Jessai Flores

Pop superstar Taylor Swift’s concerts have a reputation for elaborate costumes, friendship bracelets and high-powered vocals. And for Barrie Berger SPH ’24, the singer’s Eras Tour concert was the best experience of her life. 

But there’s one problem: Berger said she doesn’t actually remember much from the show. When she thinks back, she said that she blanks on the specifics, like the outfits, the dances and the speeches. 

“If I didn’t have the set list beforehand, I would’ve had no idea what she actually said,” Berger said. “In the moment, it was like having an out-of-body experience.”

Berger is not the only Swiftie to report lapses in memory during the singer’s performances, with many fans documenting mysterious memory gaps during shows on social media and in the press. But Nathan Carroll SPH ’24, a resident psychiatrist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and a second-year student in the School of Public Health’s Executive Master of Public Health program, might have an answer. 

In a pre-published literature review titled “Here And Then Swiftly Gone: Taylor Swift-Induced Amnesia,” Carroll and a team of researchers investigated the scientific basis behind those reports of memory gaps among concertgoers. While Carroll’s report is not yet peer-reviewed and does not include real participants, it compares reported memory loss symptoms to existing scientific research on short-term amnesia.

Behind Swifties’ memory loss, the researchers believe, could be a type of amnesia linked to heightened emotion and excitement.

Carroll’s team focused specifically on post-concert amnesia associated with Swift’s Eras Tour, which debuted on March 17, 2023. Anticipation for the tour was palpable from the onset: Following Swift’s announcement that she was going on tour for the first time in five years, Ticketmaster’s website experienced unprecedented demand, leaving many fans unable to snag tickets in time.

Carroll recounted watching his fellow residents trying to secure tickets on Ticketmaster when the platform crashed. While they were eventually able to get tickets and attend the concert, Caroll said he noticed that they returned with gaps in their memory for portions of the concert.

“I remember trying so hard to remember everything because I spent a lot of money and a lot of time,” said Gabriela Mendoza Cueva SPH ’24. “I think I just had so much adrenaline from being hyped up that I don’t remember a lot of things.”

Swift fans’ loss of memory sparked Carroll’s interest. How was it possible, he recalled thinkimg at the time, that people could forget concerts they’d been so passionate about?

But that passion, Carroll and his colleagues now hypothesize, might be behind fans’ lapse in memory — a phenomenon that Carroll said he believes shares similarities with a condition called transient global amnesia, or TGA.

TGA is a type of short-term memory loss often triggered by highly emotional experiences, such as physical exertion, emotional stimulation, high-stress events and migraines. While the condition involves an inability to form new memories, it does not result in a loss of consciousness or self-awareness, and memory issues last for less than 24 hours. Individuals experiencing TGA may also encounter symptoms like disorientation around people and places, agitation and anxiety, and occasionally, headache, dizziness or nausea.

Though TGA has been well-documented in scientific research among older individuals between the ages of 50 and 80, post-event amnesia has not been as extensively studied in younger people, Carroll said — making the process of finding published literature on TGA in younger populations challenging. 

“The overlap between the Taylor Swift concertgoer population and the traditional population seen with TGA don’t share a tremendous number of characteristics,” he said. 

But Taylor Swift’s shows might fit the bill for an emotional, TGA-linked event. For fans, Carroll described the event as a “three-hour concert of non-stop excitement.”

During highly emotional or strenuous events, Carroll said, the body begins to release the stress hormone cortisol, a natural chemical that alters heart rate and blood pressure. Researchers believe that, in TGA, those changes in blood pressure affect the brain’s hippocampus, a portion of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory. 

“These fluctuations in blood pressure are thought to affect the ability of your brain to record episodic memory, giving rise to transient global amnesia,” Carroll said.

Carroll and his team note in their review that, given that the number of young people with TGA in scientific literature is small, it’s an important and unexplored area of research. And since TGA symptoms are temporary, many who experience it don’t report memory loss to health professionals.

“Since the memories do come back, a lot of people don’t seek treatment for it either, so it’s missed all the time,” he said.

However, not all researchers think that Carroll’s theory about Swifties’ amnesia and TGA answers the question.

According to Philip Corlett, an associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, memory loss at concerts is not a brand-new phenomenon.

“I worry that we scientists try a little too hard to be current sometimes,” Corlett said. “I think the phenomenon itself is perhaps not so novel — people have been having extreme emotional responses to pop stars since Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.” 

Corlett also questioned whether Swift fans were experiencing TGA at all since many typically didn’t end their night in a characteristic “fugue state” — where people become temporally or spatially disoriented. 

But that doesn’t diminish the impact that music can have on the brain, said Corlett.

“We remember music because it is a really potent combination of stimulus features that render it very memorable,” Corlett said. “It is characteristically structured like a story.” 

For concertgoers, Carroll and his team’s review recommends some prevention mechanisms to avoid amnesia, including staying hydrated, being mindful of breathing and excitement levels and avoiding recording the concert while watching.

Those recommendations resonated all too well with some Taylor Swift fans. 

A few months after Madelyn Dawson ’25 saw Swift’s Red Tour in 2013, she said she couldn’t remember any details. Dawson chalked up the lapse to the show’s overwhelming nature and competing mental priorities between experiencing and documenting the show.

“It’s hard to both live in the moment and experience shows while you’re there and also trying to have an archival collection of them,” she said. 

But for Shivesh Shourya SPH ’25, who went to an Eras Tour concert twice and saw the tour’s film, avoiding his phone helped him remember more of the performance. By the time he watched his second show, a new mindset improved how he remembered moments from the experience.

“I remember most of the concert simply because I wasn’t … trying to capture every moment on video and being more present,” said Shourya. “When I went to go see the Eras movie, I had great memory at that point.”

The Eras Tour set the record as the first tour to gross over one billion dollars