• Review

REVIEW: Taylor Swift at Paycor Stadium

Photo Cred: TAS Rights Management Premium PR

Before this weekend, Cincinnati had not witnessed a Taylor Swift concert since the Fearless Tour stop at U.S. Bank Arena (now Heritage Bank Center) in 2010. Over a decade and eight albums later, the Swifties of Cincy flooded the city to enjoy two back-to-back nights of sold out concerts as part of The Eras Tour. As Cincinnati quickly transformed into ‘Swiftinnati,’ and amidst the mania of anyone attending any of the many events happening this weekend, it’s almost too easy to ignore what a feat it is to see such collective enthusiasm in thousands upon thousands of people, all for one thing: music that means the world to them.

The Eras Tour is a landmark for Taylor Swift and Swifties alike, a celebration of her career up to this point. Due to the pandemic and having to cancel the Lover Fest tour, Swift had not toured since her 2018 Reputation Stadium Tour. Since then, she has released four studio albums, as well as the re-recorded and extended versions of her albums Fearless and Red, dubbed (Taylor’s Version), meaning she has a lot to commemorate and a lot of lost time to make up for on stage. Rather than feel like a greatest hits tour though, Swift appears on stage rejuvenated, as eager to connect as the fans screaming and singing along are. As she opened her set with the lyrics, “It’s you and me, that’s my whole world,” from ‘Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince,’ the Cincinnati audience truly felt like the whole world.

Night 2 of The Eras Tour Cincinnati takeover wasted no time getting started. In fact, the show started an hour early due to an inclement weather warning. Unfortunately, this meant that the first opener’s set, Gracie Abrams, was canceled for the evening- though she did make a special appearance later on in the night still. MUNA made their Cincinnati debut this weekend, showing the sold out crowd that, while they might still be a new band, they were more than prepared to entertain and charm their way across the stadium stage as if it were effortless. In response to their shortened set, lead vocalist Katie Gavin jokes, “we’re here for a good time, not a long time!” Ultimately, MUNA provided a good time, not only by handling their shortened set with such grace, but by performing at such a high quality that commanded attention, respect, and the dancing of the crowd. Of course, the dancing was only just getting started.

Many concerts are loud, but there is perhaps nothing louder than the sound of over 65,000 people cheering as Taylor Swift emerges on stage. She began the show right where she left off what was supposed to be her last worldwide tour: the Lover album. Thanking fans for not freaking out when she took the stage an hour early, she joked that the weather was out of her control, but she’s working on it. Swift alternated between dance routines and guitar playing, traversing the entire length of the stage nearly every song and hardly ever standing still, a feat of physicality and professionalism she and her team upheld for the next three hours.

Following Lover, Swift transitioned into the Fearless era. More than any other era, this was the point in the show where one could really feel how lived in and loved Taylor Swift’s songs are. Maybe because Fearless was the last album to have had a tour stop in Cincinnati, or maybe because so many grew up to songs like ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong With Me,’ there was something extra sweet about hearing the crowd sing along to these songs. Hearts went up everywhere, as these were the songs that highlighted the start of Taylor Swift’s super stardom and the starting point of many fan’s experience with her music.

In stark contrast to the pure joy and cheerfulness of Fearless, The Eras Tour continued on to evermore, the second surprise album Swift released in 2020, known for its more mature songs of infidelity, loss, love, and grief. Paycor Stadium quickly transformed itself into the cottage-core, witchy atmosphere the song ‘Willow’ demands. Despite the shift in emotion, there was no drop in audience participation. Fans were just as passionate to sing along to Swift’s tribute to her grandmother in ‘marjorie’ and the frustrations of longtime sweethearts separating in ‘champagne problems’ as they were to the more traditional pop songs in Swift’s catalog. The extended keys outro of ‘tolerate it’ shifted to the hisses of a snake, ushering in the last era Swift toured in, Reputation.

While it was Cleveland who got to witness Swift in the gore and glory of The Reputation Stadium Tour, Cincinnati saw Swift performing at an even higher level. The energy throughout the Reputation era’s set was fierce, as the crowd felt all the annoyance and rage in ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ and all the relief of falling in love during ‘Delicate,’ in which the crowd was prepared to follow the tradition of screaming “1, 2, 3, let’s go b****” to Taylor. The song that garnered the highest amount of attention and praise from Swifties had to be ‘Don’t Blame Me,’ a song in which Swift’s vocal range is at full power as she finds similarities in love to the extremities of religion and madness.

While the Speak Now era only enjoyed the performance of ‘Enchanted,’ the performance was still lovely. Bracelets glowed purple as Swift and 65,000 people sang along to a song released over ten years ago, recently re-made popular by a tik-tok trend featuring the bridge of the song. Despite not having a fuller set, Swifties can still rejoice in the knowledge that Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is set to come out later this week on July 7th.

In the only era transition that matched chronologically with when albums were originally released, the Red era followed. The Red era’s set was back to back radio hits for the Cincinnati swifties to jump, dance, and sing to. ‘22,’ ‘I Knew You Were Trouble,’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ were never as fun as they were in this crowd. Notably, Swift concluded this era’s set with the full ten minute version of ‘All Too Well,’ a powerful song that Swift reclaimed when she released Red (Taylor’s Version) in 2021. Every time you thought the audience couldn’t possibly sing any louder, they did, screaming favorite lines such as “f*** the patriarchy,” “you kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath,” the entirety of the bridge, and, frankly, the entirety of the song. For those 10 minutes, nobody came up for air, as the emotional intensity overtook the entire stadium.

The folklore era followed with the longest set of songs (matched only later by the Midnights era). Unlike the other eras, folklore was introduced with a spoken rendition of the song ‘seven,’ a bittersweet ode to childhood, with lyrics from the 1989 song ‘Wildest Dreams’ interlaced throughout. The first surprise album of 2020, folklore was an enormous shift in Swift’s music, expanding her from her country roots and pop star fame to a softer sound found in genres like indie folk, and quickly became regarded as one of her best albums. For many last night in Cincinnati, folklore is also the favorite album, comforting in the isolating times of the covid shutdowns. Hearing the infamous love triangle songs, ‘August,’ ‘Betty,’ and ‘Cardigan’ live felt like shedding the loneliness of those times and fully re-emerging into the world. Whimsical and emotional, Cincinnati’s audience constantly raised the dramatics of this era, meeting Swift with just as much intensity during ‘illicit affairs’ and ‘my tears ricochet’ as Swift must have felt when she first wrote these songs.

Next came what was arguably the biggest era for Taylor Swift thus far in her career: 1989. Swift performed all of her hits from this era- ‘Shake It Off,’ ‘Blank Space,’ ‘Wildest Dreams,’ ‘Bad Blood,’ and ‘Style.’ Fueled by the passion for this artist, the crowd somehow managed to get louder still as everyone sang along to these infamous songs. Fans who have been following the tour were also quick to notice a new costume during the 1989 Era, as Swift nodded an appreciation to Cincinnati’s own football team in a bright orange and black-striped outfit, proving that she really was turning Cincinnati into Swiftinnati. The light up bracelets every fan was provided at the gates sparkled throughout this set, just as much as the lights bouncing off of the bedazzled, glittering crowd.

A highlight for many Swifties throughout The Eras Tour has been the two surprise songs Swift performs by herself near the end of the show. Every night, she selects two different songs from her discography, seemingly at random (but as Swifties know, you can never be too sure how planned these things are), to surprise the audience. Friday's audience to a guitar rendition of ‘I’m Only Me When I’m With You,’ a song from the deluxe edition of her self-titled debut album, as well as the live debut of ‘evermore’ on her piano.

For night 2, Swift took the surprises to a whole new level, performing three songs for the first time ever on The Eras Tour. The first song came with an extra surprise, as Swift was joined by Cincinnati native and frequent collaborator, Aaron Dessner (best known from The National) for the live debut of the Evermore track, ‘Ivy.’ Following that rush, Swift ensured Gracie Abrams still participated in the evening’s festivities by bringing her out for the second surprise song, a duet of Abrams’ own ‘I miss you, I’m sorry.’ The pair’s vocals worked beautifully together, as the audience shared in the heartwarming intimacy of watching Swift give Abrams her moment. Finally, Swift debuted the Reputation track ‘Call It What You Want’ by herself on the piano. As exciting as the pageantry and costumes are throughout the show, the stripped back performances of these surprise songs prove that she doesn’t need any extra help to be a strong performer. Standing in front of the crowd with only her guitar is just as exciting and as good a performance as her dance routines. Really, she’s having just as much fun as the audience.

Finally, the show ended in the most recent era: Midnights. Here, Swift performed seven of her newest songs in their entirety, making Midnights the only era of the evening not to have any shortened songs. All of Cincinnati was likely to hear the chanting of “Hi! It’s me! I’m the problem, it’s me!” Though she was already nearly three hours into the show, Swift and her team were as energetic as when they first arrived, feeding off of the energy of the crowd just as much as the crowd was feeding off of the performers. Ending in fireworks and confetti, there wasn’t a single person who wasn’t singing with their entire hearts to ‘Karma,’ the final song of the night. As Taylor bowed and ran across the entire stage to give her thanks and say her goodbyes, the crowd only got louder and the light-up bracelets glowed the strongest they had all evening throughout Paycor Stadium.

Though Swift was the host and star of the evening, she was also gratuitous in sharing her spotlight. There was at least one song in nearly every era in which Swift had her musicians follow her up the length of the stage and she made sure that everyone cheered for them as loudly as they cheered for her. Longtime guitarist Paul Sidoti (a Cleveland native) and Swift shared many moments together, especially during the Fearless portion of the evening, that are known as iconic staples of a Taylor Swift tour. Karina DePiano, the newest keyboardist for The Eras Tour, also received a warm introduction from Swift. It was genuinely endearing to see how Swift ensured that every member of her team, the vocalists, musicians and dancers, were highlighted, praised, and cheered for, as they were every bit as important to the performance as Swift herself.

Every moment of The Eras Tour was so full of the things that make a concert great: talented performers and fans of all ages and backgrounds pinching themselves in disbelief at what they're about to participate in. From wonderful sound quality and stunning visuals to the choreography and costumes, Taylor Swift and her dancers, vocalists, and band gave Cincinnati two nights of genuinely perfect concerts. Even the shortened songs were met with nothing short of ecstasy. The lasting impact of The Eras Tour is the sort of connection and intimacy one can only share with thousands of strangers who all feel exactly the same way that you do, swapping friendship bracelets and wearing their most elaborate outfits, dancing and singing to songs that have been the soundtrack to many lives for many years, and knowing how special it is to have such a moment. As The Eras Tour continues across the globe, Cincinnati was truly lucky to be part of the monumental tour and the audience knew it, as Taylor herself stated that the Cincinnati crowd was the type she had dreamed about growing up.


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Cincinnati, you did it. You really did it.

Cincinnati has a lot to offer and I like to think, no, believe, that even more good things are on the way. I really hope this weekend was our first gigantic step towards that future. And I really hope that those who didn’t feel like joining in this time around will the next time.