Taylor Alison Swift
Image: Instagram

After more than a year of anticipation, Taylor Swift’s blockbuster Eras tour has finally landed in the UK.

Pop’s heartbreak princess launched the first of 17 British concerts at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium where, shortly before taking to the stage, she was wheeled into the arena hidden inside a janitor’s cart.

Appropriately enough, then, she cleaned the floor with her competition - putting on a meticulously-paced, endlessly entertaining show that delighted fans who’d come from as far afield as Australia, Japan and America.

For three and a half hours, the star chronicled her journeys through country and pop; love and tragedy; success and notoriety - all in the form of era-defining hits like 22, Shake It Off, Bad Blood, Karma and Anti-Hero.

Not only that, she made it her mission to make Scotland feel special.

“My one regret is that I really should have come to play in Scotland more,” she said near the beginning of what was only her second-ever gig in the country.

“You’ve made us feel so welcome. The volume of the singing, the dancing… You are performing on such a level.

“I can’t stop looking at the crowd. I’m captivated.”

This, more than anything, is Swift’s superpower – peddling the idea that she’s one of us, awed by the spectacle of which she’s the focus.

When she emerges on stage, her first words are, “Oh, hi!”, like we’d just bumped into her at the top of Arthur’s Seat.

And her signature look is an open-mouthed “who, me?” – as if to suggest this $2bn world tour is some sort of happy accident.

Apparently unfeigned, her delight is very endearing. But, of course, this tour is a well-oiled machine, full of vivid set pieces, pin-sharp choreography and visual grandeur.

Swift emerges in a billow of white smoke shortly after 7:15pm to the synth-pop strains of Miss Americana And The Heartbreak Prince, twirling around the stage in the first of 16 distinct outfits.

The setlist is drawn from 10 of her 11 albums, each one designated as a specific “era” in her evolution from country ingénue to chart-topping pop star to lockdown folk singer.

She zigs and zags through the chronology with giddy abandon, opening with the unabashed romanticism of 2019’s Lover, before delving into her back catalogue for the country hits of Fearless and her pop transformation on Red.

Every moment gets its own look. The Man, a song about restrictive gender stereotypes, is performed inside an elaborate set of office cubicles and typewriters. The spiky and sarcastic Look What You Made Me Do sees dancers trapped in glass boxes, each imitating a different look from Swift’s 19-year career. And Blank Space is like a live action Tron, with neon bicycles circling the stage.

But for her masterpiece, All Too Well, Swift stands alone on a raised platform for 10 minutes, armed only with her guitar and a red-black ombre coat.

Taken from 2012’s Red Album, the song is a 10-minute evisceration of an ex-boyfriend (believed to be actor Jake Gyllenhaal) that contains some of her most scathing and desolate lyrics.

She sings it with faded anger and bittersweet tenderness, the crowd joining sympathetically on the pivotal line: “You call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest.”

The song is an emotional highlight, simultaneously specific and universal, a characteristic that's endeared her to female fans in particular.

It's one of several songs in Edinburgh that elicits tears from the audience.

But only one prompts a proposal.

As Swift sings Cardigan, she spots something happening to the left of the stage.

“I’m pretty sure I just saw someone get engaged!” she announces in delight.

“I normally never get to see that because it’s dark [on stage] but it’s not right now, so congratulations!”

“Man, that’s amazing. Thanks for doing that at my concert. It’s a big moment.”



Surprise songs

The show is studded with little moments like this.

During 22, Swift chooses a young fan from the audience and presents her with the hat she's been wearing.

On We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, she hands the mic to a backing dancer who emphasises her answer with a cheeky Scottish “nae chance”.

And while introducing the song Betty, Swift claims the Scottish highlands inspired her lockdown companion albums, Folklore and Evermore.

“There was so much TV, so much white wine, [I was] covered in cat hair,” she explained.

“That was my reality. So I thought, ‘I’m going to create an imaginary world and escape into it’. This foresty, mossy, beautiful, natural world which I now realise is probably just based on videos I’ve seen online of Scotland.”

Needless to say, this gets one of the biggest cheers of the night… and her comments are instantly picked up by Scotland’s national newspapers.

Swift is a master at this. Even as she approaches the 100th show of this mammoth tour, she is still creating new moments to keep the conversation circulating.

Even fans who tune into livestreams of every concert are given something fresh to discuss, as the singer constantly updates her outfits and switches up her setlist.

Key to this is the much-anticipated acoustic set, which comes towards the end of every show, and features two or more "exclusive" tracks.

For Scotland, Swift crammed in four songs: A mash-up of Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve and I Know Places; and a medley of ‘Tis The Damn Season and Daylight.

The set is interrupted twice, however. At first, Swift pauses so a fan can receive medical attention. Then, midway through I Know Places, she appears to need a medic herself.

“Oh God! Hand cramp!” she cringes.

“I have done a million shows on this tour and my hand has never decided to just like… It’s forming a claw!”

But after massaging her palm for a few seconds she is, thankfully, able to resume.

It’s a tiny stumble, but one that focuses fans’ attention – a commodity that ebbs and flows throughout the concert.

There’s a definite lull during the downbeat new material from The Tortured Poets Department, and the atmosphere is more attentive than excited during the Folklore / Evermore era.

But the show is structured in such a way that you’re never far from a hearty singalong (best bit: Everyone chaotically trying to hit the high notes I Knew You Were Trouble) and the Eras conceit allows fans who’ve joined at different stages of Swift’s career to each have their moment.

The jumbled chronology evades anything as simple as a narrative arc – but by presenting 20 years of diary deriven hits, Swift is making a sweeping statement about young adulthood.

Her songs contain everything: Growing pains, political awakenings, strained friendships, broken hearts, self-realisation, self-reliance, re-invention and, ultimately, survival.

She ends with Karma - a weird and funny entry in her catalogue.

It’s an ode to former enemies, whose downfall she watches with a cat purring on her lap, like some sort of pop star Bond villain.

But the song also has a valedictory air that makes it an apt concert closer. Success, Swift sings, is just reward for her determination and perseverance, no matter what life throws at her.

Ask me what I learned from all those years / Ask me what I earned from all those tears.

Ask me why so many fade, but I'm still here / I'm still here, I'm still here.

The question, then, is where she goes next?

Taylor Swift is an artist at the peak of her imperial phase. There are few ways to top a world tour that's demolished box office records and become a cultural phenomenon.

Some lyrics on her latest album hint she’s ready for a new challenge - but, for now, she can still make the whole stage shimmer