Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” stadium tour does not skimp on spectacle.
At a full Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday night, the superstructure of her vast stage towered 110 feet above the floor. A cobra erupted three stories tall.
Wristbands distributed to attendees lit up and changed colors in sync with the show, controlled by invisible infra-red light beams. Thus, the entire audience of 53,172 – reportedly the largest ever for a female headliner in the Superdome – became a living, breathing, dynamic lighting effect.
There were pyrotechnics aplenty and moments of mass euphoria, as when opening acts Charli XCX and Camila Cabello joined Swift and a cadre of dancers on a satellite stage for a girl-power romp through “Shake It Off.”
For two solid hours, there was nary a moment to catch one’s breath. And yet Swift was not swallowed up by it all. Despite her status as one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, she still comes across as, well, human.
She continues to foster close ties with her young fans, from her epic meet-and-greet sessions to how, as she walked between satellite stages on Saturday, she extended her arms in either direction, maximizing the number of outstretched hands she could touch. After introducing her dancers early in the show, she continued with a breezy, "I'm Taylor. Thanks for hanging out with us!"
Despite its corporate-level earnings, Team Taylor is in many ways still a family business. Fans know to look for Swift’s father before concerts, as he hands out guitar picks and photo-bombs selfies.
At 28, Swift is firmly in command of her empire; she is no figurehead. And while she may not be pop's most accomplished singer or dancer – making her all the more approachable – she writes narrative songs that connect with her overwhelmingly female audience. Her artistic vision informs every aspect of her presentation. A Taylor Swift show, no matter the size, always feels like a Taylor Swift show.
On Saturday night, she described how, unlike her previous albums, she titled her current “Reputation” before writing any of its songs. She knew what she wanted its theme to be: how fame, especially in an age of rampant social media and “celebrity journalism,” can generate its own alternate reality, impugning and/or fabricating reputations at will.
She has navigated such treacherous waters with class, tuning out much noise and standing up for herself when circumstances demand it.
Fittingly, her lead-in music on Saturday night was Joan Jett’s snarling “Bad Reputation." That tone having been set, Swift went to work with "...Ready For It," the opening track on "Reputation." In a glittering black leotard and knee-high boots, she cut a commanding figure alongside 14 dancers, who would come and go in various configurations throughout the night.
Little girls bounced up and down with delight during “Love Story,” as the tens of thousands of wristbands glowed pink. The mood shifted for a stark “Look What You Made Me Do,” featuring the aforementioned cobra. The black and gold motif of “End Game” matched that of the Superdome’s home team.
During “Delicate,” she took flight above the crowd, bound for the satellite stage at the rear of the Dome’s floor. After the big moment that was “Shake It Off,” she stood alone with a green acoustic guitar. Not unlike the teenage Taylor Swift that wrote songs in her bedroom, she strummed the ballad “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” followed by the set list's only surprise: “Speak Now,” a song she hadn’t performed in five years.
The first stadium Swift ever headlined was LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, during the inaugural Bayou Country Superfest in 2010. That night, she was prone to long, fixed stares as she took it all in. There were no such long stares on Saturday; she projected strength rather than wide-eyed wonder. A decade into her meteoric career, she is at home in stadiums. Aided by a production designed for such big spaces, she filled the room.
After walking the gauntlet to the second satellite stage, she rocked “Blank Space” with her band far away on the main stage. She rode aboard a snake skeleton back to the big stage as the band crunched through “Bad Blood” and aerialists frolicked. The musicians, hidden behind the massive LED screens for much of the show, finally emerged; guitar solos shadowed Swift's voice throughout “Don’t Blame Me.”
Shifting gears once again, she accompanied herself on piano for “Long Live.” With the American leg of the “Reputation” tour nearing its end, the looking-back-with-fondness sentiment rang true. So, too, the "hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you" chorus of "New Year's Day."
The show's final act dragged a bit with the skittering beat of “Call It What You Want.” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and a final “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” sung from atop a functioning fountain, wrapped up the show.
As fans exited, closing credits on the big screen included behind-the-scenes footage from the “Reputation” tour’s rehearsals. In place of the glamazon who’d dominated the stage for the previous two hours, the footage revealed a casual, unguarded Swift, in T-shirt and shorts, learning the show’s choreography and joking with her dancers and crew.
Spectacle aside, the real Taylor Swift was always present.