Country artist turned worldwide sensation, the 23 year old and seven times Grammy Award Winner Taylor Swift, this February made a much anticipated appearance at the O2 arena as part of her Red tour for five sell-out performances. The sheer amount of effort her British fans went to in preparation for the concert demonstrates the overwhelming success and staggering popularity this young artist has achieved so early in her career. On entering the arena I was dazzled by flashing lights outlining homemade signs reading: “Long Live TS”, “13”, “We Love You Taylor”. The crowd was a sea of red hats, red dresses, red T-shirts; I even saw a group who had painted themselves completely red for the occasion. The extravagance of her fans get-up however, was soon to be magnified when Swift took to the stage.
Swift opened with an understated performance of ‘State of Grace’, teasing her hysteric fans by appearing larger than life as a shadow behind canvas. Her simple yet dynamic poses sending the crowd wild before the canvas lifted to reveal their star. Swift appeared before adoring fans in her traditional apparel: white blouse, black high-waisted shorts and of course never forgetting the wide brimmed bowler hat – later to be thrown into the unsuspecting crowd. First impressions were, like the rest of the show, highly rehearsed and mechanical on Swift’s part. Even the interluding heart-felt speeches were so clearly scripted that the cynic in me found it hard to take her seriously; ‘I want my songs to be like a message in a bottle, thinking that someday the person I feel that way about gets my message’. That is not to say that Miss Swift did not deliver, she performed very much in character, but that character after all is exactly what her fans wanted to see.
In her first speech Swift playfully announced that her audience should “expect the unexpected”. This statement, clearly no reference to Swift’s personal performance, turned out to be referring to the ever more abstract themes assigned to her songs. The first “unexpected” decision made by Swift was to give her original hit ‘You Belong With Me’ a bit of a make-over. Appearing alongside her four backing singers Swift’s cutsie song about teenage angst took a retro turn giving it a far more sophisticated tone than the lyrics called for. Once over the confusion over the decision to ditch the music video thesis the overall effect was suave and fun.
A theme harder to come to terms with was the gothic scene given to ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’. I have to say when the stage mist, chandelier and flickering candelabras appeared on stage I was expecting Speak Now track ‘Haunted’ as being the only track which could call for such a chilling set, so when Swift broke into ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ wearing a gothic white Victorian ball gown, it is not surprising that all around me the audience exchanged puzzled looks before falling into sync with the well-known lyrics. And if that wasn’t bizarre enough the next song would certainly earn a double-take. Even if the ball gown fitted the flickering candlelight and Phantom-of-the-Opera-esque prince charming, turned ‘Love Story’ into a ‘Horror Story’.
Transition song ‘Treacherous’ was refreshingly subtle after the haunting masquerade, but was soon to lead into a theme equally as scary. ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ brought with it an entourage of circus performers complete with painted smiles and Swift as their ring master – a rather foreboding concept for such a light-hearted track.
All in all there is no doubt that Swift’s best performances of the night were those which without flashing lights and garish outfits, allowed her audience to see the country-girl they fell in love with. ‘Fifteen’ and ‘Mean’ were two such understated numbers which saw Swift alone on stage with a guitar just the way we like her.
Having seen Swift twice now [the first time headlining at Capital FM’s 2013 Summer Ball alongside Robbie Williams]I have no doubt that she is a born entertainer. Swift is one of the few artists who really pulls out all the stops; she likes to tell a story and she likes it to be different. Despite the thematic inconsistencies the spectacle of the concert certainly didn’t disappoint – this girl certainly knows how to put on a show!