A Diehard Swiftie and Non-Swiftie Review Taylor Swift's Cincinnati Concert

A Swiftie and a non-Swiftie walk into a sold-out Taylor Swift show...and the rest is history.

Jul 3, 2023 at 1:38 pm
click to enlarge CityBeat reporter Madeline Fening (left) and CityBeat editor-in-chief Ashley Moor attend Taylor Swift's concert at Paycor Stadium on June 30. - Photo: Kevin Lush
Photo: Kevin Lush
CityBeat reporter Madeline Fening (left) and CityBeat editor-in-chief Ashley Moor attend Taylor Swift's concert at Paycor Stadium on June 30.
On June 30, CityBeat reporter Madeline Fening, a self-proclaimed diehard Swiftie, and CityBeat's editor-in-chief, Ashley Moor, an indifferent non-Swiftie, attended Taylor Swift's highly-anticipated show at Paycor Stadium. Ahead, Madeline and Ashley reveal their honest opinions of Swift's show in Cincinnati.

Where we're coming from

Madeline: While “Eras” was my first Taylor Swift concert, I have been a devoted Taylor Swift listener since the beginning of my high school days. Growing up with Swift in my headphones was, for a time, a pleasure I was made to feel guilty about. Fast forward nearly two decades and the entire city of Cincinnati has put on a bold red lip, calling itself “Swiftinnati,” with all the pomp of hosting the Olympics, and I was ready to carry the torch.

Admittedly, like my wedding day, I found myself waking up the day after the Taylor Swift “Eras” concert exhausted, covered in sparkles and struggling to remember all of the euphoric detail that flew by me the night before.

Still, certain moments have replayed in my head over and over after the June 30 show at Paycor Stadium that I think represent the growth Taylor has displayed over her many eras.

Ashley:If you would have told me even a few days ago that I would be leaving a Taylor Swift concert feeling sparkly and magical on Friday, I probably would have assumed that I finally had some sort of mental health episode. However, here I am, completely (well, mostly) sane and reveling in the unexpected afterglow of Swift’s visit to the Queen City.

Prior to approximately one week ago, when I finally gave her complete catalogue a nonjudgemental listen in preparation to cover her Paycor Stadium concert for CityBeat, I was decidedly anti-Swift. For years, I had been forced to listen to some of her most popular tunes (like “Shake It Off,” “You Belong With Me” and “Style,” among others) in grocery stores, bars, Walgreens…you name it. While I’ve loved other modern pop music icons, like Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa, I was put off by Swift’s squeaky clean, Connecticut rich girl vibes (yes, I know that she’s from Pennsylvania…). To me, she had no grit — no real substance that wasn’t manufactured by her management team. 

Strangely enough, the “Eras Tour” gave me a unique excuse to finally give Swift’s music another try — and I’m glad that I did. Though I still can’t say that I’m a fan of her earlier work, like on Speak Now and Red, I have not been able to get the songs off Midnights out of my head for the last week. Even if Swift’s music is not your cup of tea, you can’t ignore her impressive evolution from bland country-pop musician to a mature icon who speaks her mind and understands how her music impacts the world. Over her nearly two-decade career, Swift has shown that she is a chameleon and intelligent hitmaker, always experimenting with her sound. Whether you’re more in the mood for the hip-hop-inspired tunes on reputation or the soft folk music of evermore and folklore, Swift offers a palatable musical experience for nearly every sort of music lover. 

And that’s why the “Eras Tour” is such a unique opportunity for fans new and old, as it gives them a chance to take a trip down Swift’s memory lane of music — to watch how her sound has reflected the times and her own personal triumphs and heartbreaks.

An ass-shaking, razzle-dazzle time

Madeline:During the Evermore era, Swift further proved to us that she’s ready for her directorial debut. Acting opposite an incredibly talented backup dancer, Raphael Thomas, Swift transforms the massive Paycor stage into something out of an intimate off-broadway play. She sets and crawls across a dinner table for a lover who can’t bring himself to indulge in her grand gestures. The tour’s cameras focus on their faces, displaying Swift and Thomas on opposite sides of the stage, drawing a massive crowd into an up-close moment of one-sided intimacy. “Tolerate It” is a song that would have struck me as a great surprise song pick between just Taylor and her piano, but instead scaling the story up was well worth the risk of losing the intimacy Evermore offers.

The same effect is felt in her entire folklore era. The album was written within the familiar confines of the pandemic. Swift has said on tour that, unlike her other albums, folklore was never written with the explicit intention to be performed. Still, comparatively muted songs “Illicit Affairs” and “August” managed to suck up every molecule of air in the stadium in the best way. Comparing the Long Pond Sessions performance of “My Tears Ricochet” to its “Eras” rendition proves folklore choreography can feel powerful and natural.

While the bulk of the Red era was rightfully taken up by Taylor’s “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”, I would have swapped “I Knew You Were Trouble” with “Treacherous” on the permanent setlist. It represents her starting her journey down the rocky path with Jake Gyllenhaal, the perfect set up to “All Too Well” where we see the rest of their relationship play out until the bitter end.

Eras like Lover, reputation and Midnights live up to their ass-shaking razzle-dazzle Swift has become known for on tour, especially “Are You Ready For It?” But “Vigilante Shit” serves up a newer, more mature sex appeal from Swift. Compared to pop stars who bare and show more on tour (not to compare queens who are killin’ it), the response to “Vigilante Shit” proves audiences will never stop being shocked and flushed when the “Our Song” star reminds us again and again that she’s all grown up.

Swift’s surprise songs “Only Me When I’m With You” and “Evermore” show that growth from her debut album to now, especially in her lyricism. On one side of the stage you hear Swift playing perhaps the sweetest-sounding song from her middle school years, with lyrics like “I'm only up when you're not down. Don't wanna fly if you're still on the ground.” She smiles and bounces and strums her acoustic guitar like she’s 13 again. Swift then moves to the other side of the stage to sit at a flower-painted piano and launches into “Evermore,” carrying both her parts and the sections normally sung by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver with ease. Hearing her sing “And I was catchin' my breath. Starin' out an open window, catchin' my death,” after “Only Me When I’m With You” made me swell with pride for her growth as a songwriter.

Only 30 feet from my face was the woman who was once a young teenager alongside me. And while she’ll never know who I am, she’s for years made me know myself more by giving me permission to feel deeply about life.

Almost ready to join the Swiftie coven

Ashley: After finding out that I would get to see Swift live in concert, my most immediate reaction was anxiety. After all, 121,000 had tickets to her two shows at Paycor Stadium — and it was projected that thousands more who were unable to score tickets would be attending the “Taygate” at The Banks ahead of each show. I was dreading the thought of navigating the chaos that would surely break out over the course of the weekend.

I am so glad that I spent time getting to know the fans outside at The Banks before the show. The outfits! Oh, the outfits. As someone who adores fashion, people-watching on the day of the show was supremely entertaining. I loved the attention to detail that went into matching their looks to each era (I especially loved the glittery, ‘70s-hued looks from the Midnights era).

When Swift finally took the stage, I will admit that I was surprised at the sort of anti-climactic start of the show. Lover is definitely one of my least favorite eras, and I thought she would have been better off starting with the more anthemic, down-and-dirty beats of reputation. Starting the show off with “...Ready For It” would have had the fans screaming even louder for Swift.

Over the course of almost four hours, Swift danced, strutted and belted her heart out to the thousands of fans inside of Paycor Stadium. Each era was represented well with special stage effects, videos on the screen and a number of dancing sequences and other performers.

The dance numbers to different cult hits were incredibly impressive (the routine to “Vigilante Shit” was so sexy, and the crowd loved it), but my personal favorite was the sequence leading up to “willow,” one of my favorite songs from Swift’s catalogue. Adorned in witchy capes with a forest backdrop, the beguiling witches danced around each other in almost pagan fashion, reminiscent of Outlander. This is perhaps what I loved most about her show — the attention to detail that made each era a completely immersive experience for the audience.

Near the end of the show, when Swift played her two surprise songs, it was sweet to see the fans wait with bated breath to see which songs she would choose. Watching the fans react to Swift’s onstage charm was almost as sweet as seeing it firsthand myself. Though I probably can’t say that I am a Swiftie yet, I can now appreciate the power of Swift’s music.

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