Going Live

There were times when the drama in the lives of certain streamers conquered our interest in the show. One curator, after skipping from feed to feed, found a streamer who would go on to broadcast heroically for nearly the remainder of the night, and we stuck with her, too. She had brought her young child. At one point, the child asked: “Why are you crying?” “Because I’m having the best time with you.”

We heard hoarse yellers, loud belters, even soft mumblers.

Photo by Ronald Woan. Image via Flickr.

It became clear that we weren’t going to get tickets. I hadn’t camped out for the exclusive presale with a small crypto-mining operation’s worth of laptops whirring as I refreshed the window. We had not actually realized that she was coming to our city until it was too late. The secondary market was brutal. A few days out, hundreds of tickets were for sale for prices ranging from $2500—“partially obstructed view,” possibly behind the stage—to $9000 for a spot on the floor. Things were no better on the gray market. Sites with names like Jake’s Tickets and Charlie Cheapseats, on which it starts to seem that Jake and Charlie are just one guy, were asking the same.

I wasn’t ready to abandon hope. I’d heard a rumor that the thing to do for scalper-saturated shows is lurk in the parking lot and monitor the online marketplaces at showtime. Once the music starts, surely the people or bots or whatever is on the other end would dump their now about-to-be-worthless hoarded tickets at face value or less. We decided it would be an adventure. We found a friend who could watch the dog while we went to Levi’s Stadium and tried ticket arbitrage. I’d pursued every other angle I could think of, and Craigslist had yielded the only lead: last-minute change of plans, five tickets, shockingly low price. I texted the number and asked if we could meet in person. No, that would not be possible; the guy was out of town, but promised instant transfer through email, after full payment, naturally. I don’t exactly know what wire fraud is, but that’s how I’d probably go about it.

As showtime drew closer, the numbers were not budging. They had come down since we first started monitoring: now the partially obstructed view could be ours for $1000 per person, plus fees. I had been told this magazine might be able to cover the cost of a “cheap ticket.” We began to speculate about how generously “cheap” could be construed. At 6:30, Gracie Abrams, the first opener, took the stage—a Gen Z singer-songwriter somewhere between the whispery haze of Clairo and the angsty bombast of Olivia Rodrigo. Prices actually went up. Still at home, we realized there was no chance this was happening. In search of consolation, I made a run to the liquor store. As often happens while one is standing in line at such places, “Anti-Hero” came over the speakers. Boom, swish, boom-boom, swish, boom, swish, boom-boom, went Jack Antonoff’s programmed drums. “Did you know Taylor Swift is performing in Santa Clara right now?” the man behind me asked his friend. Did I ever.

I had a backup plan. Researching whether I could camp out in the parking lot while I played the ticket ponies, I had puzzled over a gnomic promise on a local news site: “Sorry, Swifties! If you weren’t able to nab a coveted Taylor Swift ticket for her concerts at Levi’s Stadium it looks like you may have to enjoy the show from home.” Enjoy the show from home? Perhaps there was a livestream. Could this be Taylor’s way of making it up to the millions of fans who were shut out of the presale scramble? No. There was no official feed.

But with “livestream” as a search term, I stepped through the looking glass and into the esoteric world of Taylor Swift fan broadcasts. Maybe you already knew to expect this, but from each stadium, a certain number of Swifties “go live,” broadcasting the view and sound from their seats on Instagram or TikTok. A group of well-informed streamers in the fandom act as curators, rebroadcasting others’ livestreams, with various degrees of host intervention. One TikToker came on camera to chat with viewers during the openers’ sets, in the manner of the pregame to the Women’s World Cup, while a curator on Twitch displayed three side-by-side live broadcasts without comment, synced to a single audio feed from the show—more like the unseen director’s view from the FoxSports control room.

By this means, the concert in downtown Santa Clara came to our Santa Clara County living room. Individual “lives” dropped out, whether from loss of cell contact or because the streamer decided to put the phone down. Curators stood by with reserve “lives,” replacing one feed with the next.

At so many dollars per minute for the experience of a concert, why “go live” and stream? Certainly it is a service to your fellow fans. One streamer, an elder statesperson in the scene, kept repeating her advice to viewers: “Only go live if it enhances your experience.” Watching an unbroken succession of live feeds from different levels of the stadium, broadcast through someone else’s TikTok and routed through my laptop to our decrepit TV, we were doused with thundershowers of other people’s enjoyment. Everyone screams the words at these shows, but livestreams privilege the screams of the streamer. We heard hoarse yellers, loud belters, even soft mumblers. An especially charming streamer droned every song in a monotone. One fan on the floor, apparently within spitting distance of Taylor, gasped “MOMMY!” as the star struck a pose, sibylline.

The Eras Tour, already the top-grossing tour in the US this year, is an entertainment juggernaut with a staggering number of parts. Each album or “era” is a self-contained aesthetic universe with its own stage set and themed outfits. The segment dedicated to the edge-of-adulthood album Speak Now is soaked in sparkly purple and blue: colors out of Disney, or off the bath bomb shelf at Lush. A cabin is wheeled onstage for the vaguely woodsy folklore. One transition involves a mime routine.

How was the music? Almost unfailingly, it was very good. The live band was always audibly present under the backing tracks, lending ballast to some of the thinner productions from recent albums like last year’s Midnights. There was no improvisation. On the Eras Tour, every moment, down to the gesture of gratitude at a minutes-long ovation for “champagne problems,“ is a repetition, not only of each album’s greatest hits, but of The Eras Tour itself, which many in the audience have already seen, thanks to the livestreamers, unfolding night after night as if anew. Even the literally earthshaking effects of the fans’ dancing, which officially entered Swift into the geological record with Richter Scale readings in the low 2s, have recurred at least once before. Still, to cognoscenti, there is plenty of meaningful variation. Fans online make predictions about how long the “champagne problems” ovation will last.

There were times when the drama in the lives of certain streamers conquered our interest in the show. One curator, after skipping from feed to feed, found a streamer who would go on to broadcast heroically for nearly the remainder of the night, and we stuck with her, too. She had brought her young child.

At one point, the child asked: “Why are you crying?”

“Because I’m having the best time with you.”

With the prophetic certainty of a dedicated Swiftie, she told the child that the next song would be the epic 10-minute version of “All Too Well.”

“Are you going to say the bad word?” she asked the child. (The lyrics contain the phrase “fuck the patriarchy.”)

The child: “Yeah!”

“OK. Well . . . you’ve got to scream it.”

This feed ended only after the child, perhaps pausing to hydrate, missed the cue for a spectacular set piece: Taylor diving into a trap door on the stage and disappearing. Lights projected deep blue ripples on the stage, along with something seemingly unaccountable—Taylor, still in her red dress, swimming through the superimposed water, all the way out to the leading edge of the crowd. Like any good Swiftie, the child had known this was coming, and was devastated that she had failed to catch it. The livestream ended so she could be consoled.

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