoke, I thought about where I was the last time she toured — seven months pregnant with my first child and dancing in Soldier Field Stadium in Chicago to “Look What You Made Me Do.” Two months later, I had a daughter. Six months later, my mom died from cancer. A little less than two years later, I gave birth to my son during the beginning of a global pandemic. Yes, so much has changed in Swift’s catalog since then, but a lot has also changed in the lives (and demographics) of her fans.

The weight of the time that had passed and Swift’s newer music and expanding audience created an unmatched anticipation for the Eras Tour. The fact that Swift considers Nashville a “hometown show,” as she told us Friday night, added even more emotion to this tour stop. It’s also why I think Swift chose to announce the release of her newest re-recording. If only you could have heard the screams when she pointed to the screen behind her to tell us that “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” will be out July 7. It was one of the night’s many highlights.

The author and her friend at the Reputation tour.
The author and her friend at the Reputation tour.

Courtesy of Sarah Hunter Simanson

As the eras progressed during the concert — “Lover,” “Fearless,” “Evermore,” “Reputation,” “Speak Now,” “Red,” “Folklore,” “1989,” “Midnights” — I experienced an emotional whiplash.

I was the eighth-grade version of myself in my bedroom crying over a boy and listening to “Teardrops on My Guitar.” (Swift played it on the piano as the night’s second surprise song.) I was that same 14-year-old girl who sang “Our Song” like a prayer, a hope that I’d experience that kind of love. I was the 16-year-old blaring “You Belong With Me” in the bathroom while blow-drying my hair, wishing the boy I liked saw me too and grateful that someone else understood my unrequited wanting. I was also the high school senior driving at night with the windows down as one of my best friends and I screamed the words of “Love Story,” reclaiming it, trying to forget the way a boy who’d treated her terribly had used it to ask her to prom.

During the “Red” era, dancing next to another one of my best friends, someone I’ve been friends with since middle school, I remembered driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains during my sophomore year of college and playing “All Too Well” on repeat because my heart ached. I remembered graduating and dancing to “Shake It Off” because I hated so many parts of my first job and just wanted to let it go, to feel like it would be “alright.”

When Swift played “Folklore” and “Evermore” songs, I felt closer to the age I am now. I remembered the long days at the height of the pandemic when I’d put in my headphones and play those songs over and over again, listening to them while I did more dishes and more laundry and picked up more toys. I remembered listening to “Midnights” in October the week of my birthday, feeling like its release was a gift just for me. The intimacy of my memories and the energy of the crowd and the awe-inspiring control Swift had onstage can’t adequately be described with one emotion. All I can say is that I’ll never forget that feeling.

Eventually, after more than three hours, all the eras — both Swift’s and mine — coalesced into a frantic blur. Partially this was because the setlist wasn’t in chronological order, but it was also because each song released so much inside of me.

At the end, as the final notes of “Karma” faded and the last pieces of confetti fell, I was left with the certainty that I had just borne witness to something spectacular.

But, while energizing during the concert, I found it to be emotionally depleting after. It’s hard to reenter the real world after a mountaintop experience like that. But I did. The next day, I drove back to Memphis and my husband and my two kids.

On Sunday afternoon, my daughter climbed into my bed and glanced at my phone.

“She looks like a princess,” she said.

“She does,” I replied as I paused the clip someone had posted on Twitter of Swift singing one of the surprise songs on Saturday night.

In the moment, I didn’t know how to explain to my 4-year-old that Swift is so much more than a princess. I didn’t know how to articulate that Swift is better than Elsa or Belle or Rapunzel because she has worked for everything she has. She deserves the sparkly dress. She deserves her crown.

The author and her friend at the Eras tour in Nashville.
The author and her friend at the Eras tour in Nashville.

Courtesy of Sarah Hunter Simanson

One day, I want my daughter to understand that. I want her to know that while the word princess might adequately describe one of the many “Bejeweled” outfits Swift wore during the Eras Tour, it barely scratched the surface of the impact that she has had in the lives of her fans (and the music industry). Most important, I want her to understand one of the most significant lessons Swift has ever taught me: “We all wear crowns.”

But I didn’t explain any of that then. Instead, I pressed play on the video, and my daughter and I sat in my bed and watched together as Swift played the piano and sang “Fifteen.”

In the future, I hope that there will be plenty of time to tell my daughter about Swift and what her music has meant to me. I can’t wait to watch my daughter discover what it means to her. Already, she dances to “Shake It Off” in the kitchen in her fairy wings. She sings along from her car seat on the way to preschool. She practices her pliés around the bathroom to “Anti-Hero” while I get ready in the morning.

Before I left for Nashville, she asked me if she can go to a Taylor Swift concert “one day when I’m older.”

Of course — if we can get tickets. I can’t wait for that day. I can’t wait until she can stand next to me in a stadium and feel how Swift’s music connects the girl my daughter is growing into to the woman that I am becoming. I know it will be “The Best Day,” maybe even better than Night 1 of the Eras Tour in Nashville because it will be the beginning of a new era. I’ll be the mom taking my daughter to a Taylor Swift concert, embarrassing her with my loud singing and energetic dancing and themed outfit. The hope of a moment like that, of sharing the experience of Swift’s music with my daughter, is what’s helping me navigate my post-concert blues.

In her opening speech, Swift said that she hoped by the end of the night her music would feel like a part of our stories. But it already does, whether you have the chance to see her perform live or not. That’s the magic of her personal and evocative (yet universal) lyrics and her long career.

The Eras Tour simply gave fans the gift of remembering that, of remembering all of the versions of ourselves we’ve been while listening to Swift’s music. It also gave us over three magical hours to feel a part of something larger than ourselves, to feel connected to Swift and her eras and the 70,000 other fans who lifted hands high in the shape of a heart, temporarily fearless.

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