“You are watching the greatest living pop star on the planet”. Taylor Swift doesn’t actually utter those words tonight, as a second night in Dublin brings the European leg of her 1989 World Tour to a close, but you would forgive her for any feelings of satisfaction. Six years after her big night at the VMAs was brought crashing down, the narrative of last weekend is one that few could have imagined. While she was wowing the masses at London’s Hyde Park, down the road a certain rapper was collapsing under the weight of his ego. It’s symbolic of the way her career has exploded since the release of 1989 last year, a commercial leap and turn around in public and critical opinion that would have been hard to imagine during the days of ‘Trouble’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’.
Spend a night in her company and it’s easy to see why. This is not just one of the best pop shows we’ve probably ever been too, not just one of the best arena experiences but one of the best gigs period. A spectacular in every sense of the word, it’s an all singing, all dancing extravaganza and, while such an approach has become the norm at this end of the musical spectrum, none have managed to do it with such charm or style. The opening sensory blitz of ‘Welcome To New York’ out of the way (complete with each audience member’s flashing wristband going haywire), it’s only three numbers before the first of the big hitters arrives in the form of ‘Blank Space’, the walkway that cuts through the venue allowing Swift the opportunity to get up close in personal with the majority of the crowd at some point. It’s followed by a dark, brooding tune that sounds familiar, even if we can’t place it at first. Then the “cold hard ground” lyric kicks in and you realise that it’s ‘Trouble’, reimagined in a Marilyn Manson fashion that is utterly fabulous.
The message is clear, the Taylor that you thought you knew is gone and she might not ever be coming back. She states as much by taking ‘Love Story’ and updating it to fit the 1989 palette, electronic pop where once was country. A good song’s a good song though, and the new version is a winner. As is this new, improved Taylor Swift. She neatly sidesteps any of the off stage issues that have arisen over the years to talk to her adoring audience about more personal matters. As sweet as they come, you almost believe her when she says that she recognises some of the faces from Instagram and online chats, and that she knew they just had to finish the European tour in Dublin, Ireland (nothing to do with standard touring logistics then), the monologues given an even more schmaltzy feel by the cheesy backing keyboards that accompany them. Any more weighty issues are left to the recurring video messages from a series of high profile friends – some people we’ve never heard of plus really quite witty interjections from Haim, Lena Dunham and Cara Delevigne – about how great their celebrity pal is.
A total pro who knows exactly where the cameras are at all times and what smile or sideways glance, the doubts that maybe she’s just a cog in this well oiled machine are banished as she strides down the – now elevated – walkway strumming an acoustic guitar, she delivers a solo acoustic version of Red’s ‘Holy Ground’ that is as powerful as it is simple, reminiscent of her marvellous Civil Wars collaboration and a hint that the old, Nashville Taylor still lurks somewhere. Then she name checks Imogen Heap before ‘Clean’ and jumps onto a keyboard for the aforementioned ‘Love Story’.
From then on in, it’s gold all the way. ‘Bad Blood’ gives way to a metal version of ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, led by the singer on electric guitar against a ‘Seven Nation Army’ aping video projection. Then it’s another costume change and behind the piano to point out that those who criticise her writing style for being “basic” (as bitter as she gets), a wistfully epic ‘Wildest Dreams’, a mighty sprint through ‘Out Of The Woods’, another video testimony and then, inevitably, the whole room getting onto its feet for ‘Shake It Off’, the singer and dancers hoofing it up old style as the walkway spins in the air and the confetti tumbles from the roof.
A few weeks ago, when we discussed Swift and the rest of the pop pack on the State podcast, the opinion was that there would never be another artist who – in terms of longevity – could put together a career to match the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen. As we wake the next morning to find our wristband still glowing, a tangible reminder of the night before, you have to wonder if Taylor Swift might be the exception that proves the rule.