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Taylor Swift performs during the Country Music Association Music Festival on June 12, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn.

Wade Payne/AP Photo/Wade Payne

Taylor Swift At the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Friday

For two hours on Friday, the Air Canada Centre in Toronto was transformed from a hockey rink into the biggest karaoke club in Canada. The occasion was Taylor Swift's Speak Now tour, which was parked at the ACC for two nights. Even though the show featured all the bells and whistles of a contemporary concert tour - dancers, stage sets, elaborate video screens, flying props - it was hard to shake the sense that most of the 15,000 fans in attendance were there to sing along with Swift.

Sometimes it was just a murmur. Sometimes it nearly drowned her out. But it was always there, a high, girlish echo of everything Swift sang. Fan fervour doesn't come any louder than that.

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Swift may not be as talked about as Lady Gaga or Britney Spears or Beyonce, but she's every bit the pop phenomenon. Not only does she have the numbers to prove it - multiple Grammys, a string of No. 1s, 20 million albums and 34 million singles sold worldwide - she has the devotion of millions of "Swifties," who buy her recordings, follow her blog, and know her every lyric by heart.

But unlike Britney, Beyonce or Gaga, Swift's appeal isn't fashionable or edgy; it's about averageness, appealing to the hard-working, rule-obeying good girls of the world. Her songs don't wallow in teen ennui or try to pull drama from failed romance. Where Janis Ian used At 17 to illuminate the misery of adolescence, Swift's Fifteen (the show's first encore) reassures listeners that it gets better.

Not for nothing does she preface her show with Tom Petty's American Girl.


Although she started out in Nashville, Swift has long since crossed over to the pop market and there is nothing country about her stage show. She favours dresses over denim, and likes things formal and sparkly. She wears her guitars slung low, rocker-style, and even plays banjo that way. The closest she came to a down-home look was when her band dressed up in Depression-era garb for Our Song, although to be honest, they looked more like the cast of Paper Moon than a band at the Grand Ole Opry.

If anything, the overriding influence on Swift's show was Broadway. Not only were the numbers heavily choreographed, with dancers acting out the lyrics and fresh costumes every other number, but Swift and her band seemed as much actors as musicians, putting on a show instead of just playing a few tunes.

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Perhaps the most striking thing about Swift's music is that her songs almost always have a happy ending, a point her stage show not only underscores but puts into italics. In Speak Now, which of course was staged as a wedding, Swift didn't just tell the boy about to marry the wrong girl, "Let's run away now" - they actually did, escaping into the arena where Swift glad-handed a few hundred fans. She triumphed over a nasty critic in Mean, got back at a backstabbing girlfriend in Better Than Revenge, and was chased by a handsome prince throughout Love Story.

Yet the most moving moment in the show was in a song where she doesn't get the boy. For Dear John, reputedly inspired by her relationship with rocker John Mayer, Swift let the mask slip, singing from the heart instead of from her script. It didn't last long, and any potential tears were defused by a burst of fireworks at the end of the song, but for a moment Swift seemed something more than the average girl princess of her singles.

For a moment, she seemed real.

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