All photos courtesy of the author
Our Eras Tour
As I looked over at my best friend, it felt like a homecoming for the both of us. We knew we would revisit the past seventeen years not only of Taylor Swift, but of ourselves.
By RILEY RUDY
Taylor Swift is the closest thing to a sister I’ve ever had. I have an older brother, but I daydream about having a sister sometimes. The secrets she would tell me that I would promise to keep, a list of all the boys she dated, her waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me she just had her first kiss, me holding her as she cries about her first broken heart. Remembering everything she went through so that maybe I won’t have to make the same mistakes again or so that I can make those same mistakes, purposefully.
In August, my best friend surprised me with tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. Now the concert was special, but seeing it with my childhood friend was magical because like me, she never had a sister and was as obsessed with love and boys as I was. Taylor was always a few steps ahead of us (six years older), so when each album came out, it was like a series of rules and tales that became our own secret bible. Her songs became our anthems as we, too, grew up and went through heartbreak, loss, and loneliness.
Standing in Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles, I had two thoughts. 1) I don’t understand how football could attract this many thousands of fans, it feels like the perfect size for a TS concert, but sports? How could they fill this thing up? And 2) This was our Eras Tour too. As I looked over into the eyes of my best friend, it felt like a homecoming for the both of us. We slid into our seats and knew we would revisit the past seventeen years not only of Taylor Swift, but of ourselves. So, I’ve aligned each of Taylor’s eras with my own eras as we journey back in time to nine-year-old me all the way to twenty-six-year-old me.
TAYLOR SWIFT (2006)
Let’s start with her debut album: Taylor Swift.
The debut album is one of my most embarrassing eras. During this era I started taking guitar lessons because I loved my guitar teacher, Max. He knew I wasn’t very good, but he helped me learn every single chord to every single TS song. I learned “You’re Not Sorry” (one of her best songs) and recorded myself playing it, pushing that red iPhoto button on my Macbook as I belted “YOU’RE NOT SORRY” to nobody but acted like I was singing at Staples Center. I have hundreds of these recordings. I’m worried I posted one to Youtube, but I hope it can never be found. I couldn’t relate to a single one of these songs because a boy had never looked at me, but I had the passion of a thousand broken hearts behind me with every strum of the guitar. I attended this concert (blessed) when I was in middle school. She sang this song as rain poured down on stage. I collected the confetti that flew out at the end and put it in a plastic bag. I found the plastic bag a year ago when I was cleaning out my childhood bedroom and threw it away.
I think this album was the first religious experience I’d ever had in my ten years of life. Going to her concert is what I imagine going to church is for some people. This album marked the beginning of my lifelong devotion, a vow I made between me and Taylor on my PB Teen bed. One to never be broken. I believed (still do) that she has all the answers to life's questions.
When Fearless was released, I was 11. This is the age I peaked. I had around a hundred boyfriends: Nick, Anthony, Cody, Noah, Thomas, Julian (just to name a few). If I could go back in time, I would want to be transported to this moment. When I was the hottest sixth grader in the whole world. I remember thinking “Fifteen” felt so old and I couldn’t wait to one day be fifteen and sing that song loud and proud. Maybe this is the age I started daydreaming about being older—a daydream that hasn’t gone away.
Anthony gave me a huge stuffed bear on Valentine’s Day. And I mean huge. Probably twice the size of me (tiny lil thing). When I got in the car with it, I lied to my mom about who gave it to me. “Michaela,” I said. She knew I was lying because moms always know. Anthony and I would talk on the phone after school. He told me we should go to Duke together. That was his dream school, and therefore, should be mine too. We did not end up going to Duke together. His nickname for me was Spartan because that was our school’s mascot.
Nick and I met in elementary school (so steamy). I had had my eyes set on him since I was nine, and I got what I wanted in middle school. I remember texting him non-stop on a trip to New York. My dad told me that if I kept texting so much I would get hit by a cab. I didn’t care. I would rather get hit than stop texting this boy. I called him Jimmy Neutron to his face because he had a big head. I wish I could say I feel bad about that, but if you saw him, you would agree.
Thomas and I were never meant to be. He talked to me about cars on Skype and I didn’t understand why he did that because I thought that was really boring.
Cody was and still is the sweetest boy to ever exist. In sixth grade I just liked him because he was tall. And don’t we all just love a tall, sweet boy?
Julian and I dated for two days. I broke up with him at a football game, which is the most Texas thing I’ve ever said. I just liked that he liked me, and so I liked him back to feel something. Then the reality set in that I would have to date him and I broke up with him.
I tried so hard to be Fearless during this time. I had my hands around the throat of love saying, give it to me now! As I’ve only recently learned, love never comes to you when you strangle it. However, I believed I could will it to happen. So I kept trying again and again. I wanted to know what it felt like.
SPEAK NOW (2010)
Speak Now was when I was finally old enough to relate to some of the things Taylor was singing about. Before now, I would scream the lyrics with a phoniness that only a middle schooler could inhabit. In middle school, I dated Cody (the tall, sweet boy). We dated longer than we did in sixth grade, and now that we were thirteen, it was wayyyy more serious. Cody became the name I put to every TS song. He was the entire Speak Now album. “Last Kiss?” His song. Had we ever kissed? No. But suddenly I was imagining our first and last kiss! How sad! “Sparks Fly?” Oh yeah, lots of sparks were flying when my mom and Cody’s mom dropped us off at the Hill Country Galleria to see The Last Song in theaters. He (his mom) bought my $7 ticket. The first money a man (his mom) had ever spent on me. Cody asked to hold my hand during the movie and I whispered back in his ear, “My mom said I can’t,” because I didn’t want to hold his hand. An excuse I still use to this day. I really put Cody through it with the hand holding. During an eighth grade theater performance, Cody again asked to hold my hand. I said no. After the show, he stormed out of the theater cussing. We broke up after that incident. To this day, I’ve never held Cody’s hand. He has held a lot of girls' hands by now and I’m proud of myself for humbling him at such a young age.
I sang Speak Now with my head held high. Love? Oh yeah, I knew it. Cody and I said I love you to each other all the time. I listened to Speak Now and Fearless and finally felt a connection to Taylor. Of course, there was something off. My voice couldn’t quite hit all of the notes. She had a passion and range to her voice that echoed her experience in love. A passion and range I didn’t yet have because I had only really dated one boy I’d told I loved, but didn’t mean it.
When Red was released, I was fifteen. Finally. I had been waiting years for this moment. Red was the first time Taylor really felt like my older sister. Red is a love album. Most every song is about love, and it felt othering because I didn’t date anyone in high school. I tried to catch up to Taylor this time. Running, sprinting, but always falling behind. So I tried to find love with boys who didn’t know I existed. Once, I somehow masterminded my way into getting a boy's number. I thought he was cute because he was older and liked John Green books. I thought it would be absolutely sickkkkk if I just sent him a quote from Looking For Alaska (the infamous John Green novel and his favorite; how I knew that, I don’t know). So, I texted him. Imagine an unknown number sending you this:
“I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”
Genius idea. Until he called my phone. Obviously, I rejected his call and sent him straight to voicemail. However, when that John Green-loving boy listened to my voicemail, he heard my voice say my full entire name proudly.
“Riley?” he texted. I buried myself in a pillow in my bedroom and I don’t think I’ve recovered since.
I wasn’t catching up to Taylor in the way I wanted. How had she experienced so much love and I had only peaked in middle school? I wanted what she had. Even if it ended in heartbreak. At least someone loved her so much that she wrote a whole album about it. What was this mystical thing called Love anyway? I needed to know.
1989 came out a year before I graduated high school. I was a junior and had never been kissed, still. And you wanna know my most listened to song on this album? “Clean.” A song about finally getting out of a bad relationship, leaving the guy and finding yourself.
In 2014, I eventually had my first kiss because of theater. I landed the lead role in a Shakespeare play opposite the hottest theater kid, Max. Max was the older, talented, weed-smoking dream boat. Every school has one. I was confused how I hadn’t already seduced him after being in a handful of shows together. But Max was forced to love me in this Shakespeare show, Love’s Labour’s Lost. And in this show, his character was obsessssedddd with me. He was directed to kiss me in the middle of a photo shoot for the show (those obnoxious, hot posters plastered around the school). So I had about three seconds to prepare for my first kiss. It happened in a split second. And it was captured on camera.
I doubted myself the most during this time. I felt like I’d taken ten steps back. I felt further from love than ever before, and what was the point of life without love?
Reputation is my album. If I die, blast this album at my funeral, and I’m not kidding. I listened to this album in a car at USC when it debuted in 2017. At this time I was a sophomore in college. I was the most confused during this time in my life. I joined a sorority???? And got into yoga??? Any sight of the old Riley was gone. Reputation felt fitting. I lost myself most completely and deeply during this time and I think I’m still trying to find that girl who texted random boys John Green quotes.
Sophomore year I met the first boy who ever liked me back (aside from peak years in middle school). His name was John and he has ruined every J name for me forever (I think Taylor feels the same way). He was sober, celibate, president of his fraternity, had a dog, did DMT regularly, and said he spoke to God. He was known for wooing girls and then ghosting them. I thought I would beat this. I’m a Leo and love a challenge. I made him love me longer than he loved most girls. But eventually he took me on our final date. I was warned about this. He took girls to his old high school and then his favorite Greek place right around the corner after. That was your signal that you were soon to be kicked to the curb. I remember busting through those Greek doors and I asked our waitress, “How many girls had this man brought here?” She responded, “A lot.” I never saw him again and honestly thank (his friend) God.
Suddenly, not being in love felt more powerful than being in love. I could do that! I think that’s why I love this album the most. Of course, it has love songs but the TLDR is revenge and that was a lot easier for me to find after all these missed connections.
Lover came out in 2019. This was the year I graduated college and moved to New York for graduate school. I listened to this album on subways taking me home to the Upper West Side. I listened to this album while walking unknown New York streets. I listened to this album not in relation to a man, but in relation to a city. I felt its magic in my tiny studio apartment decorated with Target tables and a bedframe I made someone else assemble. I sang to it as I proclaimed, “New York is my city.” I even walked Cornelia Street one day and felt like a badass. I fell in love with the feeling of moving to New York. Lover was my soundtrack to the feeling of re-discovering myself in a new place.
This album taught me that love doesn’t look like me loving a boy always. It looks like walking around Central Park when it’s snowing, ordering pizza at 2am with my best friend, and running around downtown trying to find a pair of snow boots with my mom. It wasn’t so cut and dry and I thought it was growing up. I had tried so hard to find this mystical, magical thing that had actually always existed in my life: my family, my friends, and now, my city. I didn’t need a man to connect to her experiences. I already had them.
FOLKLORE, EVERMORE (2020)
Folklore and Evermore both came out in 2020. I had just moved home because of the pandemic. Taylor gave us the gift of two albums because she knew we all needed it. These albums were the first ones I couldn’t connect to John Mayer or Harry Styles or Joe Jonas. I couldn’t say, oh it was written about this guy and here’s all the drama I know about it. This honestly made me a bit mad. I thought to myself, Taylor, how will I know what’s going on in your life? I need your wisdom and guidance. It was the first album where the songs were not autobiographical. I felt like my medicine was discontinued.
During this year, I dated the worst guy. I needed Taylor more than ever. I listened to Fearless and Red on repeat, listening between the lines and lyrics, hoping to find a small chant I could say to myself. Maybe there was a strength I knew I needed from her to break up with him.
But of course, Taylor gave me exactly what I needed. She said to stop thinking about him. Think about the stories you want to create, the things you want to say. Don’t pay him any attention. I didn’t write a song you could sing in relation to him because he is unimportant. You have bigger things to think about, I heard her say. And that is exactly what I did. I dumped him shortly after these albums came out.
This album was the first album where I started valuing her creativity instead of her relationships. She is a musical genius. Who cares about the drama she’s entangled in? As women, it’s easier to be remembered for who you dated than what you said, and Taylor was explicitly telling us to focus on her abilities. I thought to myself, that’s what I want. I don’t care about the man my arm is wrapped around, I care about the words I write and the things I say. I started asking myself what I wanted to say to the world. I started writing for the first time in my life shortly after these albums came out and I found power not in love, but in my voice.
Midnights was released most recently. I listened to it for the first time while driving down the PCH in Malibu. I felt like I finally caught up to Taylor. I was able to listen to it and not feel so distant from life in general. I had lived and experienced things that I could tie back to every song. I had been in love and lost it. I had dated a horrible guy. I had (finally) had a first kiss.
I was alone in my car when I heard this album, but Midnights feels like an album that Taylor is listening to with you. And we are holding hands. And she is saying you’ve done so well at this really hard thing called life, and I am saying exactly the same thing back to her.
I look back at every era and all I can think is that had to happen to get us here. And I’m sure that’s exactly how Taylor felt at her sold out Sofi stadium show in Los Angeles. Every heartbreak, every loss, every missed connection led her to this moment. It all makes sense. It was all worth it. Everything led me right here. And oh my god was it exhausting and beautiful.
Taylor, I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you.