At the Rogers Centre on Friday, Taylor Swift brought her Reputation Stadium Tour to an excitable, welcoming Toronto audience. It was a spectacle occasion and an energetic triumph on any level that matters. The gloss was high, as were the inflatable cobras and serpents that arose here and there. A squad of dancers was the professional kind. The cavernous sports-arena space was used exceptionally well visually, and sound issues were no issue at all. Swift was the confessive girl next door at times; elsewhere, she strutted and snarled in thigh-high boots. On one of three stages (and twice while in the air) the pop star’s magnetism sparkled like the glitter on her eyelids.
The only time things got slightly untidy was when a sky of confetti fluttered onto the enraptured fans in the floor seats. How best to shed the bits of paper? When a song that gave implicit instruction was required, the Shake It Off singer didn’t miss a beat.
All that said, there was something bogus about Swift, a mega star whose brand is diligently maintained and whose public image is highly crafted. The tour takes it name from her sixth studio album, 2017’s Reputation, which, in turn, takes its name from the song Delicate, with the line, “This ain’t for the best, my reputation’s never been worse … ”
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She favours boyfriends who are well-known. And if you don’t read the press, the indiscreet singer’s lyrics are an open book – her “diary,” as she put it during the first of two nights at Rogers Centre.
Swift, who tweet-spats and disses with songs (Bad Blood, Better Than Revenge and so on), plays up a cutesy-naughty persona. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Joan Jett, whose punk-pop classic Bad Reputation was played as Swift took the stage on Friday. That the millionaire pop star would adopt such a leather-jacketed anthem – “never said I wanted to improve my station” – smacks of class appropriation. Moreover, where Jett convincingly sang that she “didn’t give a damn” about her name, Swift totally gives a damn about her own.
(By the way, this isn’t the first time Jett’s swagger has been appropriated. Avril Lavigne used Bad Reputation for a video interval on a past tour.)
Not that there’s anything wrong with artifice. Fame requires nurturing, imagination and upkeep, and the shrewd Swift does it well.
What was more curious was Swift’s audacious want. Where the bad-girl shtick is for fun, the neediness seemed genuine and peculiar, even by pop-star standards.
Generally, Swift’s banter was blandly fawning, ripped from an “insert city here” script. But twice, she not-so-subtly mentioned that the concert was sold out. She praised the audience for “singing the words of every song.” Every song? We were two tunes into the concert.
She then said she wanted to get to know us. Her way of doing this was to ask how many people had been to one of her concerts previously and how many had not. Basically, “So, enough about me. Tell me what you think of me.”
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Later, on the acoustic sub-stage, she expressed appreciation that her fans related to her lyrics and to her vulnerability, and that they had stuck with her as she moved from country to pop over the course of her career. It was as if she were reading her own press clippings aloud. Then, sitting at the piano, she took an unusually extended pause for no other reason than to soak in the applause as her close-up filled the gigantic video screen.
In fact, although she mentioned that she wanted to look us in eye at one point – and she did walk through the crowd and press the flesh – on stage, Swift almost always played to the cameras that were used to blow up her size for all to see.
Walking into the venue, each attendee was given a bracelet that would light up during the concert. Where traditionally it is up to audience members to decide when to flash a smartphone or a Bic lighter, Swift took that decision out of their hands.
Who was that for? Of course it was for the performer on stage, who could gaze on to the fans as if they were her own twinkling stars in her personal night sky. An artist who undoubtedly performed in front of her bedroom mirror with a hairbrush for a microphone as a child now does it for real.