After an hour of elaborately choreographed pyrotechnics Tuesday night at a sold-out PNC Arena, Taylor Swift brought the energy level down a bit. She took up an acoustic guitar to strum while crooning “You Are in Love,” even coaching the crowd to echo each line of the chorus in a call and response.
At that moment, Swift could have been any other Americana-leaning singer/songwriter. Except, of course, for the thigh-high boots and modestly racy hot pants she was wearing (more Madonna than Nashville), and the fact that she was on a raised platform that towered over the crowd.
It would be easy to be cynical about Swift’s transformation from Nashville’s country teen idol to New York City’s latest sleek pop goddess, and success at her level will definitely bring out the haters. And it’s not that she doesn’t care about criticism -- indeed she does, whether it’s from pundits or ex-boyfriends. But there might not be anyone more skilled at using doubt and negativity as motivation on hits like “Shake It Off.”
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The proof is in the numbers. At a time when the music industry is gasping for breath, Swift is the rare act still doing blockbuster business. Her current album “1989” might stand as the last that will ever sell more than a million copies in a single week, and she’s drawing sellout crowds from sea to shining sea.
Swift’s iteration of girl power has shown surprising staying power, and it doesn’t look like her time at the top will end anytime soon based on how many young people came to the show dressed as her. No wonder she still likes to pause onstage, take in the whole scene with a sidelong glance and smile mischievously. You would, too.
Tuesday’s show felt less like a concert than an elaborately choreographed Cirque du Soleil-style spectacle. Swift’s dancers served as actors in Swift’s mini-dramas, and she spent several songs dressing down one of them as he played a hapless boyfriend trying to plead his case. Swift was having none of it, especially on “Bad Blood.” And “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” played as hair-metal with Swift herself on electric guitar, drew one of the best crowd responses of the night.
Along with choreography and special effects, the production had impressive attention to detail. Taped to every seat in the house was a bracelet, automated to light up different colors on different songs. Between that and all the fans’ lit-up costumes, there were enough colored flashing lights to pass for Christmastime in an expensive subdivision.
The playlist included all 13 songs from “1989,” with sets and kinetic dancing and costume changes. Swift played guitar on two songs and sat down at the piano for “Wildest Dreams,” but mostly she kept busy dancing.
There was a fair amount of spoken-word, too, with filmed interludes from friends including Lena Dunham and Selena Gomez testifying as to Swift’s awesomeness and describing things like what spending a day with her involves (baked goods, cats, karaoke singing). Swift herself also recited a series of earnest between-song monologues, mostly about the power of positive thinking.
“You are not the result of your past just because you have a past and have made mistakes,” she declared over a wash of churchy keyboards.
Then the stage catwalk that extended out into the crowd rose up and spun around the arena a few times, carrying Swift over her people. More than once, she declared how happy she was, and went out of her way to mention “Raleigh” and “North Carolina” every chance she could.
Despite the modern trappings, some showbiz verities never change. Swift is enough of a pro to understand that.