On paper it might seem a little hackneyed that, in 2015, one of the world’s biggest pop stars has based an entire album and its corresponding global tour of the same name around the themes of love, acceptance, and friendship. But this weekend Taylor Swift brought her 1989 Tour to London's Hyde Park, and it couldn’t have felt more relevant or more empowering.
I’m willing to concede that there were outside forces which contributed to the feelings of exhilaration this night #blessed me with. For example, London’s Pride parade—the explosive and leather-clad culmination of a week-long festival celebrating LGBTQ communities in the UK—came to a powerful end a short walk away in Soho, a substantial chunk of the audience was made up of young girls on the verge of fanatical tears, and the weather was borderline tropical. Also, I was very day-drunk. But this was an event that gained rave reviews across the board, from The Telegraph to MTV, and I’m pretty sure that was because it was fucking amazing, not an emotional mirage brought on by sinking six pints on half a bag of Frazzles. [These are a very cheap and delicious brand of chips - Brit Culture Translator]
Bookended by “Welcome To New York” (“And you can want who you want / Boys and boys and girls and girls”) and “Shake It Off” (“I go on too many dates / But I can’t make them stay / At least that’s what people say”), Taylor’s whole performance felt like an important and well-timed lesson in personal strength; a love letter to love on a mass scale regardless of age, gender, or sexuality. Sure, the whole thing may have been meticulously choreographed down to the wristbands everyone in the crowd was given that flashed different colours in time with the music, but Taylor Swift has a great way of building people up without shitting on anyone else in the process, and the importance of a massive pop star who can do that should never be underestimated.
The set featured all new songs apart from “Love Story” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which were both given a post-country update, so you know Tay’s not on a retrospective hype. She’s pushing forward, celebrating her own evolution and the fact that she released one of the most commercially successful albums in the last decade by playing every single track from it. The set design was outrageous, there were seven costume changes, and the between-song banter came in the form of highly scripted monologues that allowed each song to segue into the next, which gave the whole thing a narrative Broadway-esque feel. There was an element of “going through the motions” about it (like, you know she’s saying the same stuff every single night of the whole tour), but that’s all part of the fun. We weren’t just watching Taylor, we were watching Taylor: The Musical. And in this case, the spectacle only enhanced the message rather than compensated for a lack thereof.
Between songs, filmed inserts showed some of Taylor’s besties—including Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, and Cara Delevigne—talking about what her music means to them personally. At the end, she brought out Kendall Jenner, Serena Williams, Karlie Kloss, Martha Hunt, GiGi Hadid, and Delevigne waving a massive Union Jack flag, because #squadgoals. Even the support slots were filled by her friends John Newman and Ellie Goulding. And you can take all of this one of two ways: either Taylor Swift is a massive egomaniac, or, she’s leading by example—stomping all over her media-spun legacy as some kind of serial man eater by eliminating men from her performance almost entirely. Aside from the backing dancers, everyone Taylor brought on stage was both her friend and a woman, which both plays into the continued performance art of shedding her former stereotype, and shows an acute awareness of her audience: a majority of young girls trying to fit in somewhere whilst also struggling with their own self-worth.
“I wish no one ever waited four hours to text you back when you know they’re holding their phone,” she says at one point to all-too-knowing applause, “That’s rude.”
Taylor also kept repeating, with what looked like genuine amazement, that she was looking out at a crowd of 65,000 people, which would be a headfuck for anybody whose first UK show was playing to a few hundred people in King’s College in 2008. There’s a part of me that can never be arsed with that applause-lubricating aspect of any live show (who needs to be reminded of the crowd size when there is sweat all over your face and most of it isn’t even yours?), but in this case I let it go. You can call elements of the 1989 Tour anything from absolute perfection to a little self-indulgent, but from coming on 15 minutes earlier than scheduled to packaging an after-school special message of post-millennial female friendship, you can’t say that Taylor Swift doesn’t know how to give back what her fans put in. She knows her own worth and 1989 is—quite rightly—all about celebrating that, but more importantly, she makes sure everyone that’s looking up at her with wide-eyes and Snapchat open ready to send their bff snippets of “their song” knows what theirs is, too.
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