The last time Taylor Swift appeared on a Cincinnati stage, Chad Ochocinco played in the Pro Bowl, Lady Gaga was about to wear a meat dress to the VMAs, and American TV viewers were eagerly anticipating season two of Jersey Shore. Swift came to then-U.S. Bank Arena in 2010 to promote Fearless, her second album. Was she popular at that point? Absolutely. But a Taylor Swift concert wasn’t a cultural phenomenon yet.
This time around, expect packed hotels, hellish traffic, and two days of unbridled euphoria when Swift plays sold-out shows June 30 and July 1 at Paycor Stadium. The concert outfits themselves will be weeks, if not months, in the making, and we’re not talking about Swift—although she’ll reportedly cycle through a dizzying 16 outfit changes during a show that spans the breadth of country, pop, indie rock, and everything in between. Her return is something local fans have been anticipating for years. For one weekend, downtown Cincinnati will become TaylorLand.
For the uninitiated, this is no ordinary album promotion tour. This is the Eras extravaganza, the one that nearly broke Ticketmaster; it was so immediately popular that Swift had to schedule 17 additional performances to accommodate the demand. In Atlanta, “Taylor Swift fever” gridlocked the city for three days in April. In other words, even if you have no plans to attend the shows, brace yourself.
It’s not exactly an easy feat for an artist who’s only in her early 30s to have the song catalog to pull off a three-hour set, let alone refer to the breadth of her musical career in eras. It’s one thing to stay relevant for that long. Skipping across the U.S. on a record-breaking football-stadium-filling tour is another thing entirely.
But why her? What exactly is it about Taylor Swift? Superstars come and go. It’s difficult to put into perspective the magnitude of her impact on a generation in part because there are so few popular performers to compare her to.
For Cincinnati Enquirer reporter and self-proclaimed Swiftie Madeline Mitchell, the lifelong love affair began in elementary school with Swift’s debut album, a kid-sized guitar, and an immediate pull to the lyrics’ intense honesty. “Our generation is very nostalgic,” says Mitchell. “I can pinpoint where I was and who I was based on Taylor’s discography.”
You don’t have to be a die-hard fan to understand the magnitude of Swift’s influence. She’s everywhere: on your radio, splashed across your screen. Among my generation, even if you’ve actively avoided her, she’s grown up alongside us, sailing along the straits of our adolescence and into adulthood.
Teen girls have always been cultural tastemakers. And no one has captured that market quite like Swift, whose biographical lyrics are meant to be universally relatable. Even if you haven’t lived it, you’ve felt it. Her music isn’t for everyone, but it has a little something for anyone: radio-friendly earworms, folk ballads for the lovelorn, and plenty of pour-your-heart-out-into-your-diary love songs to get you through middle school crushes, breakups, and, if you’re lucky, a first dance at your wedding.
When Swift sang about taking a deep breath and walking through the doors on the first day of high school in “Fifteen,” Mitchell was embarking on her own junior high journey. It was like looking in a lyrical mirror. “Her lyrics are so real and intimate,” says Mitchell. “Her vulnerability has a hold on an entire generation. We wish we were that brave. That kind of fearlessness deserves to be championed.”
Her gravity is so strong that an entire line of Swift concerts exists that are not actual live Swift shows. On August 26, Cincinnati fans will gather at Bogart’s for The Taylor Party, a national DJ tour that assembles Swifties not to bask in the star’s concert-hall presence but to sing, dance, and experience the catharsis that can only come with belting “All Too Well” (the 10-minute version, obviously) in a throng of like-minded strangers.
Taylor Swift performs June 30 and July 1 at Paycor Stadium. The shows are sold out. You can still get down to Swift’s music at the Taylor Party at Bogart’s on August 26. Tickets available at taylorswiftnight.com