Boxd Office: A Long Time Coming—Taylor Swift brings fandom (and selfies) into cinemas

It was all by design: she’s a mastermind.
It was all by design: she’s a mastermind.

As Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour shakes up the theatrical landscape, Sacha Judd celebrates the democratization of dancing in cinemas—while pondering if the preservation of the show in movie form takes the fun out of it.

“The seven people in my screening who timed their bathroom break to ‘Enchanted’ should’ve continued walking out of that theater and straight into the ocean.” —⁠Kevin

My favorite answer to the question, “if you could time travel, where would you go?” (particularly when anyone has given a deep or serious answer) is “the American leg of Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour”. I must have watched Madonna: Truth or Dare a million times, captivated by the iconic star owning her controversial performances to sell out crowds of 70,000 plus around the world.

Madonna in Alek Keshishian’s Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991).
Madonna in Alek Keshishian’s Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991).

While Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is not a behind-the-scenes documentary, watching the camera zoom into SoFi Stadium on a cinema screen during a recent Saturday night, I was struck by the similarities. In Miss Americana, Taylor Swift says, “The female artists I know have reinvented themselves twenty times more than the male artists. They have to—or else you’re out of a job. Constantly having to reinvent. Constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny.” The Eras Tour is nothing if not a bejeweled tribute to that endless process of female pop reinvention.

“Technically speaking, the kinetic and dynamic camerawork and editing during the upbeat songs add such a fantastic level of excitement. The stage production was awesome across the board, especially the little details and surprises hidden on the stage, like the blocks that came out of the bottom to build like this moving wall. The pool effect was cool too. The wardrobe was also really good, with the Reputation era being maybe my fave.” —⁠Rafael

Bootleg concert recordings began in the ’60s and ’70s as a way to preserve something rare and ephemeral: performances by bands that had since broken up, unreleased songs that were seldom performed; setlists that weren’t repeated. In the livestreaming era our ability to instantly record and share high-quality concert footage has produced an entirely different result. Now fans chase the same “perfect” concert experience. They make the same kinds of friendship bracelets, don themed outfits, and learn fan responses to scream out at the right moments.

This isn’t unique to Taylor. Harry Styles fans have their own call and responses, dances choreographed for specific tracks. During Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour, as the star sang the line in ‘Energy’, “Look around, everybody on mute”, entire stadiums of partying, singing fans went silent and still. (Beyoncé, of course, has announced her own cinema takeover—this coming December her self-directed film of the Renaissance tour will hit theaters.)

“A bejeweled tribute to that endless process of female pop reinvention.”
“A bejeweled tribute to that endless process of female pop reinvention.”

But there’s something oddly flattening about the way we’re all trying to have the same, flawless, idealized concert. Our night isn’t different, or special, or ephemeral. It’s endlessly preserved, from every angle, night after night. The Eras Tour film takes this a step further. Now you’re seeing The Eras Tour (Taylor’s Version). The definitive version. The one that Taylor herself attended as a fan in the cinema, dancing and singing along (with Beyoncé).


“taylor swift was standing 15ft in front of me. best movie experience of my life 🤗” —⁠Grey

What’s curious about the timing of the release is that it comes mid-tour, with Swift due back on the road from February through November 2024, whereas the Renaissance World Tour is well and truly over (Beyoncé announced her film’s release on the final day of her tour, October 1, in Kansas City). It will be fascinating to see how such deep knowledge of the show, absorbed over one or several screenings, affects next year’s live Eras audiences. Or will Swift and her crew change things up, beyond the “surprise songs”, to keep us on our toes?

“Out of this world production and performances. Something special to treasure forever. This was also my test for going so long without a toilet break come February when I finally see this concert in person. I failed that test.” —⁠Kylo

Come March, the author will be one of those faces in the crowd.
Come March, the author will be one of those faces in the crowd.

For every logged view of The Eras Tour on Letterboxd—and there have been more than 90,000 at the time of writing, with the film locked in at a 4.3-out-of-five star average rating—there are more Swift fans, lucky actual-ticket-holders, who will try to hold out until they’ve seen the show itself, in order to preserve some semblance of the unknown.

People often ask me why I go to multiple concerts on a single Harry Styles tour, and my only response in the past has been that it’s like going to rewatch my favorite film. Now The Eras Tour can also be your favorite film. Every night is concert night. “It’s not a movie!” the one-star brigade bleat. Of course it is—just as much a movie as Stop Making Sense is, with just as much dancing in cinemas.

“There were rambunctious crowds of twenty-somethings. Women dancing with their baby brothers. Moms taken aback as they didn’t expect Taylor to say ‘fuck’ so many times. The audience definitely made this experience vivacious and fun. Not quite the same euphoria as being in the maddening throng of a concert stadium, but it taps into some of that same energy.” —⁠Cassandra 

The scale of the production, the staging, the precision of the choreography is all a testament to Swift’s seismic presence on the world stage right now. Again, in her own words, “If I don’t beat everything I’ve done prior, it will be deemed a colossal failure.” As ever, she was determined to do things her own way, negotiating an unprecedented distribution deal with AMC and bypassing the major studios altogether.

And without that studio muscle? Cinemas are packed with fans decked out in their best Eras finery, dancing and singing and taking selfies in the aisles. Everything we’ve been told cinema is not, dismantled in one big, fun-filled party. And at a time when concert tickets are becoming prohibitively expensive, there’s been something so democratic about people who might never get to be in a stadium getting the full concert experience, chants and all—at prices set by the artist herself, not the cinemas.

In the same way that we all had a fabulous time dressing up to see Barbie, suddenly remembering what fun it was to go out to the movies with your friends and have a great time. In the same way we will again when Bey’s Renaissance movie hits the screens. (Pre-sales for that film are reportedly already in the millions, even given the cinematically tricky December holiday period.)

Saviors of cinema: Beyoncé, Barbie, Taylor.
Saviors of cinema: Beyoncé, Barbie, Taylor.

Can any single film “save cinema”? Of course not. But can cinemas that engage with and celebrate fans bring us back to enjoying films in public again? Absolutely. The women responsible for these joy-filled movie experiences should take a bow, and the men who run the theatrical industry should be taking notes.

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ is currently in theaters.  ‘Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé’ will be released in US, Canada and Mexico on December 1, 2023, with more territories to follow. The 4K restoration of ‘Stop Making Sense’ is currently in or coming to select theaters around the world via A24. 

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