The biggest moment in Taylor Swift's amazing Reputation stadium tour turns out to be one of the quietest. Near the end of the night, Swift sits at the piano by herself to play a few elusively familiar chords. "You might be wondering why there are so many snakes everywhere," she says. The song she's playing ends up being the 2010 Speak Now classic "Long Live," which she transforms into a medley with the Reputation finale "New Year's Day" – two of her best, from very different phases of her artistic evolution, but songs with a common emotional ground, whether it's about "fighting dragons" or snakes. She eases back and forth between the songs, from the lush adolescent romanticism of "Long Live" into the mundane domestic detail of "New Year's Day," right up to the hook line: "I had the time of my life ... with you." What a moment – a powerhouse performance that made all the different Taylors sound like part of the same story.
Swift kicked off the first night of her hotly awaited Reputation tour last night at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, in front of 60,000 fans, and for the most part she went epic, with giant inflatable cobras, pyro, multiple stages and hordes of dancers. As always, she leaned hard into the new material, doing almost everything on the new Reputation (the one she left out was "So It Goes"), yet with her own uniquely intimate touch. This might be her most astounding tour yet – even when she's aiming for maximum stadium-rock razzle-dazzle bombast, she gives it all the vibe of a mass communion. She didn't reach deep into her back catalog, beyond a few earth-shaking surprises like "Long Live" or her solo-acoustic revival of "All Too Well." Even when she goes back to the oldies, she sticks to her fanatical commitment to making them new. No pop star goes to such absurd extremes to avoid repeating herself, even when repeating herself would be more than good enough. The girl just likes a challenge, even if that means she wants to stand under a surreal inflatable snake to sing her heartfelt confessions about autumn leaves and maple lattes.
The theme, as she did mention a time or two, was snakes. Not since Jim Morrison was alive has any rock star gone so overboard with the herpetological symbolism. As she explained, "A couple of years ago, someone called me a snake on social media and it caught on. And then a lot of people called me a lot of things on social media. And I went through some really low times for a while because of it." But for Swift – as so often – there was a lesson to be learned in this harsh experience. "You shouldn't care so much if you feel misunderstood by a lot of people who don't know you, as long as you feel understood by people who do know you, who will show up for you, the people who see you as a human being…it's you. You did that for me."
She cleared most of the Reputation heavy hitters out of the way early, kicking off the show with the glitz blitz of "Ready For It?" and "I Did Something Bad." "Gorgeous" built into into a medley of "Style," "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me" – one of the night's rare dips back into her teen catalog. "Look What You Made Me Do," the album's least exciting track, really does work live – especially the moment on the video screen when Tiffany Haddish shows up to answer the phone and explain why the Old Taylor can't come to the phone right now. ("Because she's dead!") She did "End Game" without the Ed Sheeran or Future interludes.
But the show really took off with "Delicate," the breathy vocoder shiver that was the highlight of Reputation (as well as the latest single), beginning with one of her trademark Tay-talk freestyle introductions. "One thing every single person in this stadium has in common is that every single one of us is sort of pining away for a sense of connection to someone else," Swift said. "There's something that happens in your brain and your heart when someone just says, 'Yes, I understand how you feel.' ... Relationships – it's just delicate, you know?" As she sang the song, she floated across the crowd in a golden balloon basket – doing justice to the song's candor and glitz at the same time. The balloon whisked her to a side stage where she did a fantastic "Shake It Off," joined by her tourmates Camila Cabello and Charli XCX.
She picked up her acoustic guitar for "Dancing With Our Hands Tied," noting, "You guys have stuck with me through so many musical changes. You've let me play – you've let me evolve." There were gasps through the crowd as she followed that with the opening chord of "All Too Well," saying, "I thought I would play this song that you seem to request more than any others. It would be so cool if you sang as loud as you possibly could." No encouragement was needed. She dashed over to the other side stage to do "Blank Space," whereupon a male dancer in a hoodie brought her a sheer black dress and wrapped it around her. She asked the crowd, "Do you like my dress?," which naturally led to "Dress."
During a clever snippet of "Should've Said No" she rode a serpent back to the main stage for the home stretch. "Call It What You Want" became a moody performance with a video backdrop of news headlines – which was probably the only time all night the word "squad" came up – while "Getaway Car" became a desert-noir set piece. The end came a little suddenly, with "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," restyled into a medley with "We Ae Never Getting Back Together." The song didn't necessarily feel like a resolution, musically or emotionally, and despite how well it worked as a comic romp – all Tay's back-up singers joining in for "therein lies the issue" – it was jarring when the house lights came up afterward. No encore, just a coda on the video screen: "And in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive."
Swift is always an artist who feels compelled to swerve somewhere new – even in those moments where she seems like the only one in the room who wouldn't be delighted with more of the same Old Taylor tricks. She just isn't content to be a More of the Same artist. In a show that was packed with highlights, "All Too Well" was the moment it was impossible to beat – it's just the kind of song that can't be topped, and there was something sweet about the way Swift temporarily surrendered her constant urge to remake and remodel, just playing the song on acoustic guitar. As her spiritual uncle Bruce Springsteen might say, she decided for a moment to stand back and let it all be. Everybody in the stadium was wired to her voice and guitar. The only person I noticed who wasn't singing along with "All Too Well" was a little kid who was mesmerized by the confetti in the air, still floating to the floor from "Shake It Off" a few minutes earlier. She twirled around just grabbing each piece of confetti that floated by. She was as rapt in the moment as any of us.
"Ready For It?"
"I Did Something Bad"
"Style"/"Love Story"/"You Belong With Me"
"Look What You Made Me Do"
"King of My Heart"
"Shake It Off"
"Dancing With Our Hands Tied"
"All Too Well"
"Bad Blood"/ "Should've Said No"
"Don't Blame Me"
"Long Live"/ "New Year's Day"
"Call It What You Want"
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"/"This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things"