Live: Taylor Swift Sparkles And Survives At The Prudential Center


Taylor Swift w/NeedToBreathe, Danny Gokey
Prudential Center
Tuesday, July 19

Better than: Bottling up your emotions.

Before Taylor Swift took the stage last night, I was looking around the Prudential Center, marveling once again at the craftwork on display during an arena show. In contrast to Katy Perry’s Etsified crowd last month, the Taylor fans were all about showing their fandom by deploying light—glowsticks, oaktag signs proclaiming love for Taylor that were outfitted with Christmas-light marquees, a few fans who were outfitted in lights in such a way that made me wonder how they felt about Daft Punk. It was impressive (especially the army of young women in shirts spelling out “T-SWIFT” that were further personalized with their individual favorite songs).

While scanning the arena, I noticed a balcony suspended from the rafters. “Oh, she’ll probably use that for ‘Love Story,'” said my Taylor-fan companion when I pointed it out to him. Ah, yes, the sweet song of Swift’s where Romeo & Juliet is given a happy ending.

The funny thing about Taylor Swift is that right now it’s kind of easy to forget that she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world. So much of the discussion of female singers is focused on Gaga and Adele first and foremost, with Beyoncé, Katy, Rihanna, Britney, and Nicki falling in behind them. In the lightning-fast world of pop, Speak Now and its relatively restrained songs (no four-on-the-floor beats for Ms. Swift) might seem like yesterday’s news. That Swift has booked four shows at the 13,000-capacity Prudential Center in the heat of a recessionary summer, though, should tell you about where she resides in the minds of her devoted, illuminated fans.

They came in packs last night, groups of devotees declaring their love for Swift through puff-painted shirts and shared French fries and lusty singalongs to most of Speak Now (and a snatch of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”). It’s easy to see why; she sings plainly about love and friendship and stucking out the bad times, with lyrics that are made to be posted and reblogged to Tumblr incessantly and sticky hooks that demand being hummed along with.

That said, even though her plainspokenness involves her railing against those people who are in her mind “Mean” (a broadside against her critics that I disliked at first but eventually thawed toward, and that was given an extra dose of charm by being placed squarely in the middle of a hoedown that had even been introduced by a tap-dancing janitor) she can certainly dish it out. Her signature move for the night was a flirtatious look up at the rafters and then a seemingly petulant turn-and-stalk move into the dark; the stage show for Speak Now‘s title cut has her breaking up a wedding for her own romantic ends (but it’s OK because the bride is prissy and wearing “a gown shaped like a pastry”); the lyrics to the vicious “Better Than Revenge” sneer at “an actress… better known for the things that she does on the mattress”; and then there’s “Dear John,” the alleged John Mayer broadside during which Swift’s face, which was projected on giant screens flanking the stage, had a look of genuine anger more than once.

Still, who among us doesn’t feel at least a fleeting urge to get vindictive or downright bratty when faced with the prospect of romantic humiliation? Surely the widespread popularity of Swift—and while the crowd was full of women younger than Swift’s age of 21, there were quite a few adults around too—speaks to the strong emotions triggered by the prospect of love, or the prospect of rejection. The difference between your normal everyday emotion-feeler and Swift is that Person X isn’t writing down those feelings as they happen and then channeling them into songs that get played in front of thousands of people every night. Swift is, and she has aerialists and pyro to help accentuate the roiling emotions and moments of joy.

The show rolled along through the Evanescence-gone-Cirque du Soleil “Haunted,” which was probably the most arena-rock-like performance of the night, and the slightly self-congratulatory “Long Live” (which Swift prefaced by profusely thanking her fans in a halting, formal tone that was the opposite of her birdlike, youthful singing voice; instead, it recalled more than anything the late Rue McClanahan’s precise and mature Southern drawl) before breaking for the encore.

“Fifteen,” her stunning confession of the awkwardness of high school, was first, performed on a rumpled-looking couch that really could have been the only setting for its friends-hanging-out, conversational lyrics. And then it was time for the big finish: She boarded the balcony that had been hidden up in the rafters for, yes, “Love Story”; it launched itself into the air, with Swift smiling and pointing to those people in the audience hoisting particularly impressive signs. And then—very suddenly, and very scarily—the balcony wobbled in midair, and you could tell that this was something that was not planned, that had not happened in rehearsal, by the look that passed over her face. It could have been just like Romeo & Juliet. (The real version.)

But the stagehands moved quickly, getting her down from her perch, and she hustled to the stage in time for the song’s end as confetti fell into the crowd. The bows and curtain calls and smile on her face belied nothing about the near-tragedy that had just happened; she was grateful and happy, mouthing, “I love you” as the heavy red curtain shut. Always a pro.

Critical bias: I’ve probably read too many frustrating online arguments over The Feminism Of Taylor Swift’s Catalog (Or At Least Some Cherry-Picked Bits Of It, Mostly The Singles) to count.

Overheard: “If anyone needed definitive proof that rave culture had been assimilated, this is it.” —my viewing companion on the glow emanating from the audience.

Random notebook dump: Shout-out to the guy in section 18 wearing the light-up crown and the orange shirt and doing the noodle dance.

Set list:
Sparks Fly
The Story Of Us
Our Song
Back To December
Better Than Revenge
Speak Now
Last Kiss
Livin’ On A Prayer / You Belong With Me
Dear John
Long Live

Love Story