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I took a crash course in Taylor Swift studies… but nothing could have prepared me for her brilliance

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The $2.2bn Eras tour rolled out of Scotland last night, leaving 220k delirious fans in its wake
A recent inclusion on Taylor Swift’s Eras tour setlist has the singer reimagining a brief love affair as an alien abduction. She is beamed up in ‘a cloud of sparkling dust’ and, on some spaceship never described, is smitten by her captor.

Then, all too soon, she lands back on Earth with a bump with no option but to carry on with her old life.

This Monday morning, the city of Edinburgh can surely relate to the song Down Bad.

For three nights the world’s biggest music star played the abductress and some 220,000 of us were duly captured and placed under her spell.

Now her spaceship is moving on and we are staying put. Edinburgh is returning to type. ‘You’ll have had your Taylor Swift,’ it tells us.

From soulful guitar to synth pop, Swift left her fans utterly mesmerised

Some of us, myself included, may struggle for months to make sense of what happened to us over a 46-song, three-and-a-half-hour musical travelogue which still seemed to be over too quickly.

I am a man in my 50s. In front of me stood an 11-year-old girl in a sparkly jacket who spent much of the show swapping friendship bracelets with children even younger than her.

What was I doing here? And if primary school kids were loving it, why was I, a fellow who likes to consider his musical tastes refined, loving it too?

The answer to the first question is I was there because I had attended a Taylor Swift night class in Glasgow a month ago to sit among fellow newbies to her 11-album oeuvre and learn what all the fuss was about.

And there was such a lot of fuss, wasn’t there, over a Pennsylvania-born songstress who started out as a teenage country singer then gravitated to mainstream pop a couple of albums in?

Like so many with fixed ideas on the music which appeals to them, I was aware of the hysteria but not terribly interested in it.

But when Glasgow Clyde College offered a crash course for beginners ahead of the Eras tour arriving at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium, I signed up to be educated along with other mums and dads of a certain age who would escort the bona fide Swifties in their family to the show.

We were given a guided tour of the ex-boyfriends – key, we were told, to understanding Taylor.

Among them was the actor Jake Gyllenhaal who, we learned, never returned the scarf she left at his place, and worse, was a no-show at her 21st birthday party.

A song called All Too Well, which I’d never heard, documents this and other grievances. Seriously? I thought at the time. Does this trivia really qualify for the ‘need-to-know’ column?

There’s a song called Fearless (another new one on me) where, at the appropriate juncture, we were meant to make a heart with our hands when Swift does it on stage. The whole stadium would do it, we were told. Be ready for the moment.

I figured I’d keep my hands in my pockets.

We were given instruction on Taylor-themed costumes. What would yours be? The sparkly crop tops and skater skirts of the 1989 album era, perhaps?

Or maybe the vampish look of the Reputation era – leather body-suit picked out with snakes, undertaker eyeliner and the reddest lipstick ever?

On reflection, I decided jeans and a shirt would do it for me.

And we were given the likely set-list – the songs to bone up on in the month remaining before Swift arrived in Scotland. Obediently, I jotted down the ones I should be listening to.

In truth, I already knew a few –almost everyone, surely, has heard Shake It Off. I’d long had a soft spot for We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, a song whose spoken line after the chorus – ‘like … ever!’ – cannot fail to raise a smile.

And I knew Swift’s pandemic period album Folklore well. Adult-themed and introspective, it established her, in my mind at least, as that rarest of creatures – a commercial pop star with substance.

But there was much homework still to do and I dutifully applied myself to it, starting with her 2022 Midnights era. And there, I am afraid, is where the wheels came off my study plan. I couldn’t stop listening to Midnights.

So many eras to explore, yet this one held me prisoner – the songs Anti-Hero and Midnight Rain on repeat on almost every car journey for weeks. Something utterly bizarre was happening to me. I was becoming a Swiftie.

Fans were captivated with several costume changes throughout the show

This, then, was the background to my night at Murrayfield with my daughter who, bless her, kept a tighter leash on her excitement at being at the most highly attended stadium show in Scotland … like, ever … than her dad did.

You see, the last time I attended a concert in this venue was as a teenager during U2’s Joshua Tree tour in 1987. Back then, your pop stars were mere specks in the distance. There were no vast video screens making Bono’s face the size of a Morningside villa.

In June 2024, when Taylor comes on stage and affects surprise at the dizzying levels of adoration directed at her with her still-charming ‘Who? Me?’ schtick, you see every tooth in her smile and the joy in her eyes. You cannot help but be on her side for every one of the 210 minutes of performing she has yet to do.

And, something singular about copper-bottomed star quality, you cannot take your eyes off her.

It may not have been the set-list I’d have chosen for her, but the point of Eras, if you haven’t already grasped it, is this is the singer recreating every stage of her remarkably productive and diverse career, from country, to pop, to folk-tinged ballads, to the dark, synth-laden reflections of Midnights which have monopolised my recent listening.

Every one of us will have our favourite eras, and the only sense I could bring to 11-year-olds being in the audience alongside me is theirs were surely different from mine.

But what impresses most about the eras which move me least is the astonishing creativity and scale of their staging.

The show is such a mindbogglingly massive production that you are amazed they even attempted it – and stupefied that it’s delivered so perfectly and with entertainment value dialled to max throughout.

I was mesmerised by the trap doors on two of the three stages, through which Swift would disappear and reappear, mere seconds later, in a new costume for a fresh era. Sometimes the trap doors swallowed up whole dance troupes – or threw up a piano.

In one of the show’s most spectacular moments, Swift dives into a trap door as if into a pool and the big screen images lull us into thinking she is somehow swimming underwater back to the main stage where, sure enough, she appears moments later. Spellbinding stagecraft.

And yet, it was the quieter moments which gave me goosebumps. That song she wrote about Jake Gyllenhaal – of which I was oblivious a month ago – is a ten-minute tour de force delivered by the singer atop a plinth with an acoustic guitar and little in the way of backing.

That lost scarf and 21st birthday snub were chronicled just as I was warned they would be – only this time not as trivia.

Suddenly they were central to my concerns, for they stood at the heart of a stand-out song of romantic remembrances which marries the personal with the universal.

I was transfixed through every second of it. No other response will do when a songwriter of such quality pours her heart out in front of 73,000 people.

Mail man Jonathan with starstruck fellow Swifties at Murrayfield concert
You barely breathe until the song ends, then gasp at her achievement – one of 46 on the night, remember, and dozens more widely-adored Swift songs didn’t make the set list.

Mid-show, we moved to the Folklore era, which has been combined with that of the album that followed, Evermore, to make room in the set for songs from her latest album release.

The ‘singer-songwriter’ section was characterised by some reviewers as a ‘lull’ in proceedings. Not for this fan.

Indeed, this was the era of the show which largely explained why chaps with grey in their beards were here at all – stripped down Swift, selling the tunes with melody and songcraft, showing the world her musical heritage includes not just Madonna but Joni Mitchell and – the man she was named after – James Taylor too.

How extraordinary that a song called Champagne Problems, played virtually solo on a moss-covered grand piano sitting next to a log cabin stage set, drew the most extended applause of the night.

It is, to be sure, a bewitching meditation on love, a turned- down marriage proposal, and loss, but harder work for your average 11 year old, you feel, than Shake It Off. It moved me beyond words, and when the applause didn’t stop, it moved the singer too.

She sat there on the piano stool, as if not sure what to do. Then she rose and smiled and placed her hand to her heart.

Still the audience would not stop telling her they loved her. Two minutes and 13 seconds this outpouring of Edinburgh appreciation lasted before the star found the words to move on. She said she loved them too.

Sure, these moments happen at Taylor Swift shows across the world. It’s as easy as pie to tell your fans how special they are. But it’s trickier to convince old cynics like me that you mean every word.

I had raised a suspicious eyebrow minutes earlier when I heard Swift mention that her Folklore era was probably inspired by online videos of Scotland. Yeah, I bet you say that to all the countries.

Yet here she was, pure choked, as we might say here, by her Scottish fans’ devotion. I certainly bought it.

Midnights, the era in which I’d been blissfully lost for a month, was saved until dusk and savoured like a fine after-dinner brandy by this audience member.

How was it possible, I wondered, to come to Swift for her folky stuff and be waylaid so completely by the electro-whatever-it-is soundscapes of her 2022 album?

Who knows? But Champagne Problems and Midnight Rain – two songs which, surely, should be by two different writers – sealed the deal for me. The woman is a genius. It was a privilege to see her at work.

Others, less fortunate, travelled to Edinburgh only to hear her from as close to the stadium as they could be without a ticket.

Though not covered in my crash course, I learn this is an established breed known as Taylorgaters who wish to hoover up whatever scraps they can, having failed to secure admission. As a latecomer to the party, I feel a pang of guilt for them.

When it was over I asked for my daughter’s review.

‘The best music show I’ve ever seen,’ she said simply. ‘What did you think?’

Me? With nearly 30 years longer on the planet to refine my musical sensibilities?

You do know I once saw Bruce Springsteen play a stadium in his native New Jersey.

Better than The Boss? I’d have to think about that.

And, as I crash back down to earth from the Swift spaceship this Monday morning, I’m still thinking. Did this really happen? Am I losing my grip?

Or did a mere mainstream pop singer just play the show of my lifetime?

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