Among the 76,000

I promise this will be the last post on Taylor Swift for a while. Last Saturday I saw her perform at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, the first Australian stop on her 1989 World Tour. It was a fantastic show. As someone who likes to observe things, I want to share my thoughts on the concert here.

Charm

After kicking things off with a glamorous rendition of Welcome to New York, Swift addressed the crowd with a simple “Hi, I’m Taylor”, accompanied by a beaming smile. Calculated? Certainly. Effective? For sure. The charm factor was off the charts.

Throughout the show Swift would get the crowd involved. Sometimes it would involve action—echoes, sing-alongs, arms in the air. Other times it was rhetorical, imploring us to come on a music journey with her. She took the time to say what a great audience it was, and to express her appreciation for making her album a success and for being present that night.

All photos taken with iPhone 5S.

All photos taken with the iPhone 5S.

Swift was real with the crowd. Here’s what she said in her introduction to the song Clean, which began with her remarking on how passionate and joyful the crowd was:

And let me tell you why that kind of behaviour makes me happy. Because that kind of behaviour is free, and uninhibited, and warm, and the way you’ve treated us is so open and welcoming. And, you know these days there are millions of ways for people to tell you—how to be. How to act in public. What’s cool, what’s not. What’s beautiful, what’s not. And it’s really easy to become completely preoccupied by the idea of trying to be cool. You have a lot of people who will try to make you feel like being cool, is being unaffected, and unexcited, and cynical, and chill. But you know what I think is better than being cool is being happy. And you seem really happy tonight Sydney. [Crowd cheers]

You know when someone criticises you, or says something behind your back, those words that they said about you, it’s like you feel like those words are written all over your face, all over you. And then, those words start to become echoes in your own mind. And then there’s a real risk that those words could become a part of how you see yourself. The moment that you realise that you are not the opinion of somebody who doesn’t know you, or care about you—that moment, when you realise that, it’s like you’re clean.

I think this is more than just a feel-good message. It’s a psychologically important message, especially for the mostly young and mostly female audience. A cynic would say she had crafted all these words in advance, to get the maximum emotional leverage. But I also think she’s being very genuine here. These words come from her own experiences and the (painful) lessons that she’s learnt.

Presence

Swift had incredible stage presence. I was sitting in the stands, so most of what I observed was derived from the big screens. I can only imagine what the effect was for those sitting up close.

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Swift has mastered the runway strut. She moved about the stage with purpose and grace. She has mastered the turn-back pose. She has mastered the hair flick. She has mastered the pause—to look around, soaking in the adulation of the crowd. She has mastered her smile, of which there are multiple variations (subtle, innocent, knowing, beaming, etc.) depending on the situation. She always had a sense of whimsy in her expressions and body language, which was fun and engaging. Her passion was infectious.

Needless to say, the outfits were great. Probably my favourite (and my wife would enthusiastically concur) was the pink two-piece light-up dress Swift wore for How You Get the Girl.

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Performance

I go to live shows not just to hear songs that I like, but to be entertained by an experience I can’t get by putting on my ear buds. I went in with very high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

Swift is multi-talented. In addition to the choreographed set pieces, she rotated comfortably between an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and the piano. She’s blossomed from a country music darling to a gifted stage performer.

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I loved the variation in music styles—from pop, to punk, to ballad, to rock, to stripped-back. Each live song captured the essence of the studio version and built further upon it. In particular, Swift’s rendition of the two popular songs from her Red album swayed my original opinion of them from annoyance to enjoyment. I Knew You Were Trouble was satisfyingly dark and moody, backed by foreboding strings. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together was delivered punk rock style, with Swift working the electric guitar.

Atmosphere

Another dimension to my enjoyment of the show was the crowd. 76,000 adoring fans made the stadium come alive. At no point did the crowd become still or passive. The number of bums off seats was impressive, even for those who were really far away from the stage.

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As we entered the stadium, each person was given a rubber wristband with radio-controlled LEDs, as a “present from Taylor”. These were used to great effect, as the stadium became a roiling sea of white, blue, pink, purple and more, to punctuate the progression of each song.

Swift capped off the concert with Shake It Off, which brought together all the elements of lighting, video, band, dancers, smoke machines, rotating stage, and even fireworks. It was a worthy end to the world’s biggest star performing the best show around.

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