So many matching outfits. Mothers and daughters, brothers, sisters related and otherwise, converged upon Perth’s still-new Optus Stadium, for a Friday night out that seemed a touch more fabulous than most of them usually are.
If there was any doubt that Taylor Swift inspires her audience, it was laid to rest here at the opening night of the Australian leg of her Reputation tour. Jumpsuits, sequined jackets and snakeskin outfits referenced video clips and song titles. There’s a sophistication about Taylor Swift that can be shared by tots, teens and twentysomethings… and their mums (and dads). It’s perhaps the reason why Swift’s star is still in ascendance, certainly in comparison to her rival, Katy Perry, who on her most recent visit, struggled to fill Perth’s 15,000-seat RAC Arena. On this night, 50,900 flocked to see Swift with the mega-venue proclaimed ‘sold-out’.
Even as Broods and the increasingly-popular CharlieXCX warmed up the audience, it was all about waiting for Tay-Tay. In the minutes leading up to the headliner’s set, the huge fortress-like stage structure projected behind-the-scenes clips of Swift rehearsing, performing, laughing and living, only broken by rounds of trivia questions and advertisements for Swift’s music (and Fuji Film).
That and footage of fans on Skype screens and outside stadiums proclaiming their undying love. It was not bursting the bubble, it was making the bubble bigger. This was a night – and audience – captivated by ultra-fame and the cult of a kind of celebrity that cannot be ignored.
Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation faded as the lights dimmed and the PA and screens poured out talk-show soundbytes (‘all this drama is exhausting!’) about the woman of the moment. Taylor Swift made a striking entrance. No elevation or descent, simply walking out from behind a curtain bathed in brilliant white light, in what was a real ‘now I’m here’ moment, as Freddie Mercury would once have put it. Ready For It was an appropriate and compelling opener, quickly followed by I Did Something Bad, with fireworks making a dynamic presence in the night-sky in what was still only the second song.
A multitude of dancers backed Swift all the way, as multiple video screens deftly captured all action and every angle. Swift’s eye contact with the cameras was spot-on, giving face-time to those seated in the rafters as much as those in the front rows. It was amazingly intimate given the scope of machinery and production.
While Swift threw her hat into the political news-cycle last week with an Instagram post informing her 112 million Instagram followers that she would be voting for two Tennessee Democrats in the US congressional mid-term elections next month, this night was not about proclamations or apologies about Donald Trump (who now it seems, likes her “25% less”). It was about glimpses of her identity (true and public) and empowerment for all, as she thanked her dancers, band, supports acts and crew at length throughout the evening. Swift also noted that she was the first woman to headline at Optus Stadium (her pal Ed Sheeran opened the venue to live music in March and is the only other artist to have so far performed at it).
Interestingly, for a huge mainstream artist, the show was not as much of a hit-fest as some may have been clamouring for, with much of the set focussed on material from Swift’s latest album, Reputation, while other songs were incorporated into medleys (Style/Love Story/You Belong With Me and, later, Bad Blood Should’ve Said No). Swift the viper/vixen stormed the huge stage and took time out to be airlifted to two remote stages in the midst of the audience.
With such a huge production and occasionally processed vocals it seemed heartening and important when Swift was alone with an acoustic guitar (Dancing With Our Hands Tied/I Knew You Were Trouble) or behind a piano (Long Live/New Year’s Day) as these were moments that focussed on the talented artist rather than the showbusiness of it all.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Swift can’t power it up for hits such as Blank Space, Shake It Off and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, or have a giant, inflatable cobra and video/lighting effects that made the audience feel like they were inside a pinball machine (with the ball very much in control). The reptilian imagery is testimony to the fall-outs and backlash of her fame, but the gestures are sweeping enough to entertain and inspire tens of thousands of people across the other side of the globe in their favourite new football stadium.
All up it was a joyous showcase of a famous life writ large, with the majority of the audience probably liking Swift ‘25% more’. Sometimes, like this time, you just can’t argue with joy.