More princess with loyal subjects than a mere pop singer with fans, Taylor Swift is no longer the shy teen country singer hiding behind her guitar. As the Lenny Kravitz hit “American Woman” blared from the speakers, lights went down before Swift opened her sold out Tampa Bay Forum show with “State of Grace” strutting down the catwalk with the attitude of a supermodel.
As a critic with hundreds of concerts in the scrapbook, it was easy to be jaded. However, attending a Swift show with an 11-year-old superfan changes the dynamic and allows one to remember that this isn’t a show for critics or fathers.
It is a show for teens and young women. In that spirit, you’ll also hear from that 11-year-old who tutored her dad throughout the evening as to the intricacies of the T-Swizzle experience.
The crowd of screaming girls sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation, whether clad in red Keds and cat ears like me, or with blinking homemade signs and lace dresses like other girls. While we had screamed for Ed Sheeran, a “riot” broke out when Swift emerged from a red curtain. Swift lured the crowd in with the first song from her latest album, “State of Grace,” before playing the title song “Red.”
She gave a speech afterward telling the crowd hello and how she felt about us, encouraging us and making all of us feel ecstatic and inspired.
After that it was song after song with great performances and lots of costume changes, including three songs from previous albums: “Sparks Fly,” “Love Story” and “Mean.” All were great, but “Sparks Fly” was full of bright lights and showers of glitter. Fun!
The audience around me was so excited that we were screaming like banshees growing hoarser and hoarser with each song as we jumped higher and higher.
My favorites included “I Knew You Were Trouble,” a loud and exciting performance, sparkly, colorful and dramatic with an unexpected costume change in the middle followed by a few more songs before the grand finale “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” This is a magical night I will never forget.
Two hours, at least 11 costume changes, up to 20 singers and dancers and hydraulics that would make any low-rider enthusiast weep with joy, this is no ordinary production.
A Swift show is part Broadway revue complete with set themes ranging from carnivals, ballet, carousels, Paris, roaring ‘20s and steam punk with wind-up dolls and part teen girl therapy session with Swift encouraging the young audience in the sea of red to show their “crazy emotions” which allows them to grow and change.
Show highlights included “All Too Well” a reminder that there is a talented country songwriter underneath the borderline ridiculous production, “22” and “Stay, Stay, Stay.”
While her vocal limitations were on display on songs such as “I Knew You Were Trouble,” it is never a distraction. With her secret weapons, a highly cultivated eye-roll and head tilt, Swift reminds older audience members that the show is as important as the songs.
Ending her set with the teen girl power anthem “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Swift pranced around the stage with the confidence of Bono leading an audience a generation ago in anthems such as “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday,” if that song had been about breaking up with a boy instead of an Irish tragedy.
After a pleasant set by up-and-coming country singer Brett Eldredge, opener Ed Sheeran came on stage in cargo shorts with an acoustic guitar, reminding American concert-goers that male pop stars don’t need to spend hours practicing dance moves and styling their hair if they use that same time to refine their guitar skills and songwriting chops.
Sheeran got a great reception from the crowd that sang along to his entire catalog, highlighted by his rap skills on “You Need Me” before ending with the subversive hit, “A-Team” which made the 11-year-old superfan question why singing along to such a song would ever make young girls scream so loudly, a mystery “that may never be answered.”