Taylor Swift's Reputation World Tour - Wembley Stadium, 22nd June 2018

"We were both young when I first saw you..."

Those are the words Taylor Swift sang on Friday night, at the beginning of ’Love Story’, the fifth song in her Reputation World Tour set. She sang those words and I sang them too, and they were equally true for both of us. I first saw her when we were nineteen years old at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and she first saw UK fans a year before at a tiny gig at KCLSU (which I was not at, but I'm totally fine about it and over it).

Taylor Swift was just one of many country singers my brother told me about from his 2007 gap year trip to Kentucky, but she was the one whose music I utterly fell in love with as an 18-year-old, and to see her headlining two nights at Wembley Stadium at 28 would have been special whatever happened. It’s just extra especially special that what happened was SO GOOD.


The show opened with Reputation tracks ‘...Ready For It?’ and ‘I Did Something Bad’. The latter features the first time I’ve ever personally heard Taylor Alison Swift take things beyond PG. She sings “if a man talks shit then I owe him nothing, I don’t regret it one bit ‘cause he had it coming” and after years of hearing her romanticising romance, this was a ‘punch-the-air moment’. On the album, songs like this can come across a little bit harsh or aggressive, and that’s not a criticism, it’s just that it can be tough to work out how they fit in with the person we’ve got to know over the years. Is she upset? Is she angry? Is she putting on a persona? Seeing these songs performed live puts them in perfect context. She’s still herself! She sings these songs with a classic winking smile - yes, she’s angry, and yes she means what she’s singing, but she’s singing to us and we’re right there with her. She’s not going to take any shit and neither are we. F*ck yeah!


Next up, she sang recent single 'Gorgeous' (shout out to the cameo appearance on the big screen by her cute kitties Meredith and Olivia on the line about going home alone to her cats), and then excerpts from 'Style' (1989), 'Love Story' and 'You Belong With Me' (both from Fearless) like a sort of romantic interlude, as if to remind us that she still loves love, despite all the shit-talking men. This might be a new, confident era, but nothing has changed beyond all recognition. There is a unique magic to seeing songs that are imprinted in your heart and soul performed live. Maybe it’s nothing more than a superficial pop song to some people, but the fact that my sister and I automatically coordinated on the double-clap in the bridge of 'You Belong With Me' despite not listening to it together in probably five years was magical to me.


After that little bit of nostalgia the real fun began, and the infamous snakes arrived with 'Look What You Made Me Do'. When that song came out last year I was unsure what to make of it but in the context of her being chased around a giant stage by a huge inflatable snake while dressed sort of like a golden circus leader... yup it’s still utterly bizarre, but in an enormously fun way. (You could potentially argue that incorporating the snakes into this era so heavily is hardly disproving the charge of always leaning into a ‘victim narrative’ but to that I’d say... *shrug emoji*?).


After the arrival of the snakes the show basically stayed at the same level of WTF throughout, in particular when she was flying between her three stages, first in some kind of Glinda-the-Good-style bubble and then back again in a glittery snake skeleton. There were fireworks accompanying countless songs, and a wristband light show making every person in the stadium feel part of the spectacle. Confetti cannons went off at least twice, at one point sending mini newspaper pages into the air, printed with her own name over and over, in the Reputation style. Niall Horan of One Direction appeared and they duetted on 'Slow Hands'. There was a lot going on.

This was also by no means a solo show. Not only did Niall appear, but both support acts, Charli XCX and Camila Cabello, came out and joined in on 'Shake It Off'. There were many wonderful dancers and singers, introduced by name, and performing all sorts of styles of dance, to glorious effect. There are band members who've been on the road with her since the very beginning and it was really cool to see them again. Taylor talked about how exciting it was to be playing a headline show at Wembley Stadium for the fist time, not just for herself, but for everyone on stage, and the camaraderie shared by all the performers was abundantly clear, and lovely to witness.

Maybe I’ve just been on this boat too long to see land any more, but some of my favourite moments were actually the parts where she talked to the audience in between songs. She’s always had an ability to express the things that many of us feel and find hard to put into words (need I remind you that at only 20 years old she wrote solo, with no co-writers, the whole of her album Speak Now, which sold over a million copies in its first week) and it turns out that over the last 3 years of literal radio silence I’ve missed hearing from her. She rarely gives interviews these days, which is I think what adds significance to these honest moments onstage.

Before she sang 'Delicate', which features the refrain “my reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me”, she talked about how unhappy it can make you when the way people perceive you doesn’t match who you know you are. It’s really easy to roll your eyes and think ‘poor her, some people don’t like her, why doesn’t she just rise above it?’ But ultimately, I think we can all relate to some extent. I’ve certainly been in the position where who I am inside isn’t the way I’m coming across to people, and it straight up sucks.

There’s a section of the show where she brings out an acoustic guitar and gives the people (/me) what they (/I) want. Before playing a couple of acoustic songs, she talked about how much it meant to have fans follow her from the world of country into pop, when there were so many people telling her it wouldn’t work out. “I know that the people who come to my shows don’t care about genre - they care about lyrics and they care about melody.” Even though that’s pretty much the most basic thing to say, it was still cool to feel like this massive global megastar sort of ‘gets me’. That’s me! She explained that her songwriting process is the same as it’s ever been, and they all still begin with a story and a guitar, and since they start there, they can always go back there. Then she played two songs from her new album sounding like songs from her old albums and even though I do appreciate her new stuff, an acoustic guitar and a voice will always get me more than anything else.

The last between-song chat that I adored was the one that meant the most to me. Taylor was on the main stage again, having flown back inside the snake ribcage(!) while singing an INCREDIBLY BADASS mashup of 'Bad Blood' and 'Should’ve Said No'. I’ve never loved Bad Blood all that much (read all about it!), but with very amped up rock/country guitars I was really enjoying myself, and when the guitar turned into the distinctive riff from 'Should’ve Said No', I screamed at my sister, with great dignity and class, “are you SHITTING ME?!” And she screamed back “I AM NOT SHITTING YOU.” Good times.

So anyway, Taylor’s on the main stage and seated at a grand piano. Then she starts telling us about how when she meets fans, they’ll say things like “I’ve been listening to you since I was 10”, but the people telling her that will be fully-grown adults and how that makes her feel so grateful and honoured to know that she’s maybe been a part of their lives in some small way for many of their special moments, both ups and downs. That got me thinking about how true that is for me - I genuinely think of my adult life in 'Taylor Swift album eras'. Her music has been a huge part of my life since I was at school. She was the background track on my MySpace page! It’s been a WHILE. Before playing the song, she said it's the one that she’s always thought of as being about “you”, meaning the fans, meaning well, me. It was 'Long Live', the final song on Speak Now. That album defined my last year of university, a time of transitions and endings, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful song about making sure you savour the moments you share with the people you love.

“I said remember this moment, in the back of my mind. The time we stood with our shaking hands, the crowds in the stands went wild”

[and we did.]

Every time we’ve seen her live, my sister and I have joked that she always does ‘the Taylor face’, which is a particular wide-eyed, disbelieving smile, perhaps accompanied by an ‘aw shucks’ look and a clutching at her heart. We say these things from a place of love, because when it happens every show, it can be a lot. That said, on Friday night, half way through 'Long Live'/'New Year’s Day' she stopped playing the piano and started doing ‘the face’. After the introduction I’d just heard, and singing along to a song that means so very much to me, my heart was full to bursting, and so - it seemed - was everyone else’s. The whole crowd started cheering and screaming and applauding and Taylor was smiling and we were cheering and she was smiling, and it went on for genuinely several minutes. She looked like she was going to cry; I was absolutely already crying, and the heightened emotion I was feeling seemed to be shared by every one of the 80,000 or so people in the stadium. When she finally tried to sing again she could barely get the words out from beaming so hard. It was a really, really lovely moment of connection, and for me personally, I choose to believe that it was genuine on her part. It certainly was on mine.


The show ended with another old/new mashup of 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' and 'This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things', complete with a full working ornamental fountain onstage, massive fireworks, lights, dancers, the whole shebang. The Reputation World Tour is a grand undertaking, with huge, stadium-sized spectacle that somehow also manages to weave in intimate, personal moments. It is a testament to Taylor Swift's peerless talents as a songwriter and performer, but also to her empathy and generosity of spirit that she is able to meld both extremes into one fantastic night. She may not represent everyone's idea of a perfect pop star, and she has on occasions done things I'd rather she hadn't (and not done things I wish she had) but this is the perfect Taylor Swift show and I totally adored it.


Comments

  1. YOU'RE NOT CRYING I'M CRYING
    agh I really love some of these turns of phrase! And there's so much genuine emotion here and such adorable moments with your sister and this show sounds so incredible. You are rockin this.

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