Taylor Swift shared some touring logistic intel with us Friday night in St. Paul.
If the sold-out crowd of 15,000 had any questions about why Taylor was hunkering down at Xcel Energy Center for three nights instead of one, Taylor had the answer: "Me really liking you." Not spreadsheet calculations detailing previous ticket sales; not SoundScan numbers or radio play metrics. The world's biggest pop star just wants us on her vaunted squad. She gets us, and we get her.
Such was the ingeniously marketed thrust of Friday's concert, one that spared no expense when it came to spectacle (we all received light-up bracelets so Taylor can "see everyone all the time — I really love seeing you"), but felt like a calculated script whenever Swift stopped singing to address the crowd. And, really, with enterprises of this scale, that shouldn't be all that surprising. At the same time, the 25-year-old pop megastar's good-vibing pandering made her feel less like a genuinely talented songwriter/entertainer, and more like an expertly curated brand experience.
But let's get to the actual show. Not blessed with a huge voice or spectacular moves, Swift compensates with all-out effort and non-stop projecting. The struts. The animated mugging. The theatrical interplay with her fleet of hunky dancers. From the get-go on 1989 cut "Welcome to New York," it was clear she's a give-it-all performer. And the deafening screeches when she whipped off her shades proved the crowd was overjoyed just to be in her presence. "Good evening St. Paul, Minnesota," she said at the top of the show, one of about a dozen plugs for St. Paul, Minnesota. "I'm Taylor — one thing you should know about me? I was born in 1989."
And we're off.
The stage set-up — towering video-screen backdrop, rotating 360-degree elevated platform, oddly S&M-y straps and bars — hosted a night of mostly note-for-note reproductions of mostly tracks from 1989. The platoon of dancers removed their shirts for an arena rock-y, smoke-blasted treatment of "Trouble," the same guitar-charged shellac applied later to "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (complete with an ax-wielding T-Swift).
The hydraulic platform, bookended by pulpit-resembling hubs, elevated Swift above the swooning masses, allowing for section-by-section iPhone photos and screams. It's where Swift, taking a brief acoustic deviation into her country-pop past with "15," informed the audience, "This is the part of the world my music first started getting played on the radio," followed by repeated mentions of previous ticket-sale accolades. Throughout the night, video montages of Taylor's squad — Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, the gals of Haim — waxed poetic about what it's like being Taylor's friend. The subtle implication? All of us are in the squad, too — at least for tonight.
At different points, Taylor gushed about the number of fans from the Twin Cities (but also the ones who drove in); she shared her admiration for fans who had attended previous gigs (but also the first-timers). Taylor Swift is here to make everyone feel special. Her outfits changed throughout the night — crop top and skirt, neon light-up dress, flowing gown, all-leather get-up, gold-tassel flapper number, sequined catsuit — but the tone remained resolute: "So many new friends! I now only care what you think about me," she informed us, kissing-off "cynics" and "critics" ahead of a piano ballad intro to "Wildest Dreams."
All us pals were treated to a dystopian battlefield version of "Bad Blood," sadly missing the Kendrick portions, though the crowd filled in at times. The regional special guests, a trademark of the 1989 World Tour, will have to wait until Saturday or Sunday, it seems. Taylor's band, hidden in the wings for the night, save for occasional guitar solos, took on an electro-pop Chvrches aesthetic for "Out of the Woods," capped by a confetti singalong. An energetic run through "Shake It Off" served as the one-song encore, as things shut down at a tight two hours, omitting such hits as "22" and "Red."
Night One of Swift's Twin Cities residency made good on everything a pop spectacular should: hits, outfits, and theatrics. Her perceived insincerity, however, shrouded any real personality or point of view. The tweens in attendance, for whom it was surely the best night evvvvvvvver!, didn't seem to mind.
Critic's bias: Through countless internet think pieces and my fiancee's repetition of 1989, I have a pretty solid grasp of what Taylor Swift "means" (which is a nebulous anything to everyone). She's a fine songwriter and a masterful marketer.
The crowd: Moms in designer jeans, dads in designers jeans, ecstatic grade schoolers toting 1989 World Tour shopping bags.
Random notebook dump: Is Taylor Swift pop music's version of the NFL's Russell Wilson, only more convincing?
Notes on the opener: Dan from Gossip Girl or Seth from The O.C. upon discovering the Lumineers' "Ho Hey."
Overheard in the crowd: The massive sobs and screeches of the young fans next to me — clad in light-up tutus and hoisting light-up signs — upon being told they'd be meeting Taylor backstage.