Why Taylor Swift’s movie means so much to Pittsburgh teens – and why you may want to catch it before it’s gone

Photos and story by Elena Xiao, a member of SLB Radio’s Youth Media Corps.

I first watched Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” music video on a quiet autumn afternoon, staring at the screen of my family’s clunky, old Dell monitor. I was around 4 years old, and I was fascinated: The clips of her fearlessly riding a bike through an ornate living room and gracefully running through immaculately landscaped gardens in a princess ball gown seemed straight out of the fairytales I read before bed at night.

To say that I instantly became a Taylor Swift fan would be an understatement. And I’m not alone. Taylor Swift’s fanbase, affectionately nicknamed “Swifties,” are a huge community. We’re famously known for our loyalty and passion in regards to Taylor and her art. The fandom has even created traditions – trading bracelets and wearing costumes based on her musical eras at various Swiftie events.

Being a Swiftie is about more than music. It’s about the community we’ve created.

But a lot of us, including many Pittsburgh teenagers, have only seen the chants, concerts, bracelets and costumes on the internet. Until recently, I’ve never had an accessible opportunity to witness firsthand the magic that Taylor’s music and a crowd of Swifties can create. Tickets to Swift’s ongoing multibillion dollar concert tour, the Eras Tour, are notoriously difficult to get. Many are bought by reseller robots, causing prices to skyrocket. Prime seats cost thousands of dollars.

For many people, like myself, it was unrealistic to spend a small fortune on one concert, even if it was a three hour overview of Swift’s 10 album (and counting) discography.

And then everything changed: The Taylor Swift Eras Tour Documentary was announced and it premiered on Oct. 13 at movie theaters around the country. Tickets were high for a movie ($19.80), but so much more affordable than concert tickets to see Swift live.

I immediately knew I had to witness the Eras Tour for myself. So with two friends, seven years of Swiftie experience, and my Taylor Swift merchandise firmly in hand, I headed straight towards my local Cinemark to catch a showing.

photo courtesy of Elena Xiao
Xiao and her friends were excited to attend the Eras Tour movie.

Walking inside the theater was a memorable experience. Movie-goers of all ages were dressed in Taylor Swift merchandise or costumes referencing the style of Swift’s musical eras. Fans were trading bracelets, taking selfies, and mingling around the aisles. Then once the theater darkened, the audience sat down and the room filled with silent anticipation.

No one quite knew what to expect as a clock with a 13-second countdown was projected on the screens. Faint clips of Swift singing “It’s been a long time coming…” and declaring “I was born in 1989!” echoed as dancers entered the stage with billowing rose pink parachutes.

An aerial overview of SoFi Stadium captured a view of thousands of concert bracelets casting a hazy glow in the darkness. Slowly, Swift emerged from a rippling cocoon of parachutes, triumphantly belting out the first notes of the night. During Swift’s opening segment, consisting of songs from her 2019 album, “Lover,” the movie audience mainly stayed silent. I was soaking in the vibrant stage and lush visuals, as well as Swift’s strong vocals.

But as the film transitioned to Swift’s earlier albums, with crowd pleasers such as “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story”, no one could resist the urge to begin singing and dancing. During pop segments, most of the audience gathered together to sing and dance in a wide theater aisle. Mothers and their daughters had spontaneous dance-offs, while a young couple held hands and spinned around the aisle.

There were quiet moments, too: During somber and heavy hitting songs from Swift’s pandemic albums, “folklore” and “evermore,” Swifties walked back to their seats to rest and enjoy the intricate set visuals.

In a way, we got things from the movie experience that we’d have missed during a live show. The quality of the footage allowed us to clearly see finer details of the set design and the powerful performances. But more than anything, the truly defining quality of Swift’s film is the unabashed joy and universal connection it sparks within all of us gathered together in that dark theater. During Swift’s 10-minute fan favorite, “All Too Well”, I saw a mother and her young daughter, decked out in bejeweled costumes, twirling and swaying as Swift reminisced about dancing in a kitchen under a refrigerator light.

For so many people, it was a powerful experience.

Ankit Pamula, a freshman at North Allegheny Intermediate High School, had a bonding experience with a fellow fan thanks to the film: “I had a wonderful time at the movie,” Ankit told me. “The person sitting next to me was a true Swiftie and knew almost all of the lyrics to each song and we had an amazing time loudly singing along to our favorite artist. We exchanged friendship bracelets and we bonded from the movie bringing us together. We gave each other a hug and said our goodbyes after the movie ended.”

Harlie Donnelly, an eighth grader at Ingomar Middle School, was especially impressed by the unique experience the concert film offered: “We were standing, singing, and dancing like we were actually there. The quality of the movie was impeccable, and I would totally go again if I had the option.”

Parents, even if you’re not necessarily a Taylor Swift fan, I believe the Eras Tour documentary is still a worthwhile watch. You can’t help but root for her as she sings about high school infatuations, bitter heartbreak, falling in love, a fall from grace, cruel summers, and sleepless nights throughout seventeen years of music.

So if you have a blank space in your calendar (the movie is running for just a few more weeks), gather up your kids and consider singing and dancing along to Swift’s unforgettable show of a lifetime. It has indeed been a long time coming.

“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” will run in theaters around the Pittsburgh area through January and arrives on streaming platforms this week on Dec. 13 (which is Swift’s birthday). If members of your family are Swift fans, check out our friendship bracelet maker project.