Taylor Swift Breaks Down Banjo-Free 1989 Tour: 'It's Not a Country Show'

How the singer reimagined her stage show and recreated her recent album's pop sheen

Taylor Swift says she's not wearing costumes on her new tour: "This feels more like a fashion moment." Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty

With last year's 1989, Taylor Swift fully embraced pop, creating an album driven by synth melodies and drum-machine beats. The result outsold any other LP released in 2015, but the new approach meant that she and her crew needed to start almost from scratch when planning the subsequent tour. "I was very adamant that every decision I've made creatively in the past had to be almost flipped," Swift tells Rolling Stone. "You're not going to see me playing the banjo. It's not a country show, it's not a multi-genre show and it's not a mixed-influence show."

After a warm-up dates in Tokyo and at Rock in Rio U.S.A., the 1989 World Tour began in full on May 20th and continues until the end of the year. Vance Joy opens almost every date, Shawn Mendes joins for all but a few and Haim play a handful in the U.S.

Swift's rehearsal process began with months dedicated solely to the nailing the music – "replicating the sonic quality of the album," as she puts it. The sound finally clicked when producer Max Martin, who contributed to nine of 1989's 13 tracks, sat down with the road musicians and showed them, one by one, what he and Taylor did to create the record's glistening bounce.

Swift's tours have always drawn heavily the singer's most recent LP – even the Speak Now shows, for instance, included only five songs from previous albums – but this round is particularly focused on the present. The singer says that she was only able to do this because of 1989's multi-platinum success and the fact that this "seems to be the music of mine that people are liking the most": "If this album hadn't been so impactful to the fans, if they hadn't gone out and broken so many records and made sure that I knew that this album was the most important one to them and the one they liked the most, I probably would have had to pull more old hits into the set."

A few old hits do remain, though some of them appear in new form. "We Are Never Getting Back Together," for instance, has become a pop-punk jam, and "Love Story" now retells Romeo and Juliet amid sustained synths, plodding drums and looped moans. For these inclusions, Swift credits, yes, the fans. "Tumblr is a really good way to see what they're wanting to hear and what elements they'd like to see in the show," she says. "When I'm walking around in my daily life and a little kid comes up to me or a teenager comes up to me or a mom comes up to me, the songs that they bring up as being songs that affected them are the ones that I'm going to kind of stockpile and decide to play. The songs that I haven't been hearing as much about, those are the ones that didn't make the cut."

The most striking change may be what fans see while Swift plays these songs, as the drama-class element of previous tours has mostly been replaced. "I used to wear things that felt very costume-y," she says. "This feels more like a fashion moment, which is exciting."

The occasional interstitial skits are also gone. Goodbye to the magical, porch-sweeping tap-dancer who once introduced "Our Song": You've been replaced by videos of stars like Lily Alderidge, Karlie Kloss, Lena Dunham, Haim, Selena Gomez and Cara Delevingne. "The show is essentially narrated by my friends," Swift says, "in their perspective of how they see my life playing out and when they first heard my album, kind of giving an insight into what my world has been like."

Those musicians, actresses and models will appear on a massive video screen that alters the perspective of the entire stage. "We used to have sort of a medium-sized LED screen behind us and the bands were all very much in front of it and featured," Swift explains, speaking quickly. "The visuals were kind of secondary, but this time we took the band to places on the stage where they didn't block the visuals."

Despite all the changes, Swift promises the overall effect remains nearly the same: "It almost feels as if you are in a different world."