Taylor Swift performed two concerts for her New Era tour around here this past weekend, on Friday and Saturday nights. Levi’s Stadium, where she was performing, can hold 70,000 fans and not only was it sold out both nights, but the resale value of extra tickets apparently reached $45,000 in last minute ticket sales. I can’t give a review of the concert— I wasn’t there, but I nonetheless have a lot to say about the way that the concert tucked itself into the ways of Silicon Valley one weekend.
Maybe I’m not a sympathetic person to be writing about this, maybe I am not a fan of anything that much, but I have a hard time understanding this level of commitment to an artist. I mean, most of the people at the event didn’t pay anything close to that amount of money. Perhaps they paid $500 or $600 and thought it was a worthy splurge to be part of this cultural moment. But at the moment that they later realized they could fund a year or so of college from the couple of tickets in their possession, that they could repair a roof or landscape the backyard, how they could weigh a couple of hours of fun against that and come out with the same calculus seems a little mysterious to me.
Again, I’m maybe a curmudgeon about this, but taking public transportation with 69,998 of my best friends, being subsumed by noisy hordes of people, thinking of how if it took a few hours for everyone to file in (doors opened at 4:30, the concert started at 6:30), how in the world could they evacuate in the case of emergency? Not to mention parking, or concessions. Apparently, the open-to-the-public merchandising opened at 10am on Thursday morning, and people lined up beginning at midnight the night before to have the privilege to pay for (presumably overpriced) t-shirts that proclaim the dates of the New Eras Tour.
My CrossFit coach says that there are only two kinds of people in the world: “Swifties — and Liars.” I have repeated this line often, but only to proudly proclaim myself, apparently, a liar. I have barely followed her brazen re-recording of her own songs, marveled at the $5 billion dollars she has generated for the economy, and found it slightly amusing that her fans in Seattle were whipped into such a frenzy that their movements registered at 2.8 on the Richter scale. That’s hardly a large earthquake, but it’s probably the first human generated one.
The local news is frenzied with one other small detail: she apparently violated the curfew of the stadium, which is at 11pm on weekend nights. This tour is supporting the release of four albums, and apparently her sets are very generous, lasting over three hours. I’m not sure if she thinks to herself “people have paid a week/month/year’s salary to come see me, I had best make it worth their while” or whether she just truly loves what she is doing and is bursting to share her music, or a combination of the two. The articles themselves point out the feebleness of the fine. The last time there was a violation, the 49’ers were fined $1,000 by the city.
Part of the intention of this system of fines is, of course, to protect the public. It isn’t reasonable for neighbors to bear the brunt of the excited frenzy happening in private (and expensive) nearby quarters and it is a big traffic nightmare. Noise ordinances are meant to equitably distribute what is actually a scarce resource: quiet.
We know it’s a scarce resource because the nearer to the highway you live, the cheaper your house is. The couple of times I ended up on calls with my congresspeople, in that weird automatic they-call-you system so you can listen in on their calls with constituents, it was all about the flight path into the airport and how upset people were by hearing noisy airplanes when they previously hadn’t— at all hours!
Given how once-in-a-lifetime this tour supposedly is, it’s hard to see how anyone would do anything other than brush off the fine. It could be as much as a calculated decision, and for the 70,000 fans in the audience, it’s hard to see how their preference to extract the maximum value out of their ticket could be weighed against the needs of the neighbors in this case. An economist would probably love this problem: how much did each of the fans pay per minute of the concert, and how much would they be willing to pay for extra minutes, against how much the residents would value an earlier curfew. There’s pretty much no price tag on the fine that is going to make it come out in favor of quiet over this extraordinary performance.
Which is why I’m going to say one other thing about it, which is about a tour overall as a sort of anti-internet meme. It’s so…analog.
One of the curious things about the digital revolution is the way that everything has become simultaneous and instantaneous and altogether pulled out of time. It used to be that tv shows aired episodically, and you had to wait to see what would happen next. Now, seasons “drop” at midnight and by the time you get to the morning, someone has already binge-watched them all and you are behind. I have to tell my kids that there didn’t have to be spoiler warnings all the time before, because everyone had to wait just the same.
I can’t exactly claim that there is any pleasure of waiting, because it is frustrating. It is tension. But it is also excitement, particularly in the collectivity of it. This is a concert that was anticipated, that had to be waited for.
For a while last year, one of my son’s TikTok feeds included a dog named Noodle, who was elderly and failing. This pug would be lifted up by his owner behind him, and sometimes he would then stand and look at the camera. Other times, he would sort of collapse into himself, apparently unable to even hold himself up. This, his owner would proclaim to be a “no bones” day as though there wasn’t a spine inside for the dog to hold himself up. And whether it was a “bones” or a “no bones” day was taken to be a kind of forecast— on a “no bones” day, the world might seem overwhelming, and you should be especially kind and gentle with yourself.
Eventually, the overwhelm was making this videos in the first place, and despite the viral demands of an audience wanting to know if the day contained bones or not, the owner had to pull back. And some time after that, the 14 year old Noodle died and there never would be any more bones.
It struck me that more than the forecast, there was the rare pleasure of not being able to anticipate in advance. There was no way to get ahead of the game, no leaks or plot spoilers. No statistics or predictive AI. Only the fact that people were going to get in a room and not know what was going to happen, and nobody could find out any sooner.
And it’s maybe a little reassuring that that still holds out a thrill, that the unexpected is still a pleasure, that curated spaces have their limits. And for all that can be said about how Spotify delivers up our music, how every song that Taylor Swift sang in her concert could be heard comfortably— in private, at our leisure, any time you want— there’s still something electric about not knowing exactly what will come next. That anything could happen. That live events can still offer something worth more than a year of college tuition. The wilds of curfews broken and set lists scrambled and an encore that you’re not sure will happen or not, until it does.
And perhaps, the value of all of that is, as Mastercard once proclaimed: priceless.