Taylor Swift, country music superstar-turned-pop-ingenue-turned-hated-celebrity, is one Famous Person I feel like I’m constantly apologizing for—call me a Taylor Swift Apologist.
Where plenty of people find her honesty (“I write songs about my feelings” is something she actually says) grating, I think it’s endearing. So she writes songs about the boys she dated who might have been jerks to her? Isn’t that what all music is about anyway? (Flip-side: No one would care if she was a man doing all this.) I’m not even that big a fan—at least, not compared to the sky-shattering screams of the thousands of little girls and their mothers I was swallowed up by during her stop in Austin last night at the Frank Erwin Center. It was a transformative experience because I learned a lot more than I ever thought I could learn at a 23-year-old pop singer’s stadium tour. Everything I learned, in no particular order:
• Swifties live in a beautiful, irony-free world. That’s what her fans call themselves. (Like Lady Gaga’s “little monsters” but less scary and with more cowboy boots and crimped hair.) In the lead-up to her performance, the sound and video system played through a reel of Taylor’s many endorsement deals, which include looking carefree in Keds and drinking cans of Diet Coke with straws. I saw little girls wearing Keds and drinking Diet Coke with straws! Synergy! Also: When the uncensored version of Icona Pop’s trending “I Love It,” played, no child there on a school night missed a beat—there is something magical to seeing thousands of young girls scream, “But I’m a nineties BITCH!” at the top of their lungs. Never mind that a good segment of them…weren’t born in the ’90s.
This is how it opened. Dramatic!
• She knows how to put on a shooowww. I counted six (seven?) costume changes. There was a different set design for nearly every song. And Taylor never passes up an opportunity to use stagecraft as way to leaven her status to her core audience as a blonde deity—at one point she was 50 feet in the air, singing to us from concert venue heaven, her subjects pleadingly reaching to the skies to touch her and maybe grasp some of her benevolence. Meanwhile, if you looked at the jumbotron shot of her on stage, she was making a masterful, “Look at me nail this” face, heretofore only properly deployed by Beyoncé. It was a good look for her.
• The following people we’re “feeling 22″ and knew every word to “22″: Moms, dads, young girls, teenage girls, those teenage girls’ boyfriends, college-age girls, those college-age girls’ boyfriends, me, the security guards, the ushers, the stage hands, the band and the camera operators.
• She’s been reading and listening to your criticisms. “I don’t exclusively write breakup songs!” she insists. And when she got to the lyric, “Drunk and grumbling on about how I can’t sing” from her Grammy-winning song “Mean,” (which she wrote in response to the skewering she received after botching “Rhiannon” live at the Grammys), she pauses, cocks a brow and smolders. It was her best attempt at a middle-finger.
• Speaking of singing, she totally can! Though of course, those radio hits, constructed by earworm producer Max Martin (who is essentially responsible for every Britney, Avril and Backstreet Boys song you’ve loved to hate), are impossible to measure up to, since computers are hitting inhumane notes. But where I expected her to sound thin, her voice had surprising color.
• She dances like Liz Lemon. Well, you can sum-up Taylor’s somewhat odious white girl dance moves in three parts: one part Tina Fey, one part arm flagellation, one part workout video step routine. Rinse. Repeat.
• I will never, ever (like, ever) get my hearing back. The decibel-shattering screams during “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” cannot be probably articulated. There are certain sounds I am convinced I will never hear again. But when the confetti burst from the ceiling and Taylor, on another piece of equipment that circled her around the stadium in the air, commanded the crowd to clap along to her breakup song that’s probably about Jake Gyllenhaal, I was sold on the Taylor Swift Concert Experience. Because even if you don’t like her or her music, you get the clearest sense at her shows that she works really hard and puts a lot of thought (maybe even more than into her songs) into creating a production. When she sings about “feeling 22,” she might be talking about the sensory overload that is her concerts. So consider, haters, if ever given the chance to see T. Swizzle live, to take it all in. You will physically be altered.