When my esteemed colleague Conor Orr made 100 bold predictions for the 2023 NFL season last week, he included one of particular interest to me, Sports Illustrated’s resident Swiftie: Prediction No. 88 is that Taylor Swift will play the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show. That’s something I’ve wanted to see for years. But for the first time, it actually seems kinda, sorta plausible. Swift is in a more reflective phase of her career—in the process of rerecording her first six albums, she’s embarked on the aptly named Eras Tour, a journey through her musical past—but she’s also clearly on top of her game. (Just look at the ticket prices for the aforementioned tour—which, not to brag, I saw at MetLife Stadium, in attendance the same night as Aaron Rodgers.)
Right now seems like the ideal time for her to take on a massive cultural stage like the Super Bowl. It also helps that corporate sponsorship conflicts are no longer present. Pepsi sponsored the halftime show for a decade, whereas Swift is a longtime Coca-Cola spokesperson; Apple Music, which has previously partnered with Swift, became the show’s title sponsor as of the 2022 season. This is the moment. So it’s time to make a hypothetical set list.
I went for 10 songs—the same number Rihanna played at Super Bowl LVII in February. Also following Rihanna’s example, this assumes no major portion of the show will be left for surprise guests, unlike many of the acts in the past few years (apologies to Conor, whose full prediction had Swift sharing the stage with Steve Aoki and BTS). I tried to keep it semirealistic, sticking to hits that feel stadium-friendly, much as I’d die to see a set list of deeper cuts. (For what it’s worth, though, Swift’s current tour through NFL stadiums proves that her acoustic fare can absolutely work in that environment: Look up any video of her playing “My Tears Ricochet” to 75,000 people.) But there are still plenty of tough choices to make even within these restrictions. Swift has nine songs that have gone to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and 40 that have been in the top 10. Her catalog has so much variety that it’s tricky to build a cohesive set that still hits all the major points of her career—from the country twang of her early albums to the slick pop of 1989 to the EDM influences of Reputation to the lush atmosphere of Folklore and Evermore. (There’s a reason her Eras Tour set list is three and a half hours!) But here’s my best shot.
1. “Blank Space”
It’s crucial to get the opener right—not so much the opening song itself, exactly, as the opening lyric. Swift’s discography offers lots of choices here. But this feels like an especially good one. Picture it: “Nice to meet you” echoes through the stadium. The stage is dark; Swift is silent for a beat as the crowd roars. “Nice to meet you” plays again. And then Swift launches into the rest of one of her most ubiquitous hits, “Blank Space,” from 2014’s 1989. It makes sense to start in her pop era: This was the period when Swift first seemed truly inescapable to the general public, when she cemented herself as an icon, proving her staying power. And there’s no better intro to that than the delightfully cheeky, self-aware “Blank Space.”
The synth pop of “Anti-Hero”—Swift’s lead single from 2022’s Midnights—is an easy transition from “Blank Space.” It also quickly anchors her in the present moment, subtly gesturing at the breadth of her catalog, jumping from a song that was popular a decade ago to one dominating the charts now. (“Anti-Hero” is also her longest-running single in the Billboard top 10—28 weeks and counting.) This one has to be right up top.
3. “I Knew You Were Trouble”
The dubstep-infused “I Knew You Were Trouble,” one of Swift’s signature hits from 2012’s Red, will signal the next part of the set list—branching out to some more electronic influences from the middle section of her catalog.
4. “Bad Blood” (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
Even if there isn’t a major portion of the act set aside for guests, there still has to be at least one surprise, and this is a natural one. “Bad Blood” is one of Swift’s biggest tracks, catchy and fun, yet the best part of the song is easily Lamar.
5. “… Ready for It?”
It’s entirely possible that Swift would do a Super Bowl set without anything from 2017’s Reputation, the dark, EDM-tinged follow-up to the massive global success that was 1989. While much loved by fans, Reputation was met with lukewarm critical reception and has fewer iconic hits than several of her other albums. But I think skipping it here would be a mistake: It’s perfect for a stadium show. There are a few solid options for inclusion: “Look What You Made Me Do” was the album’s lead single and the only one to reach No. 1, “Don’t Blame Me” is a fan favorite, “Delicate” also enjoyed considerable success. (My personal favorite from this album is “Getaway Car,” but alas, if Swift didn’t consider it popular enough to make the set list for the Eras Tour, it won’t make it for the Super Bowl.) But I think the best choice here is “... Ready for It?” This is the album opener, and more than anything else on Reputation, it feels like an anthem. It was used as the intro to all of ABC’s Saturday Night Football college broadcasts in ’17 and with good reason: Its production just feels appropriately intense for football.
6. “You Belong With Me”
And now to go back in time to Swift’s country roots. (Much as I’d love a track from her 2006 self-titled debut album—“Picture to Burn,” anyone?—I think it has to be one from its ’08 follow-up, Fearless, which enjoyed more commercial success and was her first to win Album of the Year at the Grammys.) The twangy, fun, teenage pining of “You Belong with Me” is the perfect entry point.
7. “Wildest Dreams/Enchanted”
This is a little more fan-service-y: “Wildest Dreams” peaked on the charts at No. 5, and “Enchanted” was never even a single, despite its popularity a decade after its release as a viral sound on TikTok. But these songs work together so well—Swift played a mash-up of them on her Reputation tour—and it feels like a great way to work in a pair of fan favorites that are still decently recognizable to the general public. They also break up the country portion of the set without offering too dramatic a sonic contrast. Also: “This night is sparkling / Don’t you let it go”? Perfect for the Super Bowl!
8. “Love Story”
In keeping with the romantic vibes of “Wildest Dreams” and “Enchanted,” there’s no better option for the next song than “Love Story,” one of the breakout hits from early in her career.
And back to pop to close it out. “Karma” is the closing song of Swift’s current tour set list: It’s a perfect send-off, fun and danceable and great to scream along to. From Midnights, her most recent studio album, it hasn’t quite reached the heights of most of the other songs on this list, but by the time the Super Bowl rolls around in February, it’ll have had more time to establish itself (especially with the remixed version featuring Ice Spice, which just dropped May 26). Great as it is as a closer, though, it can’t end the show here. One more song is needed to round out the set.
10. “Shake It Off”
C’mon … there’s no show without “Shake It Off.”
And because we have eight months to get through before Super Bowl Sunday, here’s my set list on Spotify. Played in full, these songs are 42 minutes, so it would take quite a bit of trimming to get down to 15. But I have a feeling Swift could find a way to make it work (including every one of her iconic bridges here!) with no problem.