Taylor Swift did not offer an introduction to “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” when she performed it as a surprise song at her concert Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro. But she didn’t have to — fans implicitly understood her live premiere of the number, arguably the most wrenchingly emotional song in her catalog, as a tribute to Ana Clara Benevides Machado, who died after attending Swift’s previous show at the stadium.
Swift had previously expressed her sorrow over the fan’s death in a social media post, and had written that “I’m not going to be able to speak about this from stage because I feel overwhelmed by grief when I even try to talk about it.” But, clearly, she wanted to sing about that which she could not talk about.
On video captured of the “secret songs” segment of Sunday’s show at Estádio Olímpico Nilton Santos , Swift is seen appearing to compose herself and take deep breaths before she launches into the ballad, which was a bonus track on the “3am” deluxe edition of her “Midnights” album last year. When the damp-haired singer finally begins to play it, much of the audience immediately recognizes the deep track from the first note, and the crowd sings along loudly with the chorus: “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye / You were bigger than the whole sky… / I’ve got a lot to live without / I’m never gonna meet / What could’ve been, would’ve been / What should’ve been you.”
The cause of death for Benevides has not been announced, but it’s widely assumed that it was related to the heat wave afflicting the region. The 23-year-old fan died Friday night after being taken from the stadium, where many others passed out, to a nearby hospital. Swift postponed the following night’s concert, citing the high temperatures.
“Bigger Than the Whole Sky” has become an anthem over the last 13 months for fans who are grieving a loved one. Swift has yet to say or write anything publicly about the track or its inspiration, which has been variously interpreted to be about the death of a family member or loved one, a miscarriage, or the passing of someone beloved but unmet; the finality of its language makes it clear it’s about a split more grave than just a breakup.
The other surprise song Sunday night was also a sad one, albeit a far less tragic one, “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” which was played on her 2018 Reputation tour but did not appear on the Eras Tour until this show.
In a ranked list of the best bonus tracks on Swift albums published by Variety earlier this year, “Bigger Than the Whole Sky” was ranked highly, with the notation that it was one of the few songs on the list not yet introduced on the Eras Tour, possibly because it would be too emotional: “She has yet to perform the song live, and it’ll be quite an occasion if she ever feels so bold.”