How Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour conquered the world
By Ben Sisario
As Taylor Swift rolled into Los Angeles this past week, the frenzy surrounding her record-breaking Eras Tour was already in high gear.
Headlines gushed that she had given $100,000 bonuses to her crew. Politicians asked her to postpone her concerts in solidarity with striking hotel workers. Scalped tickets were going for $3,000 and up. And there were way, way too many friendship bracelets to count.
These days, the center of an otherwise splintered music world can only be Taylor Swift.
The pop superstar’s tour, which is now finishing its initial North American leg with six nights at SoFi Stadium outside Los Angeles, has been a both a business and a cultural juggernaut. Swift’s catalog of generation-defining hits and canny marketing sense have helped her achieve a level of white-hot demand and media saturation not seen since the 1980s heyday of Michael Jackson and Madonna — a dominance that the entertainment business had largely accepted as impossible to replicate in the fragmented 21st century.
“The only thing I can compare it to is the phenomenon of Beatlemania,” said Billy Joel, who attended Swift’s show in Tampa, Florida, with his wife and young daughters.
In a summer of tours by stars like Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Morgan Wallen and Drake, Swift’s stands apart, in numbers and in media noise. Although Swift, 33, and her promoters do not publicly report box-office figures, trade publication Pollstar estimated that she has been selling about $14 million in tickets each night. By the end of the full world tour, which is booked with 146 stadium dates well into 2024, Swift’s sales could reach $1.4 billion or more — exceeding Elton John’s $939 million for his multiyear farewell tour, the current record-holder.
Swift has now had more No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 over the course of her career than any other woman, surpassing Barbra Streisand. With the tour lifting Swift’s entire body of work, she has placed 10 albums on that chart this year and is the first living artist since trumpeter and bandleader Herb Alpert in 1966 to have four titles in the Top 10 at the same time.
“It’s a pretty amazing feat,” Alpert, 88, said in a phone interview. “With the way radio is these days, and the way music is distributed, with streaming, I didn’t think anyone in this era could do it.”
But how did a concert tour become so much more: fodder for gossip columns, the subject of weather reports, a boon for friendship-bracelet beads — the unofficial currency of Swiftie fandom — and the reason nobody could get a hotel room in Cincinnati at the end of June?
“She is the best CEO, and best chief marketing officer, in the history of music,” said Nathan Hubbard, a longtime music and ticketing executive who co-hosts a Swift podcast. “She is following people like Bono, Jay-Z and Madonna, who were acutely aware of their brands. But of all of them, Taylor is the first one to be natively online.”
Music critics have portrayed the Eras Tour as showing Swift at the top of her game as a media-savvy, big-tent talent, a pop star with a knack for grand spectacle as well as the polished artistry of a classic songwriter.
Shania Twain, the country-pop star whose career in some ways prefigured Swift’s, caught the Las Vegas stop of the Eras Tour, a 44-plus song production that goes as long as 3 1/2 hours. She praised Swift’s “beautiful balance” of high-tech stagecraft and intimate performance segments. “I have to applaud her,” Twain said in a telephone interview. “As a performer, I know that work that goes into it.”
The power of Swift’s fan army — and fear of crossing the star, or even appearing to — has kept nearly all of the press about the tour sunny. Although some fans (and parents) balked at the ticket prices and challenges of securing seats, most frustration was directed squarely at Ticketmaster, not Swift. After a few weeks of headlines romantically linking Swift with a frontman some fans considered to be problematic, reports spread in the celebrity pages that they had split. (Swift’s representatives declined to comment for this article.)
For fans, the shows are a pilgrimage, and a rediscovery of the joys of mass gatherings. Flights are packed with Swifties, and travelers trade stories and compare outfits — drawn from looks associated with Swift “eras” — in stadium corridors and parking lots. In Kansas City, comedian Nikki Glaser was attending her eighth show, a commitment that she estimated has cost her $25,000.
“This year I decided not to freeze my eggs,” Glaser said. “I’m going to put that money toward the thing I love most in the world, which is Taylor Swift.”
Before Eras, Swift hadn’t been on tour since 2018. And her catalog has grown by seven No. 1 albums since then, fueled in part by three rerecorded “Taylor’s Versions” of her first LPs — a project hailed by Swift’s fans as a crusade to regain control of her music, though it is also an act of revenge after the sale of Swift’s former record label, a move that, she said, “stripped me of my life’s work.”
“Folklore” and “Evermore” expanded her palate into fantastical indie-folk and brought new collaborators into the fold: Aaron Dessner from the band the National and Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, rock-world figures who helped attract new listeners.
The other major tour this year that is enticing fans to book transcontinental flights, and to show up costumed and in rapture, is also by a woman: Beyoncé, 41, whose Renaissance tour is a fantasia of disco and retrofuturism. Like Swift, she is also a trailblazing artist-entrepreneur, maintaining tight control over her career and fostering a rich connection with fans online. Together with Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” a critique of the patriarchy told in hot pink, they are signs of powerful women ruling the discourse of pop culture.
But in music, at least, the scale and success of Swift’s tour is without equal. Later this month, after completing 53 shows in the United States, she will kick off an international itinerary of at least 78 more before returning to North America next fall. Beyoncé’s full tour has 56 dates; Springsteen’s, 90. (Recently, Harry Styles wrapped a 173-date tour in arenas and stadiums, grossing about $590 million.)