The Eras Tour’s Eras, Ranked by a 40-Something Bald Professor

Friendship bracelet that says "Swiftie Dad" in its beads.
Thanks to the Swiftie mom and her Swiftie daughter who gifted me this friendship bracelet soon after I entered the stadium!

My voice is hoarse, my caffeinated drink is at my side as I head into a long day of teaching… but it was all totally worth it! The Eras Tour is an amazing show and a delightful celebration of Taylor’s broad and deep discography!

Because I’m a quantitative social scientist, I can’t help but rank things as a way to enjoy and appreciate them… so here I’m going to rank the presentation of each era at the Eras Tour concert I attended (Sunday, April 2, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX). Bottom line: They’re all great. The show is maybe the biggest music event I’ll ever see–a concert/sing-a-long/costume party with tens of thousands of your fellow Swifties. So this ranking is in the spirit of having fun and celebrating that Swiftie experience.

And, of course, it reflects my own enjoyment. Please feel free to disagree, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you want to see my other Taylor rankings, check out my ranking of Taylor Swift’s songs and her albums. And if you want to hear more of my thoughts about the concert, I had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Asch about it in a Texas Standard radio spot before the show, and then a chance to debrief it with her and Wells Dunbar after the show on Twitter Spaces.

So here’s the ranking… obviously, spoilers follow. Except for one from my wife, images are my own taken on a cell phone at the 400 level.

10. Taylor Swift (debut album). This is at the bottom because… well, it was absent. I think that choice is defensible; even in a 44-song set, she can’t cover everything (because she’s produced that much music across such a long period of time).

Image from "Look What You Made Me Do," The Eras Tour

9. Reputation. This being ranked low may have much to do with my high expectations. Reputation is one of my absolute most favorite Taylor Swift albums, one that I initially viewed with skepticism but have come to really appreciate and enjoy. The snake imagery on stage was great (including a snake microphone!), and I especially enjoyed how that transitioned into the Speak Now era, with the big snake slithering across the runway. What left me wanting, then? There was no “Getaway Car.” That song is just at the crux of this era and I felt its absence; I would’ve traded any of the four she chose for that one. Also, the back half of the album’s resolution from the first half’s angst was absent too; that’s more understandable, because again, she can’t cover everything. But, my two cents: “Getaway Car” should’ve made the cut. I hope it shows up in later concerts. The people in glass boxes during “Look What You Made Me Do” was delightfully weird, though.

Image from "Blank Space," The Eras Tour

8. 1989. I’m not sure “Shake It Off” has aged that well. As I’ve written in my ranking of her songs, it’s the one TSwift song that, to my ear, is a bit “been there, done that.” But, although “Blank Space” has never hit me as much as it hits others, it came alive in the stadium environment, and the Tron-style grid lines and neon bikes (with golf clubs? Wow!) was pretty cool. So were the pyrotechnics in “Bad Blood,” another song that isn’t my favorite but worked well here.

Image from "Enchanted," The Eras Tour

7. Speak Now. Only reason this is a bit low is because we only got one song, “Enchanted.” But that was a stellar choice. Taylor’s performance of this jewel of a song was passionate and warm and epic, and a highlight of the entire show. I look forward to seeing this era get more time in the sun soon (we hope) with Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).

Image from "Willow," The Eras Tour

6. Evermore. This is not my favorite Taylor Swift album, but her performance of this era was great. The way she played “Champagne Problems” shows that she knows her audience (“you ready for the bridge?”), and the stagecraft of “Tolerate It” was outstanding (excellent acting work not just by Taylor, but by the dancer who played the dismissive husband). I just wish the jumbotron had shown the on-stage action for “Tolerate It” like every other song; I don’t know if that was a deliberate artistic choice or a technical glitch specific to our show. The picture below is of the fire effects for “Willow,” and you can see the trees that emerge from the stage in the upper left.

Image from "Mastermind," The Eras Tour

5. Midnights. The transition to Midnights is incredible, with Taylor diving into the stage after her acoustic set, appearing to swim beneath the stage, enter the cloud, and emerge in Midnights garb. And I’m glad “Midnight Rain” made the setlist–it was a reflective complement to the more energetic songs. I confess that I find myself wondering: Did the dancers wearing different colors in the final number (“Karma”) symbolize different eras, maybe even eras left to come? If so, perhaps a dark green, a white, and a gold album are in our future? She is a “Mastermind,” after all (and I’m glad that also made the cut, and I liked the chessboard theming of that one).

Image from "22," The Eras Tour

4. Red. My only complaint about the treatment of Red is that it was impossible to do the album, which is now an expansive masterwork in its Taylor’s Version version, full justice. That’s where the 10-minute “All Too Well” is both a benefit and a drawback: A benefit as a true showstopper, where much of the production drops out and its just Taylor connecting with the audience, but a drawback because it means other great songs from Red just can’t make the show. But as someone who is almost 44, I’m glad that at the age of 33, she’s still singing “22.”

Image from the Lover era, The Eras Tour

3. Lover. Such a strong start to the show and great to see this underrated album finally, finally get some serious attention four years after its release. My eyes got moist when the “Miss Americana” intro came on, and I wish that song had been allowed to bloom into its powerful self, but moving right into “Cruel Summer” was also a solid choice. The pageantry of “The Man” was outstanding, and I especially enjoyed how the flaming arrows of “The Archer” transitioned from a burning Lover House into…

Image from the Fearless era, The Eras Tour

2. Fearless. I didn’t expect this era to hit me this way! But shouting these classic lyrics while jumping (yes, I’m a 43-year-old man and I was jumping!) with 80,000 other Swifties is just peak Eras Tour. “Fearless,” “You Belong With Me,” and “Love Story” seem nearly custom-made to have big impact in an arena, and here, 15 years after the release of that album, it felt like they hadn’t aged a day.

Image from the Folklore era, The Eras Tour (taken by Jessica Ledbetter)

Image from "August," The Eras Tour

1. Folklore. Despite the brisk pace of the 3-hour show, Taylor effectively captured the mood and tone of each album era (except debut, of course), but of any era, this was the one that felt like it had the most chance to breathe. The woodsy staging with the cottage was great, the phalanx of mourners and water-styled fire of “My Tears Ricochet,” the rich colors and sheer fun of “August,” the band performing on the cottage steps for “Betty,” the elegant dress of the dancers in “Last Great American Dynasty”… yeah, she made the right decision to let her most recent Grammy-winning album shine, and that these intimate songs work in a football stadium is testament to her stage presence and her artistic genius.

Finally, let me give a shout-out to the staff of AT&T Stadium, who let us in early when a thunderstorm and potentially severe weather hit before they were set to open! Thanks for keeping us safe!


Comm Theory Pop Culture Connections (Taylor’s Version)

I’m a communication professor who co-authors a communication theory textbook and a website full of pop culture connections to comm theory. I’m also a Swiftie who has ranked every one of Taylor Swift’s songs. I figured, why not combine those things together?

And so it goes… this is me trying to use communication theory as an invisible string that runs throughout the Swiftverse.

Specifically, here’s a list that provides one connection between Taylor Swift and each of the 33 theories in A First Look at Communication Theory (11th edition). Of course there are more theories than this in the communication world… and of course there are many more possible connections to Taylor’s music. If you have a good example, feel free to leave it in a comment below.

Interpersonal Communication Theories

  • Symbolic interactionism (Mead): “Begin Again,” Red. This song begins with Taylor Swift looking in the mirror, but not just the physical mirror in front of her—she’s gazing at her looking-glass self, remembering how her ex criticized her.
  • Expectancy violations theory (Burgoon): “Betty,” Folklore. Betty’s ex-boyfriend James wonders what will happen if he appears unannounced at Betty’s party. Will she receive him warmly or reject him? Based on EVT’s twin concepts of violation valence and communicator reward valence, what would the theory predict?
  • Family communication patterns theory (Koerner & Fitzpatrick): “The Best Day,” Fearless. In this ode to her family, and specifically her mother, Taylor celebrates her ability to talk openly with them. Note particularly the second verse where her mother serves as a source of emotional support, as well as how throughout the song the open talk translates into communication that builds children up. It’s an effective picture of positive outcomes arising from conversation orientation.
  • Social penetration theory (Altman & Taylor): “Delicate,” Reputation. In the chorus of this song, Taylor wonders aloud if she has shared too much, too soon. Social penetration theory would suggest that she’s wondering whether the knife has cut too deeply into the onion.
  • Uncertainty reduction theory (Berger): “Paper Rings,” Lover. Immediately after meeting her boyfriend (presumably, Joe Alwyn), she looks him up online… the extractive uncertainty reduction theory. Why, according to the theory, might she be particularly motivated to reduce uncertainty in this situation (including, apparently, reading all of his books)?
  • Social information processing theory (Walther): The infamous 27-second phone call when Joe Jonas broke up with Taylor, The Ellen Show. She seems hurt as she shares about this with Ellen DeGeneres. The theory might suggest that’s because the cue-limited medium didn’t enable the then-teenagers to clarify what happened, especially during such a short call.
  • Relational dialectics theory (Baxter & Bakhtin): “Our Song,” Taylor Swift. Here, Taylor expresses frustration to her boyfriend that they don’t have a song for their relationship. RDT scholars might say that she wants to find an already-spoken cultural discourse that shapes their bond. In the end, Taylor creates her own; but, according to RDT, is it really a new discourse, or just echoing relational discourses in country music that have come before?
  • Communication privacy management theory (Petronio): “All Too Well,” Red. In the bridge of this epic song, Taylor reports that her (ex-)boyfriend’s sharing of private information had devastating consequences on her well-being. As Petronio contends, self-disclosure does not necessarily lead to intimacy.
  • Media multiplexity theory (Haythornthwaite): “Girl at Home,” Red. When flirtation verges on infidelity, what’s Taylor’s advice to the guy hitting on her? Delete her telephone number. According to the theory, that’s a good way to reduce the strength of their tie.

Persuasion Theories

  • Social judgment theory (Sherif & Sherif): Kanye West’s shocking choice to grab the microphone from Taylor at the 2009 VMAs. Clearly, Beyoncé fell in Kanye’s latitude of acceptance for the award, and Taylor fell in his latitude of rejection—which is right where Kanye’s rude behavior landed for most viewers.
  • Elaboration likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo): “Enchanted,” Speak Now. This song finds Taylor full of insomnia, awake in the middle of the night thinking deeply about the man that she just met. She is clearly motivated to process the relationship centrally, so much so that her need for cognition exceeds her need for sleep.
  • Cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger): “Sparks Fly,” Speak Now. As Taylor notices her new romantic interest, she knows dating him isn’t a good decision, but she chooses to ignore this fact.
  • The Rhetoric (Aristotle): Taylor Swift’s commencement address to NYU’s Class of 2022. According to Aristotle, what kind of speech is this: deliberative, epideictic, or forensic? How does she establish her ethos? Do you see any other modes of proof in the speech?
  • Dramatism (Burke): “Mean,” Speak Now. Taylor wrote this song in response to a music critic who criticized her, and Taylor’s response is Burkean victimage. If you apply the pentad to this song, which elements does Taylor emphasize?
  • Narrative Paradigm (Fisher): “The Story of Us,” Speak Now. Taylor Swift’s music often uses the metaphor of story to describe love—but according to Fisher, perhaps story is more than a metaphor. In this song, Swift seems to use narrative rationality to evaluate her romantic relationship. Because the story of their love (and specifically, the story of her boyfriend’s behavior) lacks both narrative fidelity and coherence, she is dissatisfied. If you want to take this idea farther with Swift’s music, you might examine “Love Story” (Fearless), where she likens a romance beset by family drama to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Group and Organizational Communication Theories

  • Functional perspective on group decision making (Hirokawa & Gouran): “You Belong With Me,” Fearless. Did you realize this hit song is about decision making? The girl in the song has analyzed the problem: her male friend is in an unsatisfying romantic relationship. And she’s identified two alternatives: he can stay with his current girlfriend, or ditch her for a relationship with the singing girl. As for goal setting, the singer lists several criteria, from music tastes to dress to sense of humor. If only he’d follow the four functions, she thinks he’d realize his best and most reasonable choice.
  • Symbolic convergence theory (Bormann): “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince”, Lover. Taylor Swift wrote this song as an allegory about the election and presidency of Donald Trump, using the imagery of a high school football game to imagine American politics in a creative and memorable way.
  • Cultural approach to organizations (Geertz and Pacanowksy): “Epiphany,” Folklore. Taylor imagines what life was like for her grandfather in the military during World War II, and for doctors during the COVID pandemic. For both groups, the emotion conveyed in the song rests in the tension between the corporate (leadership) and collegial (“how things really work”) narratives in those organizations.
  • Communicative constitution of organizations (McPhee): Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions (19:14-22:10). CCO addresses how organization is constituted through communication, a process that occurs when closure is achieved through back-and-forth interaction. This entire show focuses on how this was accomplished by Taylor and her collaborators, creating a Grammy-award winning album during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. This clip focuses on the song “Exile,” addressing how the song grew from a piano riff by Taylor’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn, to collaboration with Aaron Dessner, to including Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). Which of the four flows occur in this very organic example of organizing? If you watch the entire show, do you see all four flows present in the creation of the Folklore album?
  • Critical theory of communication in organizations (Deetz): “My Tears Ricochet,” Folklore. This song might sound like it is describing the funeral of an ex-lover, but the deeper layer of meaning is this: Taylor is critiquing music industry practices that favor management and disempower artists. She’s particularly concerned about practices like the contract she signed as a young artist, a contract that seems to be in her favor but wasn’t. Deetz might label that “consent,” and instead, Taylor seems to want something more akin to stakeholder democracy (participation).

Cultural Context Theories

  • Communication accommodation theory (Giles): “I Bet You Think About Me,” Red (Taylor’s Version). Taylor draws a stark contrast between her own socioeconomic background and that of her ex-boyfriend. His constant divergence is a key cause of their breakup.
  • Face-negotiation theory (Ting-Toomey): “Tolerate It,” Evermore. See how the distressed wife’s conflict strategies and face-concern change over the course of the song, moving from other-face toward her husband at the beginning, then to self-face by the end.
  • Co-cultural theory (Orbe): “You Need to Calm Down,” Lover. Orbe’s research has investigated the LGBTQ community, an audience Taylor addresses in this song. How would dominant group theory describe the lyrics of the second verse?
  • Afrocentricity (Asante): “What Wildest Dreams Gets Wrong About Africa,” MTV News. Taylor’s video for “Wildest Dreams” takes place in Africa. This clip critiques that choice because, for example, it portrays Africa as a single country and culture rather than a multitude of countries and cultures.
  • Feminist standpoint theory (Harding & Wood): “Mad Woman,” Folklore. The thesis of this song resonates deeply with feminist standpoint theory: Women (and others on the margins of society) have insights into society that members of more powerful groups don’t possess.
  • Muted group theory (Kramarae): “The Man,” Lover. Here, Taylor considers what her life would be life if she were a man—how would she be perceived? What power and influence would she have? This reflection reveals the bias and muting enacted against her within the music industry because she is a woman.

Media Theories

  • Media ecology (McLuhan): “Coney Island,” Evermore. There’s one line in this song that reflects on how the Internet has changed shopping in America, and with it people’s social lives… and beyond the lyrics, something about the wistful reflective mood of this song fits with media ecology’s concern that perhaps communication technology has led us to lose more than we realize.
  • Context collapse (boyd & Marwick): “The Lakes,” Folklore. In this song, Taylor yearns for a world without context collapse, where she doesn’t have to worry about the pressures brought by constant exposure on social media.
  • Semiotics (Barthes): “Look What You Made Me Do” music video, Reputation. Early in the video, Taylor sits in a bathtub filled with diamonds… and a single dollar bill. As a denotative sign, it clearly refers to wealth. But Taylor includes it here as a connotative, second-order semiotic system: The single dollar bill represents the amount she claimed against her sexual harasser in a high-profile lawsuit. And so the sign signifies all women who experience sexual abuse and the courage it takes to confront it.
  • Cultural studies (Hall): “Nothing New,” Red (Taylor’s Version). By highlighting how the music industry features young women for awhile and then rejects them as they age, Taylor articulates oppression that not all music listeners consider.
  • Uses and gratifications theory (Katz): “Taylor Swift Meets Her Biggest Fan,” The Ellen Show. When superfan Mary Kate meets Taylor Swift, her emotions are uncontainable. From the video shown before the meeting and her interaction with Swift, it’s clear she has a parasocial relationship with the singer.
  • Cultivation theory (Gerbner): “If This Was a Movie,” Speak Now. Taylor wants her ex to come back to her, thinking about how he would if they were film characters. The song highlights how the television/movie world differs from the real world, and suggests how the media world can shape how we think and react.
  • Agenda-setting theory (McCombs & Shaw): “Blank Space,” 1989. The whole song is a tongue-and-cheek critique of the second level of agenda-setting, and in this case, the subject of the media’s framing is Taylor Swift. At the time, the media framed her as a young woman who dated a series of men and, after the relationship was over, turned the story of the romance into songs (and profit). Here, Taylor rejects this boy-crazy image by embracing it, pretending it’s true to argue that it’s not.

If you want more pop culture connections to communication theory, visit, and if you want to read more about my thoughts on Taylor Swift, check out my rankings of her songs!

Comparing Taylor Swift’s “Red”: OG vs. TV

(You can access my full ranking and rating of all of Taylor Swift’s songs here!)

How does Red (Taylor’s Version) compare to the original? Taken overall, I think it compares very well. But that doesn’t mean every individual track is better. Here’s my assessment after listening to each back to back.

  • State of Grace: TV. The new version has brighter electric guitars and much clearer vocals.
  • Red: TV. It has crisper percussion (e.g., compare the intros), fuller vocals, and I like the ending better.
  • Treacherous: OG. It’s a close call, but in TV I miss the heavier guitar in the chorus; the song is more poppy and has less depth.
  • I Knew You Were Trouble: OG. The vocals in TV sound off and she sounds much less pained/upset in the bridge. She’s also softened the EDM emphasis of the song.
  • All Too Well: OG. This is my favorite Taylor song so I don’t even know if I can take off the nostalgia glasses, but in the end, I think the OG has crunchier guitars and more emotive vocals in the early bridge.
  • 22: TV. A tough call, but for me it comes down to this: The OG made “22” sound like “swimsuit,” but TV has better enunciation.
  • I Almost Do: TV. Just not my favorite song in either version but the vocals are a bit better in TV.
  • We Are Never Getting Back Together: OG. Lots of changes here. She doesn’t “perform” the vocals as well and the “whees” are weird; the spoken bit also falls flat.
  • Stay Stay Stay: TV. This track showcases how TV is a reimagining of Red as a pop album. She’s shed the country accent but retained the sense of fun.
  • The Last Time: TV. Setting aside my nostalgia for the OG track, TV is better. Gary Lightbody’s voice is more present and feels more in contact with Taylor’s vocals, which gives the song an  “Exile” vibe. The revised instrumentation increases the sense of urgency.
  • Holy Ground: TV. She’s emphasized electric over acoustic guitar, which fits the tonal repositioning of the album.
  • Sad Beautiful Tragic: TV. This is one of my least favorite tracks in all of Swiftdom, but the instrumentals are a bit cleaner on the new version.
  • The Lucky One: TV. The vocals sound less strained on the new version.
  • Everything Has Changed: TV. The OG was great, but the new version makes it feel a bit restrained and claustrophobic by comparison. Swift and Sheeran seem more comfortable and confident, and the result, combined with crisper production, is much more intimate yet also somehow more epic. Maybe the most improved track.
  • Starlight: TV. Taylor seems to bring the fictional storytelling sensibilities, honed during the Folklore/Evermore era, as she reconstructs this track.
  • Begin Again: TV. It’s a testament to the quality of the OG that Taylor made this one such a close match. For the greater maturity in the vocals, I give the nod to the new take, but these are very similar.
  • The Moment I Knew: TV. Right off the bat, the vocals are warmer, the guitar is clearer, and then the chorus hits and the new production makes it even more epic. Taken all together, the sense of sorrow and pain comes through more potently.
  • Come Back… Be Here: OG. I had high hopes for this, the song I consider to be the great sleeper hit of the Red era (not sure we can consider “All Too Well” a sleeper anymore). The TV track somehow loses the soaring passion of the OG, and it falls flat. Compare especially from the bridge on; like some other TV tracks, the emotion just doesn’t feel as raw or real.
  • Girl at Home: TV. The OG is unfairly maligned; it’s OK to have some cheesy fun, isn’t it? The new take reimagines the whole thing and dials the cheesiness up even further, which was a great choice.
  • State of Grace (Acoustic Version): TV. Another track where her vocal maturity shines, turning this into a reflective, emotional powerhouse.

So, bottom line: TV is better than OG. I’m reminded that in 2014, after Daft Punk won the Grammy over Red, Swift skipped the after-parties, “went home and… cried a little bit, and … got In-N-Out Burger and ate a lot.” And then she reflected: “You have a few options when you don’t win an award. You can decide like, ‘Oh, they’re wrong, they all voted wrong.’ Or… you can say, ‘Maybe they’re right — maybe I did not make the record of my career.’ Maybe I need to fix the problem, which was that I have not been making sonically cohesive albums.”

She’s now achieved that sonic cohesion. The original was a bit of an eclectic mix, but with Taylor’s Version, she’s effectively repositioned Red as a primarily pop album (with, yes, a few country flourishes). Yes, some of the big hits don’t land quite as well, but taken all together, they and the other tracks have given life to a more polished work of art.