Most stadium concerts have little space for improvisation, especially pop spectaculars that utilize dancers, confetti cannons, video screens and inflatable props. These types of shows are almost always rehearsed down to the smallest detail as if they were Broadway musicals. On Taylor Swift’s 2018 Reputation tour, however, she decided to reward her hardcore fans by reserving one slot a night for a surprise acoustic song. It always came on the B stage shortly after “Shake It Off” or “Dancing With Our Hands Tied.”
By the time the tour wrapped last week at the Tokyo Dome, she’d performed nearly every song she’d ever written. No song was too obscure and there was no way of knowing what the surprise selection would be on any given night until she started singing it. Picking the 10 best moments was tough, but we polled a handful of Swift super fans to assemble this list. (Many of these videos are incomplete. Taylor Swift fans either really like making short videos, or YouTube has been asked to take down complete ones.)
“All Too Well” (Glendale, Arizona; May 8th)
Swift set the tone for the whole tour on opening night in Glendale, Arizona when she played the fan favorite “All Too Well,” a song that hadn’t been part of a tour since 2014. (It’s also Rob Sheffield’s favorite Taylor Swift song and he happened to be in the crowd that night.) The sad breakup song is almost certainly about the dissolution of her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal, and obsessive fans have even pinpointed the exact scarf she references in it. Many of the surprise acoustic songs on the tour were one-offs, but this one was brought out two more times.
“Change” (Foxborough, Massachusetts; July 27th)
Taylor Swift was just starting to write songs for 2008’s Fearless when she began “Change,” which chronicled her rise from obscurity up through that point in her career. She was unable to finish it until she won the Horizon Award at the CMAs in 2007. “I knew I couldn’t finish it until something like that happened,” she said. “It was absolutely the most amazing night of my life, getting to see the emotion of all the people who worked so hard for me.” The song became one of the themes for the 2008 Summer Olympics and was the last number of the main set on her Fearless tour in 2009–10, but she hadn’t touched it since a one-off in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 2013 when it appeared at a Reputation show in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
“Mean” (Dublin, June 15th)
Swift sang “Rhiannon” with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 Grammys and was perhaps a bit off-key. Some critics tore the performance to shreds, most notably industry analyst Bob Lefsetz. “Did Taylor Swift kill her career overnight?” he asked. “Taylor’s too young and dumb to understand the mistake she made. … It’s hard to be a singer if you can’t sing.” She’s never fully admitted it, but it’s almost certain that Swift read that nasty rebuke and wrote “Mean” in response. She had the last laugh when the song hit Number 11 on the Hot 100. The lone performance on the Reputation tour came in Dublin. It was the first time she’d touched it since 2015.
“A Place in This World” (Pittsburgh, August 7th)
Taylor reached all the way back to her 2006 debut LP at the Pittsburgh stop of the Reputation tour when she played “A Place in This World.” When she wrote it, she was an unknown teenage singer/songwriter who had just moved to Nashville. “I don’t know what I want, so don’t ask me,” she sings. “Cause I’m still trying to figure it out.” The song was never a single, and until this year in Pittsburgh, Swift hadn’t played it since 2009.
“Tim McGraw” (Nashville, August 25th)
It’s hard to imagine a moment that could make a Nashville audience go crazier than watching the actual Tim McGraw and his wife Faith Hill join Taylor Swift for a surprise performance of “Tim McGraw,” Swift’s debut single from 2006 that she hadn’t played live in any capacity since 2013. She was just a teenage fan of Tim McGraw when she wrote the song, never dreaming that she’d even get to meet him, let alone sing this song with him at a sold-out stadium concert.
“The Best Day” (Santa Clara, California; May 12th)
Taylor Swift’s show at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, happened to fall the day before Mother’s Day, so she decided to break out “The Best Day,” a tribute to her mother, Andrea, from 2008’s Fearless. She wrote that song without telling her mother about it, first showing it to her paired with videos from her childhood. “She had no idea that it was me singing for the first half of the song,” she said. “And then she just broke down crying when she realized I had done this whole thing to surprise her. It was a really cool moment.” She’s only performed the song six times, and until this year hadn’t played it since 2013.
“Enchanted” (East Rutherford, New Jersey; July 22nd)
When Swift played the opening notes of this song in New Jersey, the woman behind us started screaming so loudly it briefly sounded like someone was trying to murder her. It turned out she was just in a state of uncontrollable shock that Taylor was playing this Speak Now deep cut for the first time since a one-off in 2014. The song was never a single, but it’s a huge fan favorite.
“Holy Ground” (Seattle, May 22nd)
Like many songs on Red, “Holy Ground” is a look back at a relationship that went sour. But unlike in “All Too Well,” here, Swift reflects on the past with happiness rather than sorrow. “And I guess we fell apart in the usual way,” she sings. “And the story’s got dust on every page.” She played it at a Formula 1 event in 2016, but it hadn’t been part of her show since the Red tour in 2014.
“The Lucky One” (Atlanta, August 11th)
Fame was already becoming a major burden for Taylor Swift when she began writing songs for 2012’s Red, and “The Lucky One” is about a pop star who gets sick of the burning spotlight and decides to give it all up for a life of solitude. The song is rumored to be about Joni Mitchell. It was a regular part of the Red tour in 2013/14, but the Atlanta stop on the Reputation tour marked the first time she’d played it since that time.
“I Know Places” (Tokyo, November 20th)
The Reputation tour wrapped up with a two-night stand at the Tokyo Dome days before Thanksgiving. By that point she’d done a very large chunk of her entire catalog, but at the penultimate show she broke out “I Know Places” from 1989 for the first time. On the 2015 tour it was an elaborately choreographed number with dancers, but for this one night it was stripped back to its bare essence.