Go to enough concerts and you'll hear plenty of artists tell audiences that they're "the best of the tour so far." While it's not always truth-based, that kind of flattery is a solid strategy for making a crowd go wild. As jaded as we've become in our show-going years, though, we couldn't help but believe Taylor Swift on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium when she poured it on for her 60,000 screaming fans.
"You guys are so next level!" Swift said as she peered out to observe their sparkly signs, their head-to-toe costumes and their wild-eyed enthusiasm. Her sweaty, smiling face (with always perfect red lipstick) didn't show a trace of deception, even as it filled up Jerry Jones' oversized Jumbotron.
In the nearly 10 years since a 16-year-old Swift arrived on the scene with simple, lovelorn country-pop tunes, she's shrewdly and steadily worked her way up to biggest-pop-star-in-the-world status. Her 1989 World Tour stop in "glorious Arlington, Texas," as she called it, seemed to be a kind of summit for the long climb. Where she'll go from here, we don't know, but on Saturday night, Swift ruled all. Some thoughts on the fans, the music, the visuals, the surprises and the woman at the center of the spectacle:
Young Swifties came out in force to AT&T Stadium, surrounding merch tables with their parents close behind them, rocking homemade T-shirts bearing Swift lyrics, and hoisting an impressive array of intricately designed fan signs. One of the best we saw read, "We'll let Kanye finish but ... SWIFT 2020!"
They also let out plenty of screams for two opening acts, young male pop singers slinging acoustic guitars but not performing hard enough to mess up their hair. First up was Shawn Mendes, a 17-year-old Canadian who sings sweeter than Bieber. The second, Aussie folk-pop singer Vance Joy, made up in charm for what he lacked in vocal chops. Both mini opening sets, though? Ultimately forgettable. If you aren't a seasoned pro, AT&T Stadium can chew you up and spit you out.
Now, Taylor Swift, she's a pro. From the second she kicked off her two-hour set with "Welcome to New York," she held such a commanding presence that we almost forgot about the 12 male dancers following her everywhere she went.
While she's no natural born dancer, the 25-year-old star has attended stadium school many times, so she's got the bigger-than-life movements down.
We've no doubt that people in the highest sections were able to make out every gesture. Several big screens picked up her always-on-point facial expressions. And when she took off down a long catwalk that stretched out into the floor section, Swift strutted as though we were in Bryant Park during fashion week.
On with the show:
As expected, Swift devoted a great deal of her set to the blockbuster 1989 album, her first official foray into non-twangy pop (although she'd been leaning toward the broader sounds for years). Her dancers moved behind shadowboxes during "Blank Space," they twirled light-up umbrellas for "How You Get the Girl" and did some work in front of and behind movable doors for "I Know Places."
While there wasn't a ton of looking back to the previous four albums, longtime fans did get a few remixed treats. "I Knew You Were Trouble" took a darker, sexier approach live than in its original recording -- Swift sauntered along the catwalk as shirtless dancers did their best Magic Mike moves. She grabbed an electric guitar and gave us a rocked-up version of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." In the most touching journey back, Swift strummed an acoustic and led a singalong of "Fifteen."
With speculation in the air about whom Swift would bring on stage in Texas (Tony Romo? Selena Gomez? Barney?), it turned out that the only special guest of the evening hailed from across the pond. British singing star Ellie Goulding joined Swift in the second half of the set for a rendition of her hit "Love Me Like You Do." The two blondes traded verses and then hit that catwalk, arm in arm.
Swift also mentioned that a couple of the super producers who'd worked on 1989 -- Swedish pop magicians Max Martin and Shellback -- were in attendance. Other notable cameos arrived via video. Several montages between songs featuring Swift's famous friends, folks like Gomez, Lena Dunham and the band Haim.
All in all it felt as though we were part of the star's world for the evening.
Hangin' with Taylor
Swift injected into the stadium spectacle some amazingly intimate moments. The catwalk to which we keep referring was liftable and movable, able to get her closer to fans in higher-up sections. Suspended above the floor crowd, she spoke at length about what she'd learned in the last decade.
Roll your eyes at motivational speeches if you will, but it's difficult not to admire someone who tells young, highly impressionable fans, "What's even better than being cool is being happy."
The notable thing about Taylor Swift on Saturday night? She was both.