Taylor Swift has hits for miles. Nearly every one of the 18 songs she performed Friday, at the first of two sold-out shows at Levi’s Stadium (to more than 100,000 combined ticketholders) was recognizable not just to the young diehard fans but to their parents and numerous tech VIPs in attendance. But it takes more than hits to be one of America’s favorite musician-celebrities. Taylor Swift pulls in fans from all corners. It’s no different for fans of indie music and culture. “Tay” isn’t just one of the nicest people in the industry. The country-star-turned-pop-diva respects peers from the alternative side of the musical and entertainment tracks. Her associates include Kendrick Lamar, Haim, actress Lena Dunham and singer-songwriter Vance Joy, who’s currently opening her massive 1989 World Tour. Her Tweets can create careers and change the decisions of massive corporations. She is fair game for starting memes, as evidenced by the onslaught of goat music videos. Sure, there are haters, but the majority only wish they had what she has. Ten years in – let that sink in – Swift’s career may not have yet found a peak.
The Saturday performance at Levi’s Stadium was a resounding success on most levels, musically and visually. Swift, her backing band and singers, and a dozen-plus dancers entered in grand fashion to “Welcome to New York,” with glowing “42nd< Ave” and “Broadway” street signs hanging from the roof of the stage. Like the majority of her setlist, the song was off of her new album, 1989. It was impressive how little Swift relied on earlier material.
“I was trying to make an album unlike anything I’d made before,” the 25-year-old said later in the show. “I wanted to change completely.” Done.
During the first song, 50,000 luminescent wristbands (idea courtesy: Coldplay) went off in unison, glowing in various patterns, times to the music. The second song of the night, “New Romantics,” upped the ante on neon lights, further illuminating the point that Swift wasn’t in Nashville anymore. “Blank Space” followed, as did the first of at least seven costume changes. And that’s where, at times, the show stalled, if anyone was noticing. The outfits were all hits; the time off-stage minimal. But the videos that played during these breaks, at least the ones not featuring Swift’s two cats, came off a bit self-congratulatory. The videos were of her famous girlfriends talking about her. Still, she was the one pushing “play.”
“I Knew You Were Trouble” came next, and I was briefly disappointed the chorus had absolutely, positively not one goat. But that was quickly forgotten with a dance routine through smoke cannons on the catwalk. The following “How to Get the Girl” – with lit-up outfits and umbrellas and otherwise darkness – played like a scene from Tron. Time and time again, Swift’s band and back-up singers stood out with tremendous performances. Her dozen-plus dancers also had a busy night, typically following her down the center catwalk.
At each stop along her tour, Swift has been joined on stage by a surprise musical guest. The first night in Santa Clara yielded Fifth Harmony, who joined her onstage to perform “Worth It.” (The second night’s crowd got Little Mix, dashing your hopes of seeing Metallica or The Stone Foxes).
The hits and fireworks were present from start to finish, but it was on the acoustic “Should’ve Said No” (from her self-titled 2006 debut album) where the show began to resonate emotionally. Performing solo on the catwalk – which was revealed to actually be a giant crane that raised her 20 to 30 feet into the air, mimicking a rotating seesaw – Swift demonstrated that she can still belt it out on her own, with just a guitar.
Two songs later, she walked to the other end of the seesaw (still spinning) to play a keyboard on the rejiggered “Love Story,” the romanticized Romeo and Juliet story that served as one of her earlier hits. This version of the song was synth-heavy; the kind of song John Cusack could play with a boom box held over his head. And like everything else connected to Taylor Swift these days, it worked.
Swift transitioned back to hitmakers, with a killer combination of “Style,” current single “Bad Blood,” and a rock version of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” A brief but thoroughly enjoyable encore – “Shake It Off” – closed the show with pyrotechnics, lasers and confetti.