The first time I saw Taylor Swift live, I was a freshman in high school. I was 15, a very important age for Swift fans. In the song, "Fifteen," Swift sings about feeling everything,
without being old enough to know just how much else is out there. I probably cried to it a dozen times.
At the Pittsburgh stop of her Reputation
tour, I didn’t feel the connection I used to, but there were plenty of people, many of them 15, that did. There were throngs of young girls in costumes and DIY shirts: gold letters on a black tee that said “hug me Taylor,” a glittery sign hanging on a girl’s neck that said “handle with care: delicate,” another girl adorned with tide pods and a sign that said “TAYpods.”
The massive, elaborate show at Heinz Field was her fifth performance at the stadium, she announced. She opened with “... Ready For It?” the second single from Reputation
that plays like an essential oil diffuser with a drop of hip-hop oil.
The song is meant to set the tone for the rest of the album, which is generally about love, revenge, bad reputations, haters, dresses. She wants her longterm fans and critics alike to know that she's an adult now, and will behave as such, by wearing black lipstick and singing about old fashioneds.
The tide ultimately turned for Swift when Kim Kardashian revealed with video evidence that Swift lied about something involving Kanye (too long to get into, Google it.). Kim fans/Taylor critics started leaving snake emojis all over her Instagram, and it morphed into a multi-platform meme of calling Swift a snake. And so, the Reputation
tour is aggressively snake-themed. The seating area at the very front of the stage is the “snake pit.” Animated snakes curl around the Jumbotron screen. Her microphone is wrapped in a gold snake. At one point, a massive animatronic cobra emerged from the stage, then two more, with glowing red eyes. At another point, a snake skeleton sculpture emerged, and she climbed onto it.
She's above criticism in that she'll never listen to or grow from it. Instead of understanding that the snake comes from annoyance about her self-victimization, she twists it into a kitschy monstrosity that veers from "oh, that's cool" to "oh, more snakes again."
But she's been playing big crowds for over a decade and the woman is a damn professional.
There were quick outfit changes, each one more sparkly than the last. She sang on a moving carriage that glided over the crowd. There were fireworks and literal fire shooting from the stage, big enough to radiate heat onto the crowd. The entire audience was given large Fitbit-like bracelets that lit up on a synchronized schedule, turning the stadium into a sea of red, pink, white.
There were moments that reminded me of that time when I was 15, like when she played "A Place in this World," a song from her debut 2006 album which, according to setlist.fm, she hasn't played live since 2009. And whoever her fans are, she always maintains an ability to make them feel special. Those bracelets, she told the crowd, were because she wanted to be able to see every single person in the audience. "You guys are like, a dream crowd," she said and I remembered when I was 15 and she said, "D.C, I will never forget the way you made me feel tonight."
Before the show started, screens played clips of a time before Reputation
, when Swift invited super-fans, weeping and squealing, to her various homes for a special pre-release gathering as they declared eternal love and gratitude for her. Later, when walking through a crowd barrier, she grabbed hands desperately jutting from the crowd, like a religious leader generously blessing her subjects with a touch.
In front of me, there was a teenager who seemed to be at the show alone. In a custom Reputation
denim jacket with '13' written on the back of her hand (important Swift number), she started weeping immediately when Swift started playing "Long Live" on the piano. The girl next to her, also alone, joined and they relished in it together. A woman behind them chimed in to say that this song always makes her cry, too.
On "Look What You Made Me Do," the first single from Reputation
, she sings "I'm sorry, the old Taylor can't come to the phone right now ... 'cause she's dead." But clearly, the part of her persona that makes audiences feel special, that makes them sing and cry and violently emote, is not dead. She's just gotten lost in the sparkly and fiery spectacle of her own mythology.