"This is Me Trying": Our Citric Acid Correspondent on Seeing Taylor Swift
by Tamara Beauchamp
One might first wonder why to include reportage on the Los Angeles leg of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour in this, what our editor calls OC’s unlikeliest journal. As an attendee of the final concert of the US tour held at Sofi Stadium on August 8th, however, I can say with much assurance that coastal Orange County was very much in the house for that record-shattering event. Perhaps more inappropriate than the journal is the journalist: while I’ve passing acquaintance with Swift’s music, I could hardly be considered a devoted fan. The date 8/9, for example, meant nothing to me when my best friend from college, Anna, asked me earlier that week to see if I wanted to join her for the show. Only later would I learn that most of the 70,000-odd people in attendance that evening expected an important announcement regarding the release of “Taylor’s version” of the album 1989 precisely because of the date (Swift’s is not a complex numerology).
I struggle to find the correct term for the rather frenzied interpretive rapport between Swift and her fans, the Swifties. My partner proposed “argot,” while my Gen Z coworker offered “Easter Egg, I guess?” along with a shrug. Neither seem to fully capture the breathless predictions that I overheard throughout the night, the pleasure that Swift herself seemed to take in teasing out the announcement hours into her performance, and the unhinged glee that her audience took at what was surely an unsurprising confirmation of their theories. Two eager soothsayers in the row behind us burst into tears.
Anna is the CFO of a company you’ve likely never heard of that owns the company that manufactured my direct-to-consumer mattress. They also own the two other brands that I carefully considered in shopping for a mattress (the spectacular abundance of false choice in late capitalism). We joke that Anna has a congenital case of FOMO; that she survived stage three cancer in her late 30s has only accelerated her desire to do all of the things, and to do them immediately and exceptionally well. Like me, she is not a Taylor Swift fan per se but sensed that something Zeitgeisty was happening in Inglewood that week. Her boss, king of the mattress kings, boasted that he knew a guy and could snag her last-minute tickets. I suppose it wasn’t a boast, because shortly after their conversation she received tickets for two seats in something called a corporate patio suite.
When I received my invitation, I did what any reasonable person would do. I asked if I was the first person she asked—I wasn’t, her husband had declined the offer—and then immediately searched StubHub for comparable tickets. Seats like ours were selling for around $6k on Sunday and were up to nearly $8k by the day of the concert. I immediately imagined any number of things that might be better than any concert: a month in Italy, a used car, even the dental work that I’ve been putting off for over a year.
After she made clear to me that this wasn’t a cash offer, Anna also warned me of my ill-preparedness for the event. I had not selected the “era” that best represented my “personality,” nor had I made any friendship bracelets for trading with other concertgoers. A song I like contains the lyric, “And I got that red lip classic thing that you like,” so I wore lipstick in hopes that it would adequately signal a particular era (wrong: the red lip is transhistorical in Swiftian semiotics). As we trekked from our unstacked off-site parking ($80) with hundreds of other concertgoers through the streets of Inglewood, the extent of the others’ preparation quickly became apparent. This was their sequin-spangled prom—if, in lieu of a satin clutch, one wore a clear plastic miniature backpack to the big dance. I remember when these bags first came out after Columbine in the late 1990s. Some girls at my high school even carried them, though I recall agonizing with friends over how one could possibly carry her tampons in such a bag. That the present generation doesn’t live in abject fear that the accoutrements to their menstruation might be visible surely constitutes some kind of generalized win for feminism, yes?
But as if drawn by this collective brazenness—or perhaps by the mere likelihood of a large congregation of women enjoying themselves together—several Bible-shaking doomsday announcers had camped out at the entrances to the stadium’s parking lot with glossy posters featuring dead fetuses and Revelation 21:8. As we passed through the gates, one zealot shouted something at us about Gomorrah and lesbians and abortionists. And while it was certainly true many women in that stadium have had abortions (25%, if that newspaper of sodomite record the New York Times is to be believed), the whole schtick seemed a bit heavy-handed. Perhaps infuriated that the single most expensive evening of his entire life might be sullied by these protestors, a man wearing an “It’s Me, Hi, I’m the Dad, It’s Me” t-shirt shouted “WE’RE CHRISTIANS YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!” while passing through the gates as two preteen girls in matching pink tulle dresses cowered behind him.
The day was muggy and gray. Inside, humidity mixed with bodily smells in the unnaturally bright, shadowless light cast by the gigantic elliptical screen suspended in the center of the stadium. Our VIP tickets quickly solved the friendship bracelet problem. Upon presenting our QR codes at the entrance to the Owners Club, we were suddenly hailed as “ladies” and presented with a tray of beaded bracelets featuring rather anodyne words and phrases like ROMEO AND JULIET, 13, and BEJEWELED (better phrases like VIGILANTE SHIT and F—K THE PATRIARCHY were in circulation, but not in the corporate wing). I selected THIS IS ME TRYING as the glass doors opened with a wave of refrigerated air.
Everything in the Owners Club is designed to seem cold: frosted glass, gray marble, and silver leatherette. I immediately regretted having eaten before the concert, as vast displays of unlimited free food and drink activated some primal, lower-middle-class panic that I wouldn’t get my money’s worth. That I had spent no money was immaterial, and I filled my plate with tacos, truffle-studded mac and cheese, fresh figs, and a customized s’more brûléed by a woman wielding a petite blowtorch. I should report, I suppose, that there were numerous Swift-themed cocktails on offer (a crème de violette-based Lavender Haze apparently swept hotel bars across the city that week). I ordered a top-shelf margarita and a beer. Why two drinks? Armed only with the knowledge of the open bars at weddings, I reasoned that the free booze might at some point cease.
It doesn’t, and there was another open bar in the suite itself. In a rather theatrical touch, the bartender at the Owners Club rang up our drinks and then zeroed out the bill, so I got a glimpse of what your order would have cost ($74) had I been drinking elsewhere in the stadium. Our bartender seemed rather bemused when I handed her a twenty as a tip, though I couldn’t figure out if it was because I had given her too little or because I had given her anything at all, as I didn’t observe anyone else tip for the rest of the evening.
At the entrance to our suite, I asked Anna which of the firms listed on the plaque on the door belonged to the guy who had supplied our tickets. She didn’t know, and I was left to puzzle out the relationship between our suitemates and the corporate owners of the space for the rest of the evening. It is cliché to observe that those can who actually afford expensive things in our deranged society rarely have to pay for them. But as I brushed elbows with the .01% that evening—or, rather, as I didn’t brush elbows with anyone, as each plush seat in the patio suite had its own armrests—I thought again and again of how undeserving they were of these spoils. For most of us, concertgoing includes a range of humanizing indignities: The $12 beer served in a plastic cup that spills the instant someone jostles you, the tall guy donning a few extra inches of fedora who slides into your hard-won view just as the band comes on stage, and of course, the interminable lines, sticky floors, and overflowing refuse bins of the women’s restroom.
And yet, there in the climate-controlled confines of the Owner’s Club, I watched two women in customized sequined Gucci bomber jackets (LOVER and 1989, respectively) sip not coupes of Veuve Clicquot, but White Claw Hard Seltzers in cans. There were only four men in our suite and cleaning staff silently shuttled in and out all evening. And yet, the underside of the toilet seat in the suite’s private restroom was printed with a gentle reminder: “Gentlemen, please remember to put the toilet seat down”. How do I know? Because that toilet seat was up and the marble floor surrounding it was spackled with piss. In a way, the fact that our suite was filled with the vulgar hangers-on of our corporate overlords was comforting. Had I not gone to the show, these stupefyingly expensive seats would not have gone to some Make-A-Wish Swifty. My suitemates were either freeloaders like me, or something even worse: the kind of people who can afford $8k concert tickets.
In any case, I felt free to glower.
Perhaps some of my sourness stemmed from my unfamiliarity with Swift’s intergenerational appeal. I listened to music in my teens precisely to distance myself from my parents. They might have given me a ride to a show but certainly wouldn’t have wasted their time or money on the bands that I deemed worthwhile. In contrast, parents and children seemed to come to this concert on equal footing as fans. Even in odd parameters of our suite, most of the groups seemed to be composed of families and not friends. The Gucci jacketed women were accompanied by four teenage girls, while a man with guilty shared custody vibes (Patagonia fleece, tapping away on his phone) had brought his preteen daughter. I briefly felt sorry for her as I watched her eagerly observe the older girls and work up the courage to ask to trade bracelets with them. They were nice enough and gamely traded, but their attentions quickly left their young admirer. Twenty minutes later and visibly bored, the preteen clomped over to us in an impossibly shiny purple dress and platform heels. “We haven’t traded yet, have we?” she asked, as if she had interacted with so many people already that she had forgotten. Anna and I of course handed over our single, Owner’s Club-supplied bracelets. She assessed our offer, then studied the dozens of beaded strands that stacked up her arm. She carefully selected two of the plainest and ugliest (<3NE and T SWIFT), presented them to us with a fake smile. “What a little scammer,” Anna muttered, as we put our new bracelets on.
In the seats directly in front of us sat a man, probably in his late thirties, accompanied by his septuagenarian mother. They both had the oddly overworked faces of the very wealthy in Southern California: plasticky and perpetually surprised. One of the Gucci jackets clearly knew the mother-son pair and greeted them warmly when they arrived. The longer I watched them, though, the stranger this duo seemed. I noticed that the Gucci jacket surreptitiously moved her daughter to a different seat further away when he left his seat to get a drink from the bar. I texted Anna again:
That dude is mos def a serial killer who has been protected by his parent’s wealth. The other families suspect something but are too frightened of Motherboy’s family money and connections.
She laughed, but not as hard as I wanted. I tried again, this time to my husband:
Sitting next to a straight up serial killer attending this concert with his mom. I assume she pays off the families of the sex workers whom he murders and eats.
Again, I got the LOL I was gunning for, but something was missing. Why was I so unhappy? Who were these tourists in the corporate patio suite? Why hadn’t their tickets gone to real fans? I felt genuinely indignant as they chatted and schmoozed and generally ignored the opening band’s performance. Here we were at a concert that nearly broke the Ticketmaster wheel, and yet my suitemates might just well have been at the Lido Nobu on a Tuesday night for all the attention they were paying to the stage.
That is, until 8:30 sharp when the stadium lights went out. Smoke flooded the stage and the music started. Everyone around me rose from their plush seats to their feet. Our LED wristbands suddenly became pulsating nodes in a bioluminescent sea, and Swift emerged as if by magic from beneath giant blush billowing sheets, a Venus on the half-shell in a sparkling leotard. The Gucci jackets clutched their daughters and took turns filming one another miming Swift’s signature over-the-shoulder pose. During the acoustic set, Divorced Dad draped his arm around his daughter, and together they swayed with iPhones flashlights held aloft. Motherboy sang every single lyric to the 45-song setlist. Our suitemates danced and screamed and cried and held one another for over three hours, rapt. Long past curfew, Swift strutted up and down the vast stage with a staggering, otherworldly physicality that her audience seemed bent on matching.
The paucity of my knowledge of her catalogue was contrasted with the audience’s seeming enthusiasm for every single song. A woman in the adjoining suite wearing a black dominatrix jumpsuit sang and thrashed about to “Look What You Made Me Do” with such possessed abandon that her companions shrank back in reverence. “Give her room,” one of her companions solemnly declared, his hand in the air to hold everyone back, as if her frenzy were of a religious or medical variety.
In a break between songs, Swift described a recurrent experience in her career. She experiences an emotion that feels entirely unique and isolating and then writes a song about it. But then, she discovers the universality of that emotion as thousands upon thousands of people yell her own lyrics back at her while she sings. And yes, she did playfully describe what the people were doing in the audience as “yell-singing.” I learned from coverage of the tour that midway through every show, every crowd erupts into a spontaneous ovation, though I’ll brag that the ovation the night I was in attendance lasted over nine minutes (8… 9?), making the first headline on People.com the next day. May I linger here on what it feels like to be in a metal-clad bowl with 70,000 people clapping and stomping and screaming for nine minutes? My ears rang, my chest throbbed, and I sunk into my seat.
It's me. Hi. I’m the tourist, it’s me.
There was no encore—how could there be after such a mid-stream climax? The final song included a blizzard of silvery confetti, though I noticed folks starting to file out of their seats well before the strands started to hit the floor. While no one exactly pushed one another, any sense of happy unification dissolved as we jostled into lines to escalate out of the stadium. There were no receptacles for our LED wristbands, which still throbbed with a persistent blue light, so concertgoers chucked them into bins that looked distressingly like trashcans. I held back, glitching for a moment at the prospect of my own complicity with tens of thousands of other lithium batteries headed to the landfill. Waiting in a huge crowd at the crosswalk on the way back to the car, I overheard people discussing the misbehaviors of their fellow concertgoers—the occluded views, the spilled drinks, the overzealous lip-synchers—offenses perhaps less pardonable because of the sheer overdetermination of the event. It felt like cleanup after Christmas morning.
As I was four top-shelf margaritas in (still free), I decided to stay over at Anna’s house instead of braving the long drive back to Orange County. Ears buzzing, I struggled to sleep in the quiet darkness of her Carthay Square guest room. The wristband continued to pulse though the pocket of my denim jacket despite the ten miles that now separated it from its stadium hivemind. With the bleary unreason of a three a.m. half-hangover, I decided that its light was what was keeping me awake, so I brought the wristband out to kitchen and, still finding its persistence unsettling, covered it with a dishtowel.
When I awoke the next morning, Anna was already in a heated Zoom meeting about a foam shortage, so her husband greeted me with a cup of coffee. “Did you guys enjoy your time in the fancy corporate suite?” he asked, and before I could answer, he pointed at the dishtowel. “Also, what happened here?” I sheepishly explained my landfill theory and the absence of an off switch to the entire Taylor Swift Eras experience. He tinkered for a bit, trying to pry open the seam of the plastic casing with the butter knife from his toast. “Tenacious little fucker!” he declared on his way to the utility room, returning with a hammer. Rather delicately, he positioned the wristband on the cutting board and cracked it open with a single thwack. A silver disc skittered across the counter. Unceremoniously, he pocketed the battery and swept the plastic carcass, now mute, into the trash.
 Anna's name, along with a few other details, have been gently fictionalized.
Title Photo Credit: Tamara Beauchamp
Tamara Beauchamp is the Writing Director of the Humanities Core Program at UC Irvine. She lives in Modjeska Canyon.