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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Taylor Swift, Pop’s Maestro of Memory, Returns to the Stage

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Before “You Belong With Me,” she asked if the crowd was “ready to go back to high school with me,” both a dare and a legitimate question. Of late, Swift — obsessive about memory and even more obsessive about lore — has made revisiting her old work integral to her public presentation. Her ongoing rerecordings project layers a veneer of artistic liberation atop a business tug of war with the owners of her master recordings. And the very notion of the Eras Tour suggests a desire to thread Swift’s many selves into one, to find common cause between the 16-year-old who first shocked Nashville, the 33-year-old who has since become one of the defining pop stars of the 21st century and all the Swifts in between.

If this show was an opportunity to perform songs from all of those phases, she did not always choose the tracks that are truly the most emblematic of those moments in time — sometimes specificity doesn’t age terribly well. (For what it’s worth, a song it would have been great to hear from each album, chronologically: “Picture to Burn,” “White Horse,” “Dear John,” “Stay Stay Stay,” “This Love,” “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” “Paper Rings,” “Exile,” “No Body, No Crime,” “You’re on Your Own, Kid.”)

Fans did not appear to be playing favorites — many of them were dressed as Swift from various eras, or as song titles or specific lyrics, or as Swiftie inside jokes. And Swift herself tackled each period of her career — the dynamic ones and the flaccid ones alike — with real gusto, in outfits covered in glitter, or fringe or glittery fringe. Her stage was set up for both big-tent power and maximum intimacy; it jutted out into the crowd for almost the entire length of the floor. Sometimes, she joined her dozen-plus dancers in crisp choreography, like on “ … Ready for It?” “Bad Blood” and, most vividly, “Vigilante ___,” for which she performed an enthusiastic chair routine.

She concluded with a selection of songs from “Midnights,” a challenging album to wrap a show of this magnitude — it’s more an amalgam of old Swift ideas than a harbinger of a new direction. During “Anti-Hero,” the screen behind Swift showed a version of her as a kind of King Kong, bigger than everyone and unfairly besieged, and on “Lavender Haze,” she was surrounded by dancers hoisting huge cloudy puffs.

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