The time is 7:55 pm PDT on Friday, 28th July. A sea of sparkly outfits dress every seat at the nearly 70,000 capacity Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The crowd is on their feet and screaming along to Lady Gaga’s “Applause”, which turns into a deafening roar as a giant countdown clock pops up on the video screen. Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Own Me” underscores the 2-minute countdown (a nod to the lady of the evening’s battle for her masters), until everything fades to black.

The lyrics, “It’s been a long time coming,” float dreamily from the speakers on repeat. The stage screen slides open, revealing ginormous petal apparatuses controlled by the tour’s dancers. The dreamy intro begins to mix in album names in rapid order - “It’s Fearless… Big Reputation… They said Speak Now-ow”. The petals fold over a spot on the stage, and hysteria breaks out when we hear, “My name is Taylor, and I was born in 1989”. There are a few more beats, a few more moments of anticipation, and then….

The petals snap upward, revealing the only woman capable of commanding such a stage: Taylor Swift. The show of the decade has begun and spans a career of 17 years, 10 albums, and a whopping 45 songs. Just as Swift humbly announced “I’ll be your host this evening, my name is Taylor,” please allow me to guide you through the 3.5 hour mega-show that is The Eras Tour.

Era 1: Lover

Following a shortened version of “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” comes crowd favorite and soon to be single, “Cruel Summer”. It’s a pinnacle of the show when Swift introduces the first bridge of the evening, the section of songwriting she is most revered for. As she struts down the stage for the first time, her sheer pop prowess emanates across the stadium.

This power is something she knows she holds. As she makes her way to the top of the stage, she flexes her bicep and coyly gives it a kiss. She struts to the 4-level office building that now dons the stage, slips on a power suit, and introduces the next song… “I guess what I’m trying to say is… you’re making me feel like The Man”.

The choreography for The Man is pure satire. With her dancers in tow, Swift acts out the part of a rich and powerful man - fist bumps, power poses, tossing papers, and the like. As she reaches the top level, she sits on a desk and props the red bottoms of her Louboutins up for all to see - this shot has become the photo of the tour.

The Lover Era continues with the activist infused “You Need to Calm Down” and a “good-old fashioned love song”, “Lover”. The first era concludes on the self-reflective ballad, “The Archer” and Taylor departs the stage for the first transition of the evening.

Era 2: Fearless

The band rejoins the stage as, aptly, golden sparks fly down in a glittering display on the mainstage. There’s an extended intro of largely indistinct music until one guitar riff signals that the first song in this era will be title track, “Fearless”. Taylor re-enters the stage in a sparkling gold fringe dress, which catches the light just right when she breaks into her signature twirl.

It’s at once the joyous twirl of a young teenager on her first world tour, and the joyous twirl of an adult woman celebrating how far her music has brought her. This section is pure fun and nostalgia with the likes of “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story” rounding out the set.

Era 3: evermore

As the sparkly “Fearless” era fades out, nature imagery takes its place. As the frost on screen melts away, three dimensional pine trees pop out of the main stage. There’s a few beats, and then Swift returns to the stage with the Haim sisters in tow. The three sisters from the opening band are dressed in their medieval period-wear as seen in Swift’s “Bejeweled” music video, and the quartet cheerfully sing their way through a song about murder, “no body, no crime”.

A witchy rendition of lead single “willow” is next, complete with cape throwing choreography and glowing orange orbs. The mood then shifts from whimsical to melancholy, with epitaph “majorie”, written for Swift’s late grandmother. If you look close enough at the screen, you’ll see there are tears in Taylor’s eyes. Despite the next song, “champagne problems”, following the sadder trend, you wouldn’t guess it from the crowds reaction - so much so that the cheering goes on for minutes after the song concludes.

With now happy tears in her eyes, Taylor thanks the crowd for their insane reaction to “such a sad song”. She then introduces her pianist, walks over to a now emerged long table, and gingerly sets it with china and a vase of flowers. Ever adding to the spectacle, one of her dancers enters the stage and they sit across from each other, him ignoring her, as Swift begins “tolerate it”. As the emotions of the song apex, she crawls across the table, sweeping everything out of her path in a figment of destruction. As her dancer continues to ignore her, she returns to her seat, hatred in her eyes, and the stage fades to black.

Era 4: Reputation

The blackness doesn’t last long as the silence is split by a snake hiss and the flash of silver scales on screen. The click… click… click… of red and black boots intersperse with the snakes until the metallic sounds arpeggio into “…Ready for it?”. Clad in a one legged glittery snake bodysuit, Swift commands the stage with the help of pyro, co2, and impressive lighting design that shines infinitely into the open air. Taylor happily hops her way through “Delicate”, shows just how strong her vocal range has become in “Don’t Blame Me”, and taunts the past versions of herself in “Look What You Made Me Do”. The Rep era is the perfect mood boost as the tour blazes past the 1 hour mark.

Era 5: Speak Now

In probably the most odd transition of the tour, the snakes fade out into patches of purple flowers. But despite the strange contrast, the crowd goes wild as they realize this signifies Speak Now. An echoing intro track of “please don’t be in love with someone else” plays as Swift enters in a three-tiered purple ballgown and begins the next song. “Enchanted” is a crowd-pleaser, gaining renewed popularity just months before the Eras Tour on TikTok. The romantic song also used to be the only song in this era…

That was, until a few weeks ago when Speak Now Taylor’s Version was released. With the master rights to another album restored, “Long Live” joined the setlist. It’s a celebration of Taylor and her fans, and I saw multiple people crying during the bridge. And by people, I do also mean me. With Speak Now being the first concert I ever attended, the nostalgia hit hard during this song. It’s a worthy addition to the set, and the spontaneous fireworks from the neighboring amusement park made the moment all the more special.

Era 6: RED

A dancer clad in, you guessed it - red, wheels out a, you guessed it again - red, box. As she cheekily opens it, several songs “escape” and the crowd sings the snippets gladly. It’s a clever way to incorporate just a few more of Swift’s hundreds of songs into the setlist. As the dancer opens the box one last time, a sparkle of chimes sound and then the intro to “22” begins.

Taylor skips back to the stage, clad in a black fedora and sparkly T-shirt that reads “A Lot Going On At The Moment”. It’s a nod to the “22” music video and has become a fan favorite fit because at the end of the song, Taylor anoints one lucky fan with the fedora and a brief but special interaction. The era continues with singles “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Know You Were Trouble”.

Then comes the highly anticipated moment of the night - “All Too Well 10 Minute Version”. Since its release on RED Taylor’s Version, the song’s cult like rally around it has only grown stronger. It’s now just Swift on stage, mid-catwalk in a flowing robe, and some light confetti leaves and snow. The crowd was enraptured by every word, angrily singing along to the injustices of a romance ended too soon. Just as the rest of the evening flew by, so did the ten minutes of this song as we neared hour 2.

Era 7: folklore

We now approach the longest section of the evening, the Grammy-award winning “folklore” era. It opens with a spoken word poem, mixing in elements of “Wildest Dreams” and “seven”. Her female dancers offer a contemporary interpretation of the words, which is a mild distraction from the massive moss-colored cabin now sliding on to the main stage. Swift rejoins us, climbing gracefully to the roof in a flowing dress, and begins “the 1”.

Following “the 1” (which was an early setlist swap for “invisible string” in the tour) Taylor sits down and walks the crowd through her song writing process for the “folklore” album. “I don’t know if you know this about me…. I tend to, sort of, write autobiographical songs. This was the first time that I decided… to create characters…and these characters can fall in love, breakup, and betray each other… And it was actually such a blast because it was a challenge in a different way”.

Three of these characters took center-stage in the set, known fondly as the “teenage love triangle”. “betty” sees Swift embody a 17-year old boy pining for his love on the steps of the folklore cabin, “august” has Swift running and twirling across the stage for her lost summer love, and “cardigan” shows Betty’s forgiveness as Taylor twirls for the final time through the “folklore set”.

The other songs that fill this section are “the last great american dynasty”, a haunting snippet of “illicit affairs”, and “my tears ricochet”. The latter shows Swift marching solemnly to the end of the catwalk while visuals of sinking ships and rain fill the scream behind her. This song is songwriting at its best, and her emotional performance was the highlight of the night for me.

Era 8: 1989

We leave behind the enchanting world of “folklore” for another Grammy-winning album, “1989”. This section is loud in all manners of the word - black and white checkered costumes, glowing bikes, and power pop songs that defined this era. Swift enters in a sparkly two piece, a nod to the costumes of The 1989 World Tour, and delights the crowd with the singles from the album - “Style”, “Blank Space”, “Shake It Off”, “Wildest Dreams”, and “Bad Blood”.

*Era 9*: Secret Songs

If Swift was strictly following her eras, this would be the time where “Taylor Swift”, her first album, would be played. However, that album didn’t make the cut and if we’re honest, we’re all the better for it. Instead, each night the audience gets two secret songs from Swift’s vast discography. Her rule: no song will be played twice on tour. Her caveats: unless she messes it up or it’s from her newest album “Midnights” and she feels like playing it again.

That said, even as Night 46 of tour, Santa Clara had dozens of songs that could be played. That is, until Taylor brings Aaron Dessner to the stage and the pool narrows considerably. “I have been rehearsing this for weeks… I have never, ever gotten it 100% right. We love this song… This is called Right Where You Left Me”. It’s a fan favorite bonus track and the crowd goes ballistic, especially when Swift messes up the song right near the end. This section is a departure from the deliberate nature throughout the rest of the show - and we love her show of humanity all the more for it.

Song 2 is “Castles Crumbling”, a new Vault Track from Speak Now Taylor’s Version. Swift glides across the piano, purple lights glowing in the stadium at her back. She sings of how, when she was a young teenager, she felt like everyone hated her. It’s a heartbreaking song - that someone so young and considered one of America’s golden girls was already feeling the isolating crush of fame. Its live debut was met enthusiastically.

Era 10: Midnights

And then suddenly, as if 3 hours haven’t already passed, we’re in the final era of the night: “Midnights”. We of course hit the mandatory singles of “Lavender Haze”, “Anti-Hero”, and “Bejeweled” - though that’s not to say they aren’t welcome additions to the set. But the highlights from the “Midnights” era come because Swift doesn’t shy away from the b-side tracks. She glides her way through umbrella-clad male dancers in “Midnight Rain” and teases the crowd with a risqué chair dance in vengeance heavy track “Vigilante Shit”. The choreographic highlight of the night comes with “Mastermind”, in which Swift is the puppet master pulling the strings of every dancer around her.

Then there’s the jubilant ending, the witty “Karma”, complete with fringe jackets in every color of the rainbow. The pyro explodes mid-set, and the firework spectacular that follows is the only fitting end to the show. The song’s outro extends for minutes as Swift graciously thanks her touring party, and of course, the fans. She visits each corner of her colossal stage, waving goodbye to every fan from the floor to the nosebleeds. With a final bow and a kiss, Taylor Swift is lowered down under the stage and the night comes to its conclusion.

From era to era, from song to song, Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour is a feat in live music never seen before. Never mind the 3.5 hour run time, or the extravagant costumes and set design more closely resembling a Broadway musical. No, what makes this tour a triumph is Swift herself, the backbone of which is her storytelling. When you have a stadium full of 70,000 people who care deeply about every line of lyrics in a 45 song setlist, well, you’re going to get something magical.

Taylor Swift gives a voice to every woman sat in her stadium. From the screaming teenage girls straight through to the moms and their daughters, she creates a space where you feel SEEN. It’s an open space for emotions, expression, creativity, community. Simply put, it’s The Eras Tour.