By Elizabeth Gracen:
How lucky am I to have had front-row seats to some of the biggest concerts that hit the stage in 2023? I didn’t have to fight traffic or parking to get there, nor elbow my way to the front of the pressing crowd to find my place. All I had to do was tap the AMC app on my phone as visions of popcorn danced in my head. Thank you Jonathan Demme, David Byrne, Talking Heads, Taylor Swift, and the Queen Bee herself, Beyoncé, for making it possible for a crowd-shy music junkie to immerse herself in three uniquely different concert films—all true expressions of each artist’s stage-performance mastery, musical excellence, and sheer charisma. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be reviewing these films to close out my 2023 articles for Flapper Press in hopes that you’ll venture out to view the creative process and wall-to-wall entertainment that these artists bring to life on a big-screen scale for yourself.
It’s perfect holiday viewing.
There are few things better than my local Dolby cinema, row C, middle-seat recliner. Add a giant tub of popcorn, a large water, and maybe some Red Vines if I’m feeling a bit naughty, and I am one happy filmgoing camper.
Sometimes the pickins’ are slim in terms of what I would spend my money and time on at the actual cinema as opposed to the plethora of available streaming options. Such was the weekend in mid-October when I decided to go "big-screen" for “The Eras Tour,” the blockbuster concert film brought to us by the powerhouse creative and economic force to be reckoned with and recently named 2023 Time's Person of the Year— Ms. Taylor Swift.
Now, I’m not saying that I don’t like Taylor Swift, but I've never been a Swiftie. I truly appreciate her songwriting prowess and undeniable fierceness, but my kid wasn’t a Swiftie, so Swift’s music was not on a perpetual loop in the car during my Uber-momma driving days—that spot was occupied by the cast of the Hamilton album. So, when the only real matinee available for my film/popcorn fix was “The Eras Tour,” I had to take a beat and decide whether a three-hour concert movie was going to check all the necessary escape boxes. Hadn't I seen and heard enough about the friendship bracelets, the romance with Travis Kelce, and all those secret codes in her lyrics?
Oh, what the hell? There's popcorn involved, so I'm game. Let’s see what the hoopla is all about.
So, what exactly is a "Swiftie"?
According to Wikipedia:
"Swifties are the fandom of American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Regarded by journalists as one of the largest and most devoted fanbases, Swifties are known for their high levels of participation, creativity, community and fanaticism. They are a subject of widespread coverage in the mainstream media."
In my mind, the most Taylor Swift thing I could do was dawn a pair of cowboy boots and a skirt. I felt like a costumed version of myself (I do like a costume) until I arrived at the cinema. The Sunday afternoon matinee was abuzz with girls and young women, some decked out in T. Swift tour t-shirts and some in full costume from their favorite Swift “era.” After picking up my pre-ordered popcorn and sweets, I made my way around the lobby to soak in the giddy energy of youth. There were a few male-bodied Swifties in the room, but it was predominantly chock-a-block with all things "grrl" . . . and it was glorious.
Leaning against a lobby pillar, I scanned the room. My hand moving from warm, salty popcorn to mouth, I watched the pre-show festivities. So many selfies; so many posed shots; so many smiles. So much happy noise.
“Hey, you all look great,” I said, inserting myself into a photo-op scenario. “Would you mind if I took a couple pictures of you for an article I’m writing about the film?”
“Sure! Would you take a picture for me, too?” said a perfect Swiftie in white go-go boots and glitter around her eyes.
The group of friends took their places in front of the giant IMAX “Eras” poster.
“Wait, wait,” she said as they lined up. “We have to get in the right era order.”
After a few shuffles, they were ready.
“Would you like me to add your names to the article for the picture?”
[This turned out to be a spellcheck disaster, with my iPhone mixing up letters and changing names. My apologies to these lovely Swifities for not adding their names to this article, but it was virtually impossible once I checked my notes. Please reach out to me via email@example.com if you want me to add your name.]
I have a penchant for sitting pretty close to the screen, especially in those recliners. Since I opted for the Dolby theatre instead of IMAX, I was the only one in the front row section for this particular matinee—all the Swifities packed in the back of the theatre, no doubt to sing along and sway. It’s been reported that movie-theatre owners across the country have opted to create a concert atmosphere for those attending, allowing texting, posting selfies, and dancing. Although I couldn’t see over the section partition to verify this, I’m hoping that that was what was going down amidst all the grrl power behind me.
Swift’s three-hour concert (edited down to 2 hours and 48 minutes for film) was filmed over three nights during a six-night residence at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, from August 3–5, 2023. At the point of writing this article, there have been 151 performances across 5 continents, with the European leg beginning in November and a planned return to the States next year. The film has surpassed $250 million at the box-office, placing it in the top 20 films for 2023 and the best-performing concert of all time. The tour itself has garnered unparalleled ticket sales, broken worldwide attendance records, and has elevated the economies and tourism of any city that the Swift musical tornado has touched down in, elevating Swift’s net worth to over $1 billion dollars.
"Ooh, look what you made me do."
—"Look What You Made Me Do," lyrics and music by Taylor Swift
Once the movie previews dovetailed into Nicole Kidman’s familiar sparkly jumpsuit and high-heeled step into the puddle of water for the AMC opener, it was time for the show, Swifities cheering behind me with delight.
I don’t know what it felt like for my ladies in the back of the theatre, but from where I was sitting, it felt like I was center stage, the enormous digital screens lighting up the first “era.”
“Here we go,” I whispered.
With costumes ranging from demure and fairy-like to body-suit spangle, Swift commanded the stage with the assurance of someone who knows that she is loved. That is the only way I can describe it. She flawlessly performed her hits from a deep library of music covering her albums Lover, Fearless, Evermore, Reputation, Speak Now, Red, Folklore, 1989, and Midnights. I sang along and seat-danced with all the hooks and bridges I recognized from “Look What You Made Me Do,” You Need to Calm Down,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “Bad Blood,” “I Knew Your Were Trouble,” and I think I even belted “Shake It Off” (ahh . . . the glories of that private screening feeling).
Confident, beautiful, warm, and familiar, Swift has been criticized for the "surprise face" that often washes across her beautiful visage, but I’m not sure how you’d ever get used to that many adoring people hanging on your every note and applauding your every move. C’mon, give the gal a break. Wouldn't you be in constant amazement?
Suddenly, there was a rumble in the aisles as what would be Swift's last on-camera song cranked into high gear. The Swifities were on the move, filling the front section of the theatre between the screen and front-row of seats. Beckoned as if by a siren's song, the Swifties, who were more than familiar with the concert's set list, were ready to dance.
I can’t imagine what the actual concert-going experience must have been like with the throng of people and the massive light show. All I’d managed was seat-dancing and popcorn gorging, but I was exhausted by the time the film was over. I didn’t stay for the credits and the final Swift song, but I left a raucous crowd, who I imagine would ride high on the Swift fairy dust for the rest of the day. Let's just say that it was a lot of Taylor Swift for someone who is not a Swiftie, but it doesn’t really matter. Ms. Swift was masterful. The film was impeccable. The joy was palpable. A perfect Sunday matinee.
The next day was Monday, my least favorite day of the week. As I stepped onto the elliptical machine for my regular workout at the local YMCA, I searched my Spotify in search of inspiration for the next 20-minute sweat. "Omg, there she is again," I said, shaking my head, residual fairy dust floating down. I made my selection.
"Let's do this. . . ."