So there I was, it was sometime around 9:30 in the evening on a Saturday night, and I was watching Taylor Swift levitate into the air on a platform that looked like a bizarre hybrid of disco ball and elevator. You know, I’d be lying if I told you that when I woke up last Monday morning I thought I was going to be seeing world’s most powerful 23-year-old superstar sail over the heads over 20,000 screaming fans, but there I was, loving every freaking second of it.
Swift needs no introduction at this point, so I won’t give her one. You know who this woman is, you know what she does, you know her story, and no matter who you are, you know “Love Story” or “You Belong With Me” by heart. Over the years Swift has enjoyed an incredible and rather graceful rise to stardom. If watching her performance on the "Red" tour confirms anything, it’s that the 16-year-old girl from Nashville singing about teardrops on her guitar is long gone, replaced by an absolute tour de force of pop music glory.
Swift made her 56th stop on her marching "Red" tour at the Tacoma Dome on Aug. 31, bringing with her an army of fantastically dressed backup dancers, a full-on stadium spectacle worthy of the Queen of England and an awkward ginger from the UK by the name of Ed Sheeran. Sheeran opened the show, performing in the style of a one-man band, though he was accompanied only by a guitar. He took advantage of a loop pedal, which allowed for him to build a massive pyramid like wall of sound that filled the Stadium. Sheeran ran through his material in rapid fire speed, turning the majority of his music into medleys on the fly, including what was likely a shout out to Seattle’s own Macklemore with a quick break of the “Thrift Shop” chorus.
“I have one goal,” he said mid set, “and that’s to make everyone here lose their voice by the time I leave.” Though Sheeran may have missed this goal, it was without a doubt carried on in spirit 30 minutes following his departure.
And then there she stood, hidden behind a gigantic red waterfall of a curtain, Taylor Swift’s silhouette towered over us all, hand on hip, mic in hand. The curtain came up and America’s sweetheart began the show.
Swift’s greatest ability has always been her natural gift for channeling the idea of youth as both a nostalgic hiding place and a fairy tale-like land that holds the infinite possibility that only a child can 100 percent believe in. It’s what has made her music so accessible, and has allowed her to have the crossover appeal that extends well beyond the age of 16. Through her musical evolution and her reach for a slightly more mainstream sound, Swift has never once lost sight of this vision, and instead it appears that her grasp around it seems that much tighter. Much of the visual symbolism employed by Swift and company is unmistakably childlike in design and style. Dancers donned costumes that bore a strong resemblance to characters from famous tales such as “The Nutcracker,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cinderella” and for the slightly older, “Moulin Rouge” and even what appeared to be a slight nod to “Les Miserables."
On 2012’s “Red” album Taylor dropped the country sound found in earlier recordings in favor of a bigger, more crossover commercial sound. These songs had a larger scale: they were faster, they were more pop, and they transferred over to the arena venue better than one can imagine. Tracks like “Holy Ground,” the U2-ian “State of Grace” and, of course, smash hits such as “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” were simply made to be performed under bombastic lights on cranes, accompanied by dancers, confetti, surreal set pieces and a light show that would make Roger Waters blush. And did she disappoint? No. Though some of these performances could have undoubtedly been toned down, it still gave way to some incredible moments. It’s going to be difficult to forget the image of Swift emerging from a toy box in what looked almost like a wedding gown, or how powerful she looked as the stage folded out into a crane and held her over the audience as pieces of red and white confetti showered the crowd. Country music, the house that built her musical career, has not been forgotten on this tour, and the show had no lack of personal moments and poignant true to life stories. A large chunk of the middle section found Swift exploring her quieter songs, and though she may have been on a raised pedestal for most of these songs, their quiet meaning still stood strong. The most important part of country has always been in its honesty, in its directness, and of course, Swift knows this. In between songs she would pause and rattle out long stories that felt at once awkward and unplanned, but all the more raw and genuine for it. During the performance of the shows most affecting ballad, “All Too Well," Swift, who was seated on a massive red grand piano, stopped and looked over the crowd wearing an expression of absolute fragility. It was at that moment when the entire audience could see what she had been through, and could sympathize with her. It was at this moment when the artist's talent shined the brightest; it's where country’s honesty reared its head; it's where Miss Swift was at her absolute finest.
Highlights from the show include the stripped down, almost Motown take on “You Belong With Me,” the pounding “Holy Ground” (complete with rad new drum breaks), the absurdly grandiloquent “You Belong With Me,” the jaw dropping “Treacherous,” which found Swift lightly stepping toward the end of the stage as if on a tightrope leading to the end of the world, and finally the epic closer “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” the most explosive moment of the night, which was a total cathartic release in the form of a backhanded tell off.
If this performance on the "Red" tour confirms anything at all, it’s that Swift is at the very peak of her power commercially and artistically, and with the exception of maybe a certain Mrs. Carter, Swift reigns unchallenged as the queen of American pop music. Her uncanny ability to channel the sense of youth and excitement is a testament to her ability as not only a songwriter or musician, but as an artist. Even at its snarkiest (and it does get snarky!), her performance still has a sense of purity, a glossy coating that comes with a memory that only looks brighter and brighter in hindsight. One of the most interesting moments of the night occurred when Taylor was off stage. There was a collection of home movies being broadcasted showing Swift’s growing up starting at age 1, and moving all the way to the present day. The video, obviously centered around her love of music, starting with a 3-year-old girl attempting to sing a song she had heard on the radio, and ending with a shot of the very stage we had all gathered around. Swift's underlining message of course being "this is something I’ve always wanted to do, something that’s been with me my whole life, and something that I will continue to do until I simply can’t do it anymore."
Sean Contris is currently a student enrolled at TCC. Oftentimes he comes too close to embodying the classical, and often times stereotypical, persona of a young male writer. Sean enjoys listening to a wide range of music and locking himself in his room to read sad Russian novels.
See many more of Bill Bungard's photos of Swift at http://www.billbungard.com