Industry chatter was buzzing for weeks: Why hasn’t Taylor Swift announced a tour yet? Her new album, “Lover,” is a hit; she’s already performed on TV and did a ten-song set at a blockbuster Amazon Prime concert in New York in June, and she and her band clearly are ready. And yet touring industry insiders noted that even for 2020, most of the suitable U.S. venues for a tour on the level of Swift’s were no longer available.
The answer became clear when she announced her tour dates yesterday: For the next 15-ish months, Swift is focusing on touring overseas, and will play just two cities in the U.S. in 2020: two dates each at the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles(July 25 and 26) and Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts (July 31 and Aug. 1), dubbed “Lover Fest East” and West and billed as “her only U.S. concert dates in 2020.” Anyone in the U.S. who wants to see her and can’t make those dates will have to head overseas, where she announced eight summer festival appearances (seven in continental Europe and one in Brazil), with “additional U.K. and international dates and festivals” to be revealed soon.
“For me, the ‘Lover’ album is open fields and sunsets and SUMMER,” Swift wrote in the social-media post announcing the tour. “I want to celebrate the album and perform it live with you in a way that feels authentic to the music. I want to go to some places I haven’t been, and play festivals for the first time in ages…and where we didn’t have festivals, we made some.”
She also told Ryan Seacrest last month that a full-scale tour might not be in the offing. “I’m not quite sure what we’re doing with touring,” she said. “I don’t want to do the same thing every time because I don’t want my life to feel like I’m on a treadmill. There’s a lot that goes into touring that nobody knows about — like you have to reserve stadiums like a year and a half in advance, and that to me is a lot. With ‘Reputation,’ I knew that nobody would really fully understand the album until they saw it live, but this album is different because people are seeming to get it on the first listen.
“I definitely want to play this album live for a lot of people,” she concluded, “but I don’t really know exactly what way that’s going to happen.”
While those are fair enough reasons for Swift to be fostering “scarcity,” to use the industry term for popular artists who don’t tour regularly, and two shows in giant stadiums will satisfy a lot of fans (SoFi can expand to hold 100,000; Gillette holds 65,000), her move makes sense for a lot of other reasons as well.
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For me, the Lover album is open fields and sunsets and SUMMER. I want to celebrate the album and perform it live with you in a way that feels authentic to the music. I want to go to some places I haven’t been, and play festivals for the first time in ages…and where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East and West. Details and additional dates coming soon! TaylorSwift.com
Primarily, it’s because she did a massive 40-date North American stadium tour just last year. While a breakdown by continent was not available, the tour sold more than 2 million tickets and grossed more than $265 million in the U.S. alone, according to Pollstar, which insiders agree has pretty much saturated the market for the immediate future.
Asked whether Swift might consider a Springsteen move like touring theaters or even arenas, one insider scoffed. “Have you ever seen Taylor do anything small? And besides, there would be so many p—ed off fans. That’s just not how she rolls.”
But above that, with a full-scale U.S. tour, Swift would be risking one of the things she seems to dread most: overexposure.
Which is another major reason why it’s a wise long-term decision to hold back this time around. While rising artists — or those for whom short-term success seems likely — often do well to grab everything they can while they can, Swift has always tended to play the long game. Every move she makes is carefully calculated, and she’s hyper-aware of and reactive to public opinion: During the infamous 2016 leaked phone conversation with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, she was heard saying “I’m like this close to overexposure,” speaking of her public profile in the wake of her blockbuster “1989” album.
“There’s definitely an art to knowing when to go big and when to go away,” says one insider. “People are only going to spend so much on concerts, and thousands of them are probably not going to pay a few hundred dollars or more to see you again when they just saw you last year.
“So not only do you have go away and let the public’s appetite rebuild, when you’re that famous and that [ubiquitous], people get sick of you. You have to wait for them to miss you, at least a little.”
Saturation is an undefined but very real metric that many of today’s megastars have tested the boundaries of. Justin Timberlake put his music career on hold for six years to focus on his acting career — and then came back so big in 2013, with two albums and an extremely long tour that stretched into 2015, that he may have burned out his audience for last year’s “Man of the Woods” album and tour (although other factors were at play as well). Adele — who may be taking cues from that master of scarcity, Sade, who tours every 8-10 years — is in a position to release music and tour when she feels like it. And aging road warriors like the Rolling Stones are an exception, because they’re offering the ultimate scarcity: Every tour could be the last.
But in recent years, regularly active megastars such as Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have wisely focused on developing their overseas followings when they sensed impending burnout from their North American and European audiences. For long stretches in the middle of this decade, Gaga and Perry were practically invisible to those fans in the latter phase of their album cycles — but they were making millions touring in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and/or South America, while also developing their audiences and profiles in those territories. And Bon Jovi rode out the popularity trough that nearly always follows the first five years of ubiquity by playing outside of North America — and then returning when the home audience realized they missed him.
For Swift, this move also makes sense when looking at the long game: The “Reputation” tour had just 13 overseas dates and 40 in North America, so she may be shifting the emphasis this time. And she could conceivably play 2020 concerts in Canada, Mexico and even the Caribbean, within striking distance of the U.S., while not breaking her word about the L.A. and Massachusetts stadium dates.
“It’s a smart move,” the insider says. “When you’re that big, the thing to do is play places you haven’t played before, and that’s what she’s doing.”