Tale of Two Taylors: Live in the Seattle Concert, Live on the Movie Screen


Row N seat 12 at Thornton Place Regal Theatres in Northgate. That’s where I spent two hours and 49 minutes watching the film version of Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour. Despite my advanced years this wasn’t my first Taylor Swift concert.

Thanks to a visiting French teenager I had attended Swift’s “1989” Tour when it came to Seattle August 8, 2015 at what is now Lumen Field. For $175 ($227.17 adjusted for inflation) I sat in the last row, the highest spot in the stadium. I was in the “cheap seats.” I remember thinking fans of the NFL sit up here to watch a football game which is taking place what seems like a quarter mile away with Lilliputian players.

Taylor Swift was a Lilliputian singer/dancer/composer, a dot on a stage. Even with binoculars the experience felt virtual, not real. But a live event is a live event, and the show was also all around me. My French guest fit right into the wild energy of fandom, and the volume of the show alternated with the volume of the young fans. To those like me, this was a ticket to generational change. My youth was inhibited by my version of Taylor Swift and Lumen field: Frank Sinatra and Johnny Ray at the Paramount Theatre in New York. “Tame” is a mild comparison.

There were many stories about Taylor Swift’s ticket meltdown of Ticketmaster when demand froze the ticket infrastructure. The book value of seats, for “Eras” concert seats varied from $49 to $499. By the time the resellers were done, seats were $500 to $7,000 varying by dates and sections of the stadium. My $175 seat in 2015, bought online well after the 1989 tour had been announced, turned out to be an historical oddity compared to today’s concert market. The US “Eras” tour was an instant domestic sellout.

You can also think of Taylor Swift as an international economy. The current “Eras” tour will play at least 151 concerts on 5 continents. The concert film has grossed more than $250 million globally, according to Variety, including $178.2 million domestically and $71.8 million internationally.

The US legs of the tour have recently concluded with $2.2 billion in sales, an average of $13 million a night to an average of 72,000 nightly attendance. Looked at as an economy, the US leg of the “Eras” tour made more money than the GDP of the 10 smallest countries on the World Bank GDP list.

Once the movie version was announced the anticipation and excitement started all over again and produced pre-sales of $100 million before the film opened in any of the 8,500 theatres that hosted it. The closest second for a concert movie was Justin Bieber whose movie version of his tour made $99 million after it opened. Michael Jackson’s tour film remains the king at $260 million, a figure that is considered not out of reach for the Swift film once worldwide distribution is added in.

For tickets that varied from the $20s to $13 for children (13 is the star’s favorite number), the best seat in the house meant being on stage with Taylor Swift and her backup singers and dancers. In Imax they are bigger than life, not Lilliputians from a stadium seat. Comfortable movie theatre seats, with or without popcorn are an inherently passive experience, but the on-screen performance is live and real, filmed by multiple crews in a Los Angeles stadium.

The editing offers the luxury of multiple angles, extreme closeups that heighten the experience, traveling shots that take you all over the expanded stages beyond the restrictive single-stage presentation of 2015.

Taylor Swift is not a great dancer, or a great singer for that matter. Since the age of 7 she has been a gifted composer and lyricist who has captured her generation’s adulation. In the film, the pyrotechnics, the colors, the high-fi multi-speaker surround sound that follows the action — all work to immerse the viewer. The full stadium performance runs three hours, so the film version at 2:49 is not much shorter. Even so, the film seems shorter. Certainly shorter than the recent Napoleon or Oppenheimer.

According to the Washington Post review: “ ‘The Eras Tour,’ like the show it captures, is so carefully calculated and precision-machined that it can begin to feel airless, even ersatz. But criticism is superfluous. Cynicism’s no good here. You can put the snark away. After years of dabbling, lyrically and literally, Taylor Swift has come for American cinema, and we can only wait for her next move. For now, it’s heart hands. Like, times a thousand.”

Peter Herford
Peter Herford
The Seattle-based author has many years of experience in national broadcast news, including years teaching journalism in mainland China.


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