When Taylor Swift released ‘Red’ in 2012 (her fourth album), she morphed from country singer to full on international popstar. Now, she’s sold out five nights at the O2 for the album’s tour, filled to the brim with screaming teenage fans dressed in fairy lights and brandishing neon lit banners. Her reception was incredible and particularly impressive from a UK audience when her music is so distinctly American.
She certainly hasn’t forgotten her country roots in this transition though. Her rendition of Mean (from 2010’s ‘Speak Now’) saw her perched on an oversized chest playing the banjo, whilst later an intimate moment on the b-stage saw her perform acoustically, something she’s clearly used to after years performing in local bars and clubs (which we witnessed in video form). Yet Swift is becoming more and more comfortable with being a popstar, embracing the big production numbers with a flair for the dramatic. Drummers were suspended from the ceiling; costumes ranged from Hollywood glamour to wind-up ballerinas; 22 saw her goofing around having fun with her dancers; and the euphoric extended rendition of We Are Never Getting Back Together that provided a fitting finale was a circus of enjoyment. Then there was the gothic wedding style of Trouble (complete with white to black strip as seen at the Brit Awards last year) that accompanied its dubstep breakdown and wobbling, room-shaking basslines – it couldn’t be further from a country ballad. She can undoubtedly work a crowd with her showmanship – one look to the audience was enough to induce an eruption of cheers.
Moreover, her songwriting has equally matured. Each song felt like the last song of the night – big, anthemic sing-alongs with fireworks and streamers that emphasised the feelgood party atmosphere. Swift is a welcoming and charming performer, greeting the crowd with a “nice to meet you, I’m Taylor” as if we’d all just bumped into her at some backstage party. Her (often candid) lyrics are conversational, something that spills over into her chats between songs. At times the big sister act becomes a bit preachy as she jokes about turning everything into metaphors, warns about bullies pre-Mean, talks about the price of fame pre-Lucky, and gives a forlorn look to the crowd during All Too Well begging for a collective sigh.
But throughout her performance she is utterly sincere. Like her lyrics, Swift is an open and honest performer who draws in the crowd and isn’t afraid to show her personality (something lacking from special guest Emeli Sandé). She is an artist who wears her heart on her sleeve and is totally relatable, whether pouring out her feelings in quiet moments or simply letting loose in the positively joyous 22. And though her choreography is somewhat awkward, she’s as endearing as the goofy girl at prom. In this respect she is the Jennifer Lawrence of the pop world – not a distant superstar, but approachable, friendly and real.
Am I the target audience for Swift’s music? Certainly not.
Should I be listening to your indie record that’s much cooler than mine? Probably.
But do I care? Not one bit.