Taylor Swift, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas, May 25th, 2013, Reviewed
Here’s how hip I am. I’ve never been to a Bruce Springsteen or Prince or a Rolling Stones gig. This is my second Taylor Swift concert.
Swift’s current stardom is such that a normal, run of the mill arena doesn’t have the posterior capacity for her fan base. Her Dallas/Fort Worth area gigs are held in Cowboys Stadium – the enormously oversized shrine to Texas football. Luckily, the venue has the two largest television screens in the world. Otherwise, Taylor would appear to be an extremely perky ant crumb to 90 percent of the paying customers.
This was a long evening of music with three opening acts – Austin Mahone, Florida Georgia Line, and Ed Sheeran. The sound mix was a challenge throughout the evening, often turning into typical booming arena melon mush. The stadium was configured to hold 55,000 people for the show. Taylor Swift sold the place out.
Swift inspires a somewhat unimaginable level of idolatry in her fans. Women of all ages wore homemade Swift homage garb to the show; they screamed incessantly and reacted to their heroine’s every move, statement, song, and gesture. Taylor has gone beyond the realm of both country and pop music, proudly serving as a pop culture celebrity. Yet, to explain her appeal, it’s important to know her country music roots. Understanding the importance of both the narrative tradition and the pathos in country music has been her ticket to superstardom. Every song tells a story and every song has an explicitly emotional theme, general involving romantic intrigue. She’s the current soundtrack to the loves, hopes, and heartbreaks of a generation of young women.
Like most artists of her commercial stature, she inspires both unqualified love and sneering disdain. Complaints that she isn’t talented are absurd – she’s a sharp pop songwriter and, while she’ll never be confused with Aretha Franklin, Swift is a competent vocalist. And I would never underestimate her intelligence. She completely understands what her adoring public wants to see and hear. Beyond being a performer, she’s painstakingly aware that she is also a corporation and a brand name. At worst, Swift may be too calculating (she probably knows what she’s having for breakfast on August 12th, 2033), which had lead to her biggest image issue – the belief that she churns through high profile relationships for press ink and lyrical fish baiting exercises.
Entering the stage while Lenny Kravitz’s version of “American Woman” played, Swift orchestrated the evening to be more of a traveling musical theater production than a pop music concert. She has a large dance troupe that wears several elaborate costumes and utilizes Broadway style choreography. There is not shortage of eye candy whizbang to include background video screens, video introduction of songs, strobe lights, pyrotechnics, confetti, and an extended stage arm that elevates Swift above the front of the audience. She’s a natural actress with her smiles, smirks, gasps of awe, and determined/self-indignant poses. Her work ethic cannot be faulted. It’s a two hour show and, even with visual circus, she’s almost always front and center. Like the girl that Donna Summer once applauded, Taylor works hard for the money.
To serve her mass audience, Swift paints with a broad brush in her songwriting. Her output isn’t exceptionally nuanced either musically or lyrically, but that’s not to say the songs aren’t enjoyable. She has a true knack for the big, sweeping chorus. Almost everything she writes goes down as easy as milkshake.
For me, the songs break down into three categories. The majority of them sound perfectly fine to me when I hear them, but I don’t rush to replay them again. A small grouping are olfactory offenders, including “Stay Stay Stay,” where she overdoses on her own cutesiness, and that other song I never, ever, ever want to hear again. Then, there’s the really good stuff.
Swift played “Our Song” during her acoustic set, stating that she had written the number for her ninth grade talent contest. I hope she won. It’s Swift at her most charming. The first blush driving romantic attraction of “Sparks Fly” was a highlight of the concert. No less of an authority that Iman Lababedi has proclaimed that “Love Story” is “possibly the greatest song of the 21st century.” Her performance of that song did not discredit Iman’s position.
For me, the highlight of the night was the tightrope walk of “Mean.” Swift managed to convey that she can be wounded by criticism without portraying herself as a helpless victim. More importantly, this young woman who is absolutely adored by millions of female fans, used her introduction as a way to discourage bullying among girls. That’s using her role model status in a wonderfully admirable way.
She never once asked the crowd to purchase her new album. It probably would have been a redundant request.
Grade – B+
State of Grace
You Belong With Me
The Lucky One
Stay Stay Stay (with a bit of “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers)
Everything Has Changed (with Ed Sheeran)
I Knew You Were Trouble
I Remember It All Too Well
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together