A disco ball motorcycle helmet. Custom denim jackets. Heels in every size and sequin pattern. When Swift launched into "Enchanted," a full-grown man in a banana suit—whose job was to capture video of every song on behalf of his party—looked at his girlfriend, pointed at himself with his thumb and said, "Babe, this is my favorite."
And on a tour dubbed “Eras” as a tribute to 17 years of music from the 12-time Grammy-winner (and 46-time nominee), the crowd of 68,517 was made up of not just day-one diehards, but baby Swifties whose lives couldn’t have started much earlier than the pandemic that sent the world to quarantine and Swift careening towards three albums of new music (plus two re-recorded LPs from the past).
What’s more is that no matter how many more records Swift releases and sells in those babies’ lifetimes, they may never see another artist do what the 33-year-old is pulling off this weekend.
“Tampa, Florida, look what you’ve done,” Swift said in the opening stage of the show, invoking a round of applause. She continued the bit, flexed her left bicep, and teased the next song (“The Man") by joking that, “You’re making me feel powerful, like I’m about to headline three sold-out shows in this stadium.”
If the math holds up, more than 200,000 people will walk in and out of Raymond James as part of the historic run. No band or artist—including Led Zeppelin, U2, David Bowie and Paul McCartney who all drew big crowds to Tampa Stadium and Raymond James—has come close in this neck of the woods.
Indeed, Swift does.
From the 8 p.m. start to the 11:17 p.m. fireworks, the superstar spent more than three-hours weaving together a 44-song set where she was in control for nearly every second. Programmed cracks on the video screen catwalk during “Delicate” were perfectly-timed, and dancers moved in unison with dancing squares on the display during “Mastermind." No tiny detail, it seemed, was left to chance.
Wardrobe changes got executed to a T, especially after “Midnight Rain” when the 14 dancers on stage shielded Swift beneath umbrellas for Superman-in-a-phonebooth clothes swap. (I can’t even put a sock on as fast as she changed into a purple leotard for her sultry run through “Vigilante Shit”.)
And when Swift went off-script for a wildcard performance of “Speak Now,” fans were more than ready to help out with a massive singalong. She followed that up with a surprise performance of Red closing track “Treacherous,” and told fans, “I don't know that I've ever played it on piano—that's a piece of boring information for you.”
But nothing’s boring in Taylor's world, even the slip ups. As Swift moved to the piano for Evermore highlight “Champagne Problems,” she stopped the banter so a backup singer could properly connect her in-ear monitor. Just seconds before that, Swift, who some refer to as a perfectionist, admitted to a gaffe.
“So tonight is the 13th. Usually it’s my lucky number, but tonight it’s exactly the number of brain cells I have,” she said, explaining that she mistakenly said that Gracie Abrams (opener of night two and three in Tampa) handled opening on Thursday. In fact, it was Gayle a fellow Nashvillian who had the honor.
“I feel so awful,” Swift added.
The candor was an incredibly human moment from someone who many see as superhuman, and it was a gentle, if not innocent, reminder that Swift—an artist who’s playing longer sets than Springsteen these days (with seemingly no teleprompter, mind you)—walks the same ground that we do.
In so many ways, Swift’s pandemic albums were a product of that very humanity. They were a testament to the connection we craved during those lonely months away from each other. And it was clear that she wanted to share those songs with fans, dedicating nearly a quarter of the setlist to tracks from Evermore and Folklore.
Some (looking at you, Jon Caramanica) have said that these quiet songs received a less-enthusiastic reception at the “Eras” tour opener one month ago in Arizona. Not so in Tampa. Maybe it was the humidity on Thursday at the tour’s first outdoor show (the other stadiums in Glendale, Vegas and Arlington have roofs, with Swift joking after "I Knew You Were Trouble" that her hair would only get "curlier and curlier" as the night went on). Perhaps it was tweaks from the band (split on opposite sides of a massive stage that spanned across the south endzone and almost the length of the entire floor).
The vocal on “Marjorie” filled the stadium as powerfully as anything else in the set. During “Willow,” cinematic visuals highlighted the way Swift's striking blue eyes contrasted with her velvet green cape. In the Folklore portion, the worldbuilding set design (and one hell of a Tinkerbell-esque dress on “The 1”) made the football stadium feel like a theme park.
Before “Betty,” Swift acknowledged that everyone went through the pandemic in a different way, but noted that “we all tried to escape.”
The show certainly gave fans the opportunity to do just that. In a state where the rights of her LGBTQ+ fans are under attack in every way, Swift refrained from giving breath to a governor and agenda that could more or less erase an entire community. While she has put her voice behind progressive campaigns and causes, the singer kept politics out of the show (in contrast to an artist like Phoebe Bridgers, a recent visitor to Tampa who’ll open for Swift in Nashville, Tennessee, a city and state going through its own issues).
Instead, Swift offered an escape, or fantasy even, where the only things that mattered were the strength of the songs and spectacle surrounding them. And when it was called for, there was a lot of ass shaking, too. Coming out of the Evermore set, Swift gave fans plenty of space to get lost and bounce around in the big production of Reputation tracks (“Look What You Made Me Do” was incredibly fun).
The 1989 block felt like a greatest hits show complete with "Tron"-style lighting ("Blank Space"), a dance party reminiscent of Swift's first stadium show in Tampa ("Shake It Off"), pyro as hot as the Tampeño night ("Bad Blood"), and a stunning sequined orange miniskirt and shoes on a Cliffs Notes version of "Wildest Dreams."
Despite the moody and mood lifting chunk of Midnights songs to close the show (Slaylor was out for “Lavender Haze,” guys), the pinnacle of the evening was the acoustic ballad “All Too Well” where Swift had the audience in her hand for 10 minutes.
Depending on your level of cynicism, the idea of Swift’s “Eras” tour is either clever re-branding (most artists play songs from different “eras” of their careers when they tour), or a little too academic in structure, but Tampa’s show was neither.
The blocks felt like flipping through a photo album, and reminiscing before your next big adventure. The pace made the more-than-three-hour show more or less fly by, making the totality of Swift’s “Eras” feel like a perfect escape.
As the last bits of confetti came floating down following set-closer “Karma,” the house lights came on, bringing an end to the pageantry. In the aisles of the floor section, fans collected the stepped-on scraps of colorful tissue. Common knowledge tells us not to pick things up off the dirty ground. But Taylor Swift and her fans make their own rules. Plus, you can’t blame someone for wanting to take a little bit of the fantasy home.
Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince
You Need To Calm Down
You Belong With Me
‘Tis The Damn Season
…Ready For It?
Look What You Made Me Do
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well
The Last Great American Dynasty
My Tears Ricochet
Shake It Off
Wildest Dreams (Cliff Notes)
UPDATED 04/14/23 8:45 a.m. Updated with notes on 1989 tracks and an additional Speak Now offering.