“Ever-changing and unpredictable and spontaneous and terrible and wonderful at the same time.”
That was Taylor Swift’s commentary on love during her Red Tour performance Saturday, August 10. Also a perfect way to describe the multisensory, emotionally saturated, glitter-covered time travel fiasco that I, and 50,000 12-year-olds, experienced in Soldier Field that night.
The Pennsylvania-born singer-songwriter has come a long, long way since strumming out country hit “Our Song” in Nashville bars at age 16. After 75 million record sales and a new album full of chart-topping pop, she’s obviously grown into her superstar persona—something that became clear the minute she strutted down the catwalk in glittery Spanx (accompanied by glittery microphone and, later, glittery red guitar) to belt out opener “State of Grace” as fireworks erupted overhead.
Throughout the two-hour set, we saw everything from clowns on stilts and toy ballerinas to Victorian princes and noir-era paparazzi, all artistic devices for better conveying what Taylor refers to as “the crazy emotions.” These emotions—infatuation, dejectedness, betrayal, ecstasy, solitude—are the driving force behind some very real and relatable songwriting (relatable, that is, if you’re a 12-year-old girl), but also translate well to large-scale theatrics. Some stunts were gape-worthy (the flying drum line during “Holy Ground”, the rock violin intro for “Trouble”) while others were gaudy and difficult to get behind (the doo-wop rendition of “You Belong With Me”, the Les Mis–style flag choreography in “Red”). But frills and all, Swift delivered an adrenaline-pumping, squeal-inducing extravaganza where thumping club hits flowed smoothly into touchy-feely ballads as easily as tear-away gowns got swapped for shorts and T-shirts.
What I walked away with is a real appreciation for Swift as a versatile performer who knows her audience and knows exactly how to reach them. Did I enjoy the lengthy scripted heart-to-hearts that Swift delivered from a stool with wet, sparkly eyes between songs? God, no. But you can bet the row of 12-year-olds wearing light-up “Team Taylor” shirts behind me did. Swift’s cheerleader hip swivels and batting lashes left me nauseated, but it was just the kind of bubble-gum sex appeal and home-grown confidence that the many parents in attendance were banking on. Yes, she’s a superstar. And yes, she acts like it. But the girl-next-door Taylor we fell in love with a few years ago is still in there somewhere, and we got her back (with a banjo, no less) during a little throwback called “Mean.” And in an absolutely breathtaking rendition of “All Too Well” on a sparkly red piano.
Sure, it was a slumber party on steroids. But when T-Swift ran through the crowd giving high-fives and belting about the joys of being 22, I felt like we were having a moment. And if I was having a moment, then the girls behind me were having the time of their lives.