Taylor Swift At Z100 Jingle Ball 2017, Madison Square Garden, Friday, December 8th, Reviewed
Welcome to your one stop shopping for all things Taylor Swift at Jingle Ball. This is the fourth time I’ve reviewed Taylor Swift for rock nyc at the annual, seasonal, fast paced, pop songs redux from Elvis Duran and his Z100 crew. 2009, 2012, and 2014, were the previous performances. 2014 was the better Taylor Swift, but 2012 was the High School Confidential when Harry met Taylor and a better all round event. 2009 is where John Mayer hit on her big time. And 2017 is the return of the prodigal daughter as a professional media diva.
In order of preference:
The difference between 2014 and 2017 Taylor is not simply that 1989 has bigger hits than Reputation, but that 2014 (my review here) was her highest and most exalted New Yorker period, a new transplant living the life in the center of the whirlwind, and pop music ground zero, on the eve of her 25th birthday, was a never to be replicated moment in her life history. Taylor was at the height of her skills and she was a bubbling joy to watch with enough of the genuine “Our Song” girl remaining to be still in a state of suspended disbelief that she had, indeed, reached the heights of pop superstardom. 2017 was like running into your college sweetheart ten years later, she isn’t that girl anymore, that youthful romance has been sanded off through experience. There is a slight discomfit, as you call her by your personal nickname and there is no flicker of recognition fluttering across her face, and you wonder where everything goes . And yet the woman she has become is somehow more intimidating and exciting, in other words, she grew up.
The biggest difference is that whoever Taylor was to her Swifties, she has moved past it at least for one night. In 2014 she said, “I know why you choose music, I know why you listen to Z-100. I know why. It’s because you want to escape…,” in 2017 she doesn’t try that close connection to her base with some half hearted platitudes about thanks for supporting the new album, cookie cutter stuff just like Camila Cabello discussing going solo but with less reason. Taylor’s professionalism is outstanding, the five song 24 minute set, from “…Are You Ready For It,” through her two biggest 1989 hits, to the Zayn Malik 50 Shades hit, to two tracks off Reputation, one featuring Ed Sheeran, was very solid, but her distance from the audience is new.
Introduced by Katie Holmes and Katie’s completely adorable daughter Suri Cruise, Taylor looked like a 1920s silent movie star, just glam all the way. Dressed in a glittery black dress with gorgeous and no nonsense images from Swiftland 2017 projected behind her, and a band on a stage above her, Taylor worked the tips of the stage and the center, surrounded by a handful of dancers and backup singers, she bobbed and weaved, her dancing better than it has ever been, and her voice as strong as necessary and maybe more so. The sound of modern pop binded and bending to Taylor’s iron will, it wasn’t cute, it wasn’t particularly sexy, it was a set up for a vision of a pop universe that seems just a touch past its prime. Swift looked older, and she looked better than 1989, though her face was a little puffier (Ed was the same: the sign of excess drinking). My friend Doreen Murphy said Taylor was better than last Friday, December 1st’s LA Jingle Ball performance (then London two days after New York, and all quiet till her summer Arena tour). As always, ideas being played with at Jingle Ball will manifest themselves in 80K seaters by next year. every song was precise, Swedish EDM in its Shellacked beat procession, the patron saint of Tay was Max Martin not Jack Antonoff. Incidentally, last time I looked her close friend and songwriting partner and co-producer Jack was Jewish, wouldn’t that ban her from Aryan Nation? The highlight of her set was also the highlight of the evening, a “Blank Space” superior to the one she performed in 2015. Otherwise, Taylor didn’t have that easy connection with the fans you’d hope for and, speaking of Aryan, her vaulted professionalism was a little Teutonic. Still, as always, we expect a little too much from the best pop performer of the 2010s. Nobody else was as good last night.
(ps my full review of Jingle Ball 2017 will be up tomorrow)