Taylor Swift’s triumphant Reputation tour gets immortalized the way it deserves in her new Netflix concert film, which premieres on the streaming service on New Year’s Eve. (Just in time for “New Year’s Day”: that’s our Taylor, always thinking conceptually.) It shows off the biggest and best tour yet from one of pop’s all-time great live performers — Swift goes for stadium-rocking spectacle, without toning down any of her songs’ one-on-one emotional intimacy. Nobody else is in this girl’s zone. The Reputation doc was shot on the final night of the U.S. run, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with 60,000 fans singing along with every word, right down to every last “isn’t it?” in “Delicate.”
Swift is an artist who knows she doesn’t need special effects — she can get up there with just her acoustic guitar and slay, any night she chooses. All she needs is her songs, and she’s sitting on a songbook full of classics. But if she’s going to do a mega-pop show, she’s going to go all the way, because that’s what she does. So Reputation is a tribute to her epic ambition, with a dazzling battalion of dancers, pyro explosions, video screens and giant inflatable snakes, including a 63-foot cobra named Karyn. As her secret soul sister Courtney Love would say, Taylor wants to be the girl with the most snake.
It’s a New Year’s Eve victory toast to top off her historic 2018. Reputation was the year’s best-selling album, according to Billboard, even topping Drake’s Scorpion. She also had the biggest-selling U.S. tour in history, according to Pollstar. Has any female solo artist done an all-stadium tour before? With two female opening acts, Charli XCX and Camila Cabello? Swift took her tour to seven countries on four continents, selling nearly three million tickets. (The only artist who outgrossed her globally? Her old protegee Ed Sheeran, with whom she co-wrote “Everything Has Changed” while they were both bouncing on a trampoline.)
I saw the tour’s first night — in Arizona, back in May — and it blew the wheels off my getaway car. But as the film proves, this tour got more legendary as it rolled on. She makes “Delicate” so theatrically splendid (she glides above the crowd in a golden basket) and yet so personal and vulnerable. “Delicate” was my favorite song of 2017, before it was a hit, but I love it twice as much after hearing it constantly on the radio all year — I recently passed my millionth “isn’t it?” and I plan to keep over-isn’t-it-ing my way through 2019.
Swift turns “Shake It Off” into a serpentine throwdown with Camila and Charli. “Getaway Car,” the Rep gem that really should have been a hit, begins with a dramatic poetry recital: “And in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive.” She sits at the piano for a medley combining two of her best deep cuts, “Long Live” (from 2010’s Speak Now) and “New Year’s Day,” showing how far she’s traveled as a songwriter. “New Year’s Day” is the surprise ending to Reputation — a quiet piano ballad after so many synth jams. She sings about cleaning up the morning after the party, sweeping glitter off the floor with somebody who makes her look forward to the year ahead. Only Taylor could focus on the least glamorous, most boring holiday in the calendar and find some romance in it. (Maybe next year she’ll do Arbor Day?)
Swift made every show different by picking a surprise for the B-stage wild-card slot — an oldie from her songbook, played on acoustic guitar. Part of the fun was waiting to see what she’d bust out every night. Seattle got “Holy Ground,” Dublin got “Mean,” Atlanta got “The Lucky One.” Chicago got “Our Song.” Nashville got “Tim McGraw,” joined by McGraw and Faith Hill. New Jersey got “Enchanted,” timed perfectly so the rain storm hit the crowd right at the “please don’t be in love with someone else,” proof she’s in cahoots with the weather. It’s a tribute to her vast catalog — but also to her fans, who stand ready to sing all 129 of her songs at a moment’s notice. For this show, she ends the U.S. tour with the B-stage surprise she picked the first night: “All Too Well,” the mightiest song she’s ever written. She hadn’t sung it live since 2014 — but she delivers this majestic scarf-core ballad with a voice full of adult regret.
Reputation was a risky move — after the Number One hit “Look What You Made Me Do,” the world was primed for her to sing about celebrity score-settling, but instead, it turned out to be an album full of deeply personal love songs. It didn’t fit the “narrative” of what people thought she was about. People predicted that she was killing her career, alienating fans, etc., but people have been saying that ever since she had the gall to change the plot of Romeo and Juliet. It turned out to be a lot more than just another great Swift album — it was a statement about how far she’s willing to go as an artist, starting over from scratch every time. Even when she started as a kid, she had her own scholarly sense of pop history and a brash notion of her place in it. But with this tour and the whole 2018 she’s had, she shows why she’s making history. She’s never willing to rest on her reputation — but in the death of her reputation, she feels truly alive. Long live.