After Five Years of Waiting, Taylor Swift Delivers Pure Magic
Swift’s three-night Philadelphia stand served as a fiery confetti-cannon reminder that the artist's greatest strength is always her connection with her fans.
The sunburn was the first giveaway — bright and pink on their shoulders and stretching across their cheeks. The “13” and “Lover” tattoos on Christina Zilocchi’s right arm were the second, two symbols of a fandom that brought her from Hightstown, New Jersey, in the dark of night to secure her place at the front of the Lincoln Financial Field ticket line — a line for hopers and lovers and wildest dreamers who pushed aside common sense on the off chance a Taylor Swift ticket would miraculously appear.
By 6 p.m. Friday, 13 hours after taking her spot at the front of the line, the 19-year-old was still ticketless.
“It’s just the power of the fandom,” she said alongside her friend and fellow sunburnt Swiftie Emily Poulter. “Taylor has been my favorite artist for forever.”
The two stood before a line of dozens, all hoping, praying, that somehow the ticket gods would open the heavens and sprinkle tickets down from above. They shared phone chargers and held each other’s places in line as nature beckoned them to the Port-a-Potties. As the day progressed and overzealous mothers walked past the line and straight to the ticket window, hoping for the same last-minute miracle, the line-sitters glared.
I wished Christina and Emily luck, but having passed dozens of handmade EXTRA TICKETS? PLEASE!! signs on the brief walk from the subway to the stadium, I knew their night likely wouldn’t end within its walls.
A few minutes earlier, my friend Molly and I had climbed aboard the Broad Street Line and into the Amazon. “It’s like Titanic,” she said, as the train windows fogged with body heat to the point where condensation was collecting and dripping in quick, greasy streaks down the windows. Makeup ran, armpits saturated, but no one truly, really, cared. What’s 15 minutes on the train to Buson if you’ve waited five years or a lifetime to see Taylor Swift?
My own experience with Swift started back in 2008, as the album that launched her into mega-stardom, Fearless, was released. I was introduced to her through a short Washington Post profile written by J. Freedom du Lac, and, skeptical of anything country and borderline hostile to anything pop-country, I flippantly burned Fearless onto a CD. Within one play, the hook was set. The following spring, I took a road trip with two similarly skeptical friends. We spent the whole 2,300-mile drive scanning the radio to find “Love Story,” Swift’s paean to young love. In retrospect, the song set the path for 15 years of Swift — forbidden love, shifting narrators, swelling bridges.
On the final leg of the trip, somewhere between Atlanta and D.C., on the umpteenth listen, one of my companions chimed up from the back seat: “Oh, now I get it.”
I thought about that moment nine songs into Swift’s set, as the track’s opening banjo plucks coursed through the stadium and the sell-out crowd screamed and chanted and lurched. “We were both young when I first saw you,” she sang with 67,000 back-up singers, myself included. As an artist grows and you grow, your relationship with that artist’s music changes. In 2008, unmarried, childless, world at my feet, I connected with the protagonists, young and in love, ready to do anything to be together. Fifteen years later, I found myself in the audience, not connecting with the characters, but rather cheering them on. Yes, it’s worth it, keep fighting.
In those 15 years, I’ve gotten married and had two children. They’re perfect, those three, and they’ve forced me to tear down and reconstruct my entire perspective on life and love, rebuilding my definition of both to focus on them. So it’s unsurprising that later in the set, as the 2020 novella “Betty” trickled out through the stadium, my attention steered to my kids. I was no longer in these stories; they were. They were skateboarding and navigating summer love and feeling that deep mourning that only a teenage breakup can bring.
And that’s okay — nay, even good. It’s part of the magic of Swift’s catalog, the world she’s built, that I can enjoy these songs in a totally different way than I first did. That’s not due to any magical thinking on my part; it’s because she’s crafted these malleable worlds that say Come on in to anyone who’s willing to listen.
It would be malpractice to spend this story simply navel-gazing and not allowing a bit of time to discuss the fact that, fairly unequivocally, this was one of the best stadium shows I’ve ever witnessed, a three-hour pummeling of confetti and fire that made us all feel we were in a snow globe, removed from the outside world. Swift played her two best albums — Red and Folklore — back to back, brilliantly using the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” to span the two stylistically antithetical albums. (I’m eagerly anticipating any mail regarding my top-albums assertion.) Swift’s crowd-work was commanding and charming in equal parts, inviting the crowd in while still reminding them why they were there.
We’ve all aged so much in the past five years, as the pandemic warped our sense of time and longevity. It’s clear these years have taken an emotional toll on Swift, and she admitted as much onstage.
“I write my feelings down, and then I sing them to you,” she said. “And eventually I feel better.”
Nearly four hours after we all crushed into the stadium, Swift released us back into the South Philly air, full of hope and glitter and maybe a few hard seltzers. The next day, on Saturday afternoon, I got a text from Christina Zilocchi, whom I’d met online outside the Linc.
“Just wanted to let you know we did not get tickets,” she said. “Sadly no luck on our end.”
I texted back my condolences and, expecting her to be crestfallen, received an uplifting text in return.
“Going into it I knew we had to expect not to get tickets so we weren’t that disappointed,” she said. “ … but at least we tried!”
Here’s hoping she’ll make her way inside, this week or 15 years down the road. Either way, Swift will be waiting, however old Zilocchi is when she finally finds her.
For photos from the Taylor Swift Eras Tour in Philadelphia, go here.