Welcome to New York! Ish! Taylor Swift brought it all back home last night, or at least to New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, for her 1989 Tour. Never one to do things halfway, Swift has made this a pop show — or rather the pop show, as far as 2015 is concerned. The whole night was a two-hour pop-blitz spectacle, where the songs retain all the teardrops-on-my-guitar intimacy of her early days, except blown up into massive electro-warrior emotional avalanches pushing the can’t-even-ometer into the red. This show had it all: life lessons (“You are not the opinion of someone who doesn’t know you!”), synth-disco raves, acoustic ballads, explosions, video interviews with her cats, sparkle-intensive costume changes, a Weeknd duet and oh yeah, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team parading through the crowd to “Style” in front of 60,000 screaming fans. That kind of night.
When Bruce Springsteen plays NYC, he likes to joke about how the city’s beloved hometown icons — Sinatra, the Statue of Liberty, the sports teams — are rooted in Jersey. There was an element of that when Swift kicked off with her new theme song “Welcome to New York,” explaining, “Although we’re in New Jersey, our story opens in New York.” But these songs aren’t really about any particular city any more than they’re about any particular boy — they all take place in the galaxy Taylor creates in her songs, one where everything orbits around one girl’s mood swings, where boys are disposable and cats are keepers, where girlfriends matter and lying about your feelings is not how things are done around here. (A handwritten sign taped to a door backstage: “Cats Roaming. Do Not Open.” Only on Planet Tay.) It was the kind of show that could only make emotional sense in a stadium this size.
As always, the hardcore fans were a crucial part of the spectacle, in full gear with their costumes and glowsticks. The crowd was, as Taylor said, “jumping and dancing and loud and lit up and dressed up.” There was a gang of girls with their birthdates bedazzled on their shirts a la the 1989 logo—2004, 2007, etc—while their moms proudly repped 1976. Two girls with matching lightboards, one saying WE’RE TOO BUSY DANCING and the other TO GET KNOCKED OFF OUR FEET. A couple of girls with homemade Mean Girls-style shirts announcing, “You Can’t Swift With Us.” The fan faves were probably the girls carrying giant Starbucks venti cups as big as they were, with the logo tweaked to STARBUCKS LOVERS and Taylor’s face in the middle. That’s how a Swift show works: You love the players and you love the game.
“We all have different insecurities, different fears, different scars,” Taylor announced. “There are many different types of people here tonight. But we have one thing in common: When we feel great amounts of joy or great amounts of pain, we turn to music, and that’s why we’re here tonight.” The show was a marathon—19 songs, stretching almost to midnight. The new songs, despite their studio sheen, really kick live—especially synth-pop epiphanies like “New Romantics” (where Taylor’s male harem of private dancers toted her around on a park bench) and “Blank Space.” She rocked a glow-in-the-dark polka-dot ensemble for “How You Get The Girl,” as her dancing boys twirled neon umbrellas and her band staged an extremely welcome twin-guitar duel. She picked up her trusty acoustic guitar for “Can’t Feel My Face” with the Weeknd, whose hair might have been the most truly 1989 thing in sight.
She radically revised the oldies, which did not stop anyone from singing them. “I Knew You Were Trouble” began with a slow creepy goth-industrial intro — loads of the Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch in her vocals! Floodland, holla! — before the drums kicked in and turned it into a rock-me-Amadeus stomp. “Love Story” became a synth ballad, as she whisked around the stadium on her magic levitating catwalk. Even better was the hair-metal version of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which has never-ever-ever sounded this nasty–Taylor in leather at the lip of the stage, doing a perfect version of the Slash guitar slouch, shoulders hunched, hair falling over face. Who knows, maybe Tay will do an full-on Headbanger’s Ball album next time.
And because she’s Taylor, she talked the talk. You have never heard a pop star say “Let me clarify that statement” more times in one night. It got heavy, like when she confessed, “Real talk, Jersey: I haven’t always felt like I have real friends, or any friends at all.” She gave the crowd her list of friendship requirements (“You have to like me” and “you have to want to spend time with me,” with various codicils and subclauses). She also told us, “If I had my way, everything would be simple for all of you. I wish nobody would ever mess with your mind. I wish nobody would wait two days to text you back, when you know they had their phone with them the whole time!” That line got one of the biggest roars of the night.
But the hugest moment had to be “Style,” when she brought out the U.S. soccer team, just a few hours after their ticker-tape victory parade. They looked like they were having a blast, strutting down the catwalk, waving giant flags. (After the show they gave her a SWIFT #13 team jersey.) She also brought out Project Runway host Heidi Klum, who if memory serves is from one of the countries the U.S. team aufed in the tournament. (Let the healing begin!) Tay’s been preaching the girl-bonding gospel so long, it’s easy to take that part of her game for granted — but that’s just a measure of how much she’s changed the pop-star landscape. For “Bad Blood,” she struck a pose with video comrades Hailee Steinfeld, Lily Aldridge, Gigi Hadid and Lena Dunham — she shows off her girlfriend collection the way rock bands like Guns N Roses or Great White used to make videos where the girlfriends lounge around the soundstage.
(And speaking of Taylor girlfriends, a sincere question: have Haim always been this good? I wasn’t a fan going in but their opening set was fire, roughing up their pop hits and doing a fantastic version of “Oh Well,” by the Peter Green edition of Fleetwood Mac, which sounds sounds so snotty as a sullen-teen-girl anthem — “Don’t ask me what I think of you / I might not give the answer that you waaant me toooo.” Somewhere, Peter Green must be proud these black magic women have given this song a new life.)
As usual for a Swift show, the quiet moments were some of the most intense, especially “Clean,” “This Love” and the piano medley of “Enchanted” and “Wildest Dreams,” where she whipped out the piano-hair windmills. One of the highlights was “You Are In Love”—not just a deep cut, but a bonus track—where she led the whole crowd in a sing-along. Funny how all the state-of-the-art special effects can’t hold a glowstick to the visceral power of 60,000 fans singing about love pains.
It all ended with “Shake It Off,” with fireworks, confetti and dancing boys in purple Angus Young schoolboy outfits. All night, the Eighties concept took many different forms — from the pre-show mix tape (Human League, Toto, Fine Young Cannibals and my girl Tiffany) to the beats. But mostly, it’s in the way she embodies the Eighties ideal of a pop star — Madonna, Prince, Bruce — as an auteur who makes every album, every tour something new. Honestly, if Taylor Swift had just done the Red tour all over again, plugging in the new songs with some greatest hits, that would have been fine with absolutely everyone. Taking the easy way would have been 100 percent good enough. It just wasn’t what she wanted to do. Instead, she wanted to push a little harder and make a gloriously epic pop mess like this. What a night.
1. “Welcome to New York”
2. “New Romantics”
3. “Blank Space”
4. “I Knew You Were Trouble”
5. “I Wish You Would”
6. “How You Get the Girl”
7. “I Know Places”
8. “All You Had to Do Was Stay”
9. “Can’t Feel My Face” with The Weeknd
10. “You Are in Love”
12. “Love Story”
14. “This Love”
15. “Bad Blood”
16. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
17. “Enchanted”/“Wildest Dreams”
18. “Out of the Woods”
19. “Shake It Off”