When an artist releases four new studio albums, two re-recordings of her previous albums, and hasn’t toured in five years, what does her return to touring look like? Well, in the case of Taylor Swift, her “comeback” to performing is a larger than life spectacle that is a feat of expansive storytelling. On night two of her three-night residency at Chicago’s Soldier Field, Swift transported all 60,000+ fans through an impeccable and nostalgic commemoration of her 17 year career.
In the five years since the conclusion of her last tour, the “reputation Stadium Tour,” Swift has been busy–just in a different way. She’s released four studio albums: “Lover,” “folklore,” “evermore,” and “Midnights,” and has released re-recorded versions of “Fearless” and “Red.” Because of the incredible amount of new material she’s released, just about every “Swiftie” has wondered what her return to touring would entail. After the now infamous Ticketmaster debacle for tickets, she made sure that her return would be everything her fans could wish for and more.
Beginning just before 8 p.m. with a two minute countdown displayed on the massive screens, the sun was still setting as the crowd at Soldier Field had a collective rush of adrenaline. At once, Swift was revealed from a shroud of silky drapes held by her dancers and jumped right into “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince.” The show is divided into separate segments, giving each album and “era” their earned spotlight. The first portion of the show covers “Lover,” and features the undeniable standout, “Cruel Summer.” After encouraging the crowd to scream the bridge with her–as if her encouragement was required–every person in the stadium was out of their seats, singing back the refrains as loud as they could. The start time of the show placed the first half-hour or so in front of the lakeside sunset, which only enhanced the hues of the “Lover” color-scheme and aesthetic. Coincidence? Knowing Swift, doubtful.
After the “Lover” portion of the show, out skipped Swift brandishing a rhinestone-embellished guitar and fringe dress that called back to her “Fearless” days. The only “Speak Now” cut played was the fan-favorite “Enchanted,” but even as the only selection, her performance honors a song that many had lost hope of hearing live. A special treat for those of us who fell in love with Swift’s music in 2012 is her full 10 minute performance of “All Too Well.” Standing alone on stage atop her raised hydraulic platform, she played another bedazzled guitar while the crowd nearly drowned out her voice. Taking us right into the bright neon cityscape of “1989,” she ran through five of the smash singles from her fifth album. Would it have been all the more amazing if she swapped out “Bad Blood” for “Out of the Woods?” Absolutely. But her choices for the section make sense as these singles remain some of her most widely known material. The “reputation” segment delivered the obvious choices–“...Ready For It?,” “Delicate,” and “Look What You Made Me Do”–and threw in an almost-holy rendition of “Don’t Blame Me” to appease the die-hard “reputation” stans. The callbacks to each of her eras through the setlist and also revamping of her many fashion and aesthetic styles highlight her metamorphosis we’ve witnessed over the last 17 years.
The only era that went unsupported was her debut self-titled album. Though the rest of the show more than makes up for the loss of any debut cuts, the inclusion of “Our Song” or “Teardrops On My Guitar” would have made for an especially nostalgic trip down memory lane. Regardless, the show did not feel unfinished without it.
Sandwiched in between “Red” and “1989,” Swift spent about 30 minutes delivering the most cozy and magical segment of the show: “folklore.” While off stage changing outfits, a recorded narration of her voice echoed through the speakers, asking her subject to remember her “standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In a genius dupe, she quickly retracted her tease of the “1989” segment, and said “but first, please picture me in the trees.” Before venturing into the hustle and bustle of the city for her pop hits, this act guided the crowd deep into the forest as she reappeared resting atop a cabin covered in moss. Dressed in a gorgeous flowing white dress, she pranced around the stage, theatrically delivering an impressive amount of cuts from her eighth album: “the 1,” “betty,” “the last great american dynasty,” “august,” “illicit affairs,” and “cardigan.” To take songs that were created for small and quiet cabins and effortlessly translate them to the massive scale of a stadium is no small feat. But if Swift has proved anything with this show, it’s that she can create the most intimate of environments in even the largest of venues.
Swift’s knack for connecting with large audiences is nothing new. Since her first headlining tour in 2009, she has consistently turned out theatrical performances strung together seamlessly, on scales that continue to grow each time she hits the road. She’s gone from throwing lounge chairs off platforms and mastering the art of the tear-away outfit, to strutting down football field length catwalks and diving straight into the stage itself. Each of her tours have had a distinct aesthetic and theme to them, and this current endeavor blends together the very best of her previous tours, which makes for a trip down memory lane for long-time fans, and offers up a crash course for newer “Swifties.”
Just as the full moon reached its position right above the edge of Soldier Field’s stands, it was time for everyone’s favorite part of the night–surprise song o’clock! Stationed at the end of the catwalk, Swift told the audience that her next song “had never been performed live before,” which prompted an incredible wave of excitement through the crowd. Her cunning ways of knowing just how to interact with a crowd are proof of how well she knows her audience. As soon as Swift told the crowd that “Maren Morris is here tonight,” up popped Morris, jogging down the catwalk to meet Swift. Underneath the full moon, the two artists delivered the first live performance of their duet, “You All Over Me.”
Without saying a word after Morris’ departure from the stage, Swift sat down at her piano and dove headfirst into a gut wrenching stripped down version of “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.” While performing, her emotional was tender, and her delivery of the line “Wonderin’ if I dodged a bullet/Or just lost the love of my life,” was particularly poignant.
To wrap things up, Swift finished her show with a slew of “Midnights” songs. Beginning with “Lavender Haze,” she danced in a luxe purple fur coat complete with dangling beads. The crowd seemed to be excited and sing-along with the “Midnights” portion the most, which was partially captivating considering the album is still less than a year old. The standout performance of this act was “Vigilante Shit,” hands down. Her bejeweled bodysuit and matching garter belt? The daring chair choreography? I mean, c’mon. If you haven’t seen this performance, look it up on YouTube. You must see it with your own eyes.
The final performance of the evening, “Karma,” was an all out celebration of Swift, the show, and “karma” itself. She’s been through hell to get here (see 2016), but is more than comfortable with all past incarnations of herself. As fireworks and confetti filled the air and Swift danced around in a metallic tinsel coat, you couldn’t help but revel in the moment. After 17 years since her debut album, Swift has reached heights of star-power that some artists can only dream of. There really is no way to predict what she’ll do next, but rest assured that the “Mastermind” herself will not disappoint.