I was the oldest person in a light-rail car stuffed with Swifties, a lot of girls and young women, along with a few parents — almost all mothers, but some fathers — shepherding the kids. Some were dressed in t-shirts with Taylor’s name, lyrics or image on them. Many of the mothers were also wearing them, in solidarity with their excited children, but really the mothers secretly liked Taylor too. The train was headed to Denver’s Mile High Stadium (or whatever it was called then) on a warm May evening in 2018.
Once inside the stadium, I watched people finding their seats as one of the warm-up acts played before the sun went down. A 110-foot-tall video screen overlooked a large stage and blocked the stadium’s infamous south stands, normally filled with boisterous Bronco fans, but now empty.
There is really no good explanation for me to react so strongly to the music of a woman who is thirty years younger than me. But I have a thing about certain singing voices, the ones that have brought me comfort over the years. The ones that resonate with me the most for reasons I don’t really understand. These voices often come from my childhood or adolescence — Simon and Garfunkel, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday (my parents had some of her records)... There’s a reason I never get tired of listening to music made by these people. It goes beyond the songs and the musicianship — it’s about the voice.
A few have touched me in my adult years, most recently Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast) and all of the Boygenius women — Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. Taylor has one of those voices too.
In June of 2020, Phoebe Bridgers released her second album, Punisher, and a month later, Taylor released Folklore. Those two albums, those two voices, helped a lot of people get through the pandemic. They arrived like much-needed comfort food. Folklore has gone on to become the Taylor Swift album that resonates the most with me. All seventeen of its songs are beautifully crafted and sung. To help make the universe right again, Phoebe and Taylor teamed up for a duet in 2021, and sang it together live at some of Taylor’s 2023 shows.
I think one of the biggest reasons Taylor has become so popular isn’t just because she’s an exceptionally talented songwriter or a great entertainer or a smart businesswoman, it’s because she has a voice that really touches people. And that’s why I got on a light-rail car in the spring of 2018 headed for a Taylor Swift concert, my second after I saw her 1989 tour at the Pepsi Center three years before.
This 2018 show was part of her Reputation tour. The concert was filled with a crazy mix of vibrant music, beautifully choreographed dancing, and gorgeous sets and lights. Those lights included Taylor’s magic light bracelets given to every fan. They glowed and winked in sync from 57,000 wrists. She also had these at her 1989 show, and back then I thought they were made out of magic. I couldn’t figure out how they worked, how they all changed color at the same time and pulsed along with the beat. I imagined an Oz-like figure hidden behind a secret curtain controlling the bracelets. But most likely, pixies were involved.
Watching the fans at the show, I witnessed lots of crying and screaming, and lots of camaraderie, new friendships quickly forming. And every word sung by Taylor was reflected back to her by those fans, each of them finding something in the lyrics, the style, and that voice... There’s something very human about her singing, something in the tone...
The concert featured the Reputation album of course, including imagery from the record cover and videos. I could have done without those ridiculous snakes, but it didn’t matter. Taylor was bringing joy to 57,000 people. The exuberance of the fans and their glowing magic light bracelets made them participants in the spectacle.
Near the end of the show, confetti fluttered down over us like we were all in a giant snow globe. Fans were catching the confetti out of the air, each piece quickly vanishing. The row of seats behind me was empty to make room for a large spotlight. A similar one was perched directly across the stadium from me. I looked back and scooped up a couple of pieces of confetti, which turned out to be the front page of a tiny Reputation newspaper.
When the fans started to leave the stadium, I decided to stay in my seat for a while until the crowd thinned a little. Watching excited Taylor Swift fans leave was actually kind of fun.
As the crowd was reduced to stragglers, I saw a small girl, about eight or nine, climbing up the aisle stairs, several feet ahead of her exhausted-looking mother. The girl was peering down each of the deserted rows, looking for something, a hint of disappointment on her face. When she reached my row, I held up a mini front page and said, “Is this what you’re looking for?”
She walked down the row of empty seats, looked at me and said, “Ohhh, thank you!” as I handed the confetti scrap to her. The girl’s relieved mother arrived at the end of the row and gave me a smile. A little later, I walked out of the stadium surrounded by buzzing Swifties, thinking, I gave an eight-year-old kid a small piece of happiness.
Five years later, I was again sitting in Denver’s Mile High Stadium, this time on a summer night for her 2023 Eras Tour. I was surrounded by 70,000 Swifties, who are the friendliest, nicest people you might ever encounter. They are adorable and crazy and sweet and kind. And they love pink and lavender cowboy hats and boots. Their Beatlemania bursts made me smile every time.
The magic light bracelets were back and they seemed even more magical this time — pulsing and flickering like before — but tonight the lights occasionally moved in waves across sections of the stadium. Like swarms of summer fireflies that change color. They glowed and danced like this because Taylor sprinkled her pixie dust on them.
I found Taylor’s Eras show overwhelmingly beautiful — her astonishing dancers, the costumes, her ace band and backup singers, the gorgeous songs, the lights, the large video screen adding endless wonder... But it was Taylor’s amazing performance, especially her voice, that really touched 70,000 people.
She sang 45 songs divided into small sets for nine of her ten Eras (skipping the first album). The Folklore segment resonated with me the most. The Folklore cabin, last used for her 2021 Grammys performance, was brought out in front of the video screen. Taylor sang on the roof, then inside it, then she came down the stairs onto the lengthy ramp through the crowd. The dancers whirled around the cabin, while the video screen displayed a magical forest and beach.
The seven Folklore songs Taylor sang this night, crafted and recorded during the pandemic, sounded even more magical now, moving out of their birth in isolation into a world still healing. And what better place to celebrate this than in a stadium full of kind people. Your brought them here, Taylor. And you wowed them. And you made them cry and scream and find new friends.
The other Eras were equally magical, each with their own distinct identity, colors and songs. But really it all came down to that voice... Soothing us after three-and-a-half years of anxiety and loss. Since 2020, Taylor Swift has given us three studio albums of beautiful new songs and three re-recorded older albums with extra tracks. And then this dazzling three hours of wonder.
I thought about the eight-year-old girl I gave the tiny newspaper to at Taylor’s Reputation show five years ago before the world collapsed. She’s a teenager now. Maybe she was at this show or the one the previous night. I’m convinced she was here tonight with her mother, hidden somewhere in this glorious snow globe filled with 70,000 friendly Swifties. She was probably trading friendship bracelets with them. She was probably dressed in something really cool. And she was probably singing along with every word from that enchanting voice.