words & photos: Sarah Rix @sarahrix
“She is, after all, a mega pop star with evident mass marketing smarts and the musical talent to back it up.”
When we talk about “New Era Taylor”, we can talk about the fact that Taylor Swift no longer needs to be your friend.
On her last world tour with 2014’s 1989, there was a very real sense that her shows were like getting-to-know-you sessions. She was making a concerted effort to relate to her audience members, tell them about herself, make them feel better about their days, and make everyone like her.
If the Reputation stadium world tour is proving anything – she’s done with that approach.
It’s not to say she doesn’t appreciate her fans. Genuinely, Swift is the type of excellent pop star who goes above-and-beyond in the presence department. Every move on stage may be meticulously choreographed, but she’s in no way just going through the motions. She’s there, soaking in the adoration of 50,000+ Australian fans (each with a light up bracelet adorning their wrist) and reciprocating it in kind.
So what’s changed?
It seems to be the fact that Swift – now 28-years-old – has come to the (very fair) conclusion that the people at her shows are the ones that already like her. She doesn’t need to prove her worth to anyone in attendance. She’s the boss. You don’t like it? Who cares. Swift’s going to put on a huge spectacle, regardless.
While she’s clearly conscious of her public persona (see 2017’s Reputation as exhibit A), with age comes confidence. Or at least the ability to separate yourself from your situation and understand that, while risky, perhaps the best way to defeat it is to play into it.
Because if Swift’s carrying around the reputation for being too much of this or being too little of that, she’s at least fully capable and in the position to own who she is on stage.
She is, after all, a mega pop star with evident mass marketing smarts and the musical talent to back it up.
Her stop at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium on a Friday night was one packed with hits, throwbacks, and even some tongue-in-cheek motifs. Flanked by an army of dancers and a 10-piece backing band, Swift’s taken her online reputation for being a “snake” and turned it on its head. Quite literally.
The stage (as well as two side stages pushed further afield on the floor that she would use later in the night) was adorned with them. They crawled over the the video screens. They hovered in the air. There was even a tilting snake throne, pulled out for “Look What You Made Me Do?”
It was all a very thematic way of saying: she’s not a snake. She’s the queen of them.
Cue villainous Taylor Swift, then, helping to explain the overall vibe of the night: industrial, darker, looming. The big riff of “Bad Blood” saw the stage transform into a huge dystopic mass of steel beams while “Don’t Blame Me” followed its brooding motif, Swift commanding the stage and even dropping to her knees to deliver part of it.
Even the fun “Shake It Off”, performed with help from openers Charli XCX and Georgia Nott from BROODS, was done beneath the presence of a massive inflatable cobra.
“I decided on the title before I wrote the album,” Swift told the crowd about the way the writing of Reputation differed from her previous efforts. She furthered her explanation of her concerns about what people think of her with, “I think we get scared that something fake can get in the way of something real.”
Although people will endlessly debate just how nice Swift actually is, there’s not a single doubt that she has a very real talent when it comes to making a stadium show seem like an intimate affair. Whether she was teasing the crowd with her eyes while dancing through“King Of My Heart” or telling the audience about how much she loves Melbourne, even from the nosebleeds it would seem like Swift was in arms reach. She also took the time to thank the unsung heroes of the night, including her band, dancers, roadies, and everyone else in the city – be it security guards or merch slingers – who had a hand in the evening’s success.
“We have hundreds of people that have traveled across the world and left their families,” Swift explained. “They make sure that we have a stage to play.”
While production was heavy for most of the show, she was also very conscious of drawing attention to her musical abilities – saying, at one point, “I just want these to be songs that even if you stripped them back, you guys would still care about the lyrics and the melody and the feeling behind it.”
From a piano she belted out “Long Live” and “New Year’s Day”, looking equal parts happy and on the verge of tears as she reacted to the crowd’s participation. “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and “I’m Only Me When I’m With You”, a song that had been requested online and not played live since 2009, were similarly stripped back – performed with just an acoustic guitar.
The latter proves Swift’s development as a songwriter over the years – the track clearly written within the confines of unabashed adolescence. It also showed that Swift’s still tackling the issues of being understood and coming across a certain way. Instead of being passive about it as she may have been in the past, though, she’s now got the capacity to turn it around in a very tongue-in-cheek way.
Whatever you might think of Taylor Swift’s reputation, her current tour makes it clear that she’s got a big enough presence to control the narrative.