I spent all of last week on Ticketmaster, furiously refreshing in hopes of last-minute ticket drops for any of pop superstar Taylor Swift’s three shows in Soldier Field. My Twitter notifications were turned on for every ticket resale account that I could find, and I DMed sellers within seconds of posting. After three days of patience, pining and anticipation, I had no ticket by the date of her Saturday show. Only after my roommate – bless her – broke her foot and offered me her nosebleed seat did I finally have a way into the stadium for Sunday night.

The tour has dominated headlines since its announcement, from high Swiftie traffic crashing Ticketmaster’s website to fans causing actual traffic entering and leaving stadiums. For three days, you could find a concertgoer dressed as one of Swift’s 10 album eras on every block of downtown Chicago. “The Eras Tour” conquers cities for a weekend as fans flock to watch Swift’s three-hour epic through nine studio albums.

From my vantage point in the 400-level seats, I could see the entire setup: a tall screen spanning the width of the field and a three-sectioned stage that jutted into the center floor. Fans donned merch or elaborate, colorful outfits while wandering the stadium, snapping photos and exchanging beaded friendship bracelets. I saw several couples dressed as Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince.

View from row 17 in section 437 at Soldier Field. Photo by Brendan Le / North by Northwestern. 

Bedroom pop singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams opened the show with an emotive 20-minute set, performing songs like her post break-up anthem “21” and a powerful cut from her debut album “I know it won’t work.” Not long after, pop band MUNA rocked the stage with a 30-minute set that had my friends fawning over guitarist Josette Maskin during the booming “What I Want” and “Anything But Me.” They closed with their hit Phoebe Bridgers collaboration “Silk Chiffon,” leaving the crowd restless for Swift’s entrance.

Lover (album seven)

When “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore came on the speakers, the giant screen revealed a two-minute countdown, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Massive pink fans attached to dancers emerged from the main stage, waving in the lakeside wind as they drifted to the diamond centerstage. The pink fans laid flat on the ground. The screams grew deafening. When the dancers stood, Swift rose on a platform in a jeweled blue-and-gold bodysuit to ring in the show with “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” she sang to open her first tour in six years.

As soon as the song ended, Swift launched into “Cruel Summer.” The song took my voice after I yelled the bridge at the top of my lungs. Opening with Lover’s most dynamic hits under the setting sun and pastel pink sky was the decision of a mastermind.

Fearless (album two)

Sparks rained from the stage and smoked Soldier Field as Swift transitioned to Fearless. In a gold dress with long white tassels, she twirled and strummed her way through the titular track and two classics, “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.” The bracelets given to fans upon entry to the stadium glowed brighter than ever, flashing yellow and synced to the music.

Pyrotechnics during the transition from Lover to Fearless. Photo by Brendan Le / North by Northwestern.

evermore (album nine)

Pine trees sprouted from the stage following two lung-draining eras. A stage lift brought Swift up in a burnt yellow dress for evermore. Despite the album’s more subtle sound, it was no less intricately staged. As she performed “marjorie,” the crowd waved their phone lights in tribute.

Sitting at a mossy grand piano, Swift said she wrote evermore without envisioning how she’d perform the songs in a stadium setting – except for one: “champagne problems,” which contains another of Swift’s famed bridges. “What a shame she’s f*cked in the head,” the crowd shouted back. The performance elicited a three-minute standing ovation as a gracious Swift looked on.

Reputation (album six)

Reputation sharply contrasted the subdued evermore. She entered to the dirty bass crashes of “...Ready For It?” in a one-legged black bodysuit with a red embellishment snaking its length.

“Baby let the games begin,” she chanted like a war cry, the audience following suit.

At the top of the heavenly “Don’t Blame Me,” lights beamed skyward as she took us to church, belting her best vocals of the night in the song’s climax.

The lights beaming into the air during “Don’t Blame Me.” Photo by Brendan Le / North by Northwestern.

“Don’t blame me for what you made me do,” she sang to transition into the album’s lead single “Look What You Made Me Do.” She marched up to the mainstage to dancers dressed up as Swift from her first five albums. They moved in a glass box as Swift tried to break them out, while rows of old Taylors attempted to escape on the big screen.

“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why?” Swift said, fiery as she fell to her knees. “'Cause she’s dead!”

Speak Now (album three)

The stadium washed bright purple for a song from Speak Now. Swift came out from behind the screen in a bridal dress adorned with cloudlike white fluff. Raised into the air with dancers orbiting her, Swift left us wonderstruck with the crowd-favorite “Enchanted.”

Swift exiting the stage after “Enchanted.”

Red (album four)

Her fourth studio album Red’s segment was radio hit after radio hit: cultural birthday staple “22” and two f*ck-your-ex classics “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” It was Swift at her most fun, prancing around the whole length of the stage with a posse of dancers backing her.

After the singles, Swift donned a ruby red robe and picked up an acoustic guitar. She addressed re-recording her first six studio albums, calling the process a “passion project” that she wanted to complete regardless of commercial success. She cheekily asked for 10 minutes of our time to perform the extended version of her heartbreaking “All Too Well.”

folklore (album eight)

Dancers performed a whimsical interpretive piece to a spoken-word version of “seven.” A cabin slid out from backstage. Swift laid on the grassy roof in a flowing light pink cloak, kicking off folklore with its opening track “the 1.”

Grabbing a guitar, she revealed she began writing the album two days after COVID-19 lockdown started.

“In my head, I was a Victorian lady who lived in this house in a deep forest and only wrote things on tea-stained parchment paper with a quill,” Swift said.

When she crooned the wistful “august,” it was the first time the setup seemed to dwarf her from the nosebleeds. Still, she made use of every inch, gallivanting around awash in the stage’s watercolor blue, red and yellow.

As “august” faded, the screen video turned grayscale. Swift collapsed to her knees to sing the bridge of “illicit affairs” in desperate repetition. A funeral procession performance of “my tears ricochet” and an abridged “cardigan” rounded out the folklore world.

1989 (album five) & acoustic set

In the distance, a city skyline pulled into view, away from the folksy woods. The instantly recognizable guitar riff of “Style” welcomed Swift in a sparkling orange two-piece for 1989. It was another era of the hits, full of pop perfection.

Swift wore a pleated yellow dress for the highly anticipated surprise songs of the evening, which vary by night. On acoustic guitar, she debuted a live rendition of “Hits Different” off the recently released Midnights (The Til the Dawn Edition), uncertain if the audience knew the words. They did. She began playing another live debut in “The Moment I Knew” from Red (Deluxe) on piano immediately after.

Midnights (album 10)

A dolphin dive into the stage brought us to the final era of the night, her most recent studio album Midnights. Dancers rolled clouds onto centerstage as Swift entered in a feathery purple coat and bejeweled t-shirt dress for “Lavender Haze.” She did a quick change onstage into a dark blue body suit during “Midnight Rain” for a sultry, “Cell Block Tango”-inspired performance of “Vigilante Shit.”

My phone battery and I were utterly exhausted by the end, but one last burst of energy – accompanied by “Karma”’s fireworks – powered me through the end of the show. As Swift bowed her last goodbye to Chicago, the cheers of 63,500 fans carried until the lights came on.

It’s apt that “Karma” topped off the marathon spectacle of “The Eras Tour.”

“Ask me why so many fade, but I’m still here,” Swift sang in the bridge. The tour is a cultural phenomenon and a victory lap of her storied 17-year career, and she doesn’t seem to have any intention of slowing down soon. It cements Swift as an all-time great, whose legacy can only grow more expansive. I can only imagine how difficult it’ll be to get tickets to her next tour, whenever it may be.

Swift and her dancers take their final bow at the end of “Karma.” Photo by Brendan Le / North by Northwestern.

Thumbnail photo by Brendan Le.