When I interviewed the great Carly Simon for my Anthems We Love book last year, Simon talked about the camaraderie of her and her fellow singer/songwriters, recalling the likes of Harry Chapin, James Taylor, Carole King and more gathering to share songs with each other. For a lot of people who grew up in that time, or still love that music, it’s tempting to think of that as a golden age of popular music that is now impossible to achieve in this new music industry.
But watching Taylor Swift’s spectacular “Eras” tour come through L.A. for six sold-out shows at the massive SoFi stadium I would make the very strong argument we are in a new golden age of pop, with Swift at the center.
For starters, look at the artists that Swift surrounds herself with. Her “besties” HAIM, who are opening every show at Sofi, are superb musicians; she works consistently with the National, my vote for best band in rock today and unquestioned great songwriters, and the brilliant and daring Phoebe Bridgers, among others. And Swift is the bond that unites them all.
Swift’s “Eras” show is a stunning achievement, at 45 songs and more than three hours. She is an authentic and charming presence on stage as she speaks to the adoring throng, which she did often, expertly mixing pop dancing like in “Shake It Off” with her troubadour-like banter. And watching 60,000 fans lose their collective minds at her sitting down at a piano and doing a beautiful solo piano version of “Champagne Problems,” which her fans greeted at the end as if Led Zeppelin had just performed “Stairway To Heaven,” was awe-inspiring to watch.
Whatever your opinion of Swift’s music no one can argue she is a true artist. She is a gifted songwriter, plays guitar and piano during the show, and effectively moves between numerous styles of music during the show. Also, when you start to think about how she has rerecorded her albums after her masters were famously sold, that kind of “f” you move is in the spirit of a Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis or John Lennon, artists who didn’t take any crap from anyone. Also, Swift has earned the respect of a number of veteran musicians, including Bruce Springsteen and Graham Nash, for her activism in recent years. You may not like her songs, but no one can dispute her artistry. She is an artist who also happens to be one of the two most beloved figures in pop music today.
The only other act in the discussion with Swift in terms of popularity is Beyonce, whose dazzling artistry and integrity can also not be denied. With their tours simultaneously dominating the cultural landscape, Swift and Beyonce are at the apex of the pop music scene in 2023. Right below them in that category are Billie Eilish and her brother, super producer FINNEAS, and Adele. Everywhere you turn on the pop charts these days you see artists taking chances. And that group is hardly alone. Just look at this year’s Grammys where you had the likes of Harry Styles, Samara Joy and Kendrick Lamar all take home key awards.
The surprising win of jazz singer Joy for Best New Artist, in particular, stands out. Her win is part of a bigger return to organic songs and instrumentation. We’ll see that continue with the new Jon Batiste album, World Music Radio, dropping in a few weeks. It is a masterpiece, a breathtaking follow up to his Grammy winning Album of the Year We Are. And we’re seeing more of that warmth and humanity in music in younger artists, like the stunning songwriting of Noah Cyrus, or the daring diversity and rich musical sound of Sage Bava.
When you look at the big picture, this is a really exciting time for music in the mainstream. And in the heart of the vortex is Swift. There were several highlights during her Friday night show, but, to me, “Eras” isn’t about the individual songs. It’s about the overall artistry of Swift and how this show displays her full vision as an artist. And, a few years from now, when she is inducted into both the Rock And Roll and Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, (and it’s when, not if), this tour and the huge scope of it will be looked at a crucial point in her ascent from one time pop darling to a Hall of Fame singer/songwriter.