Review by Anthony Marcusa
Photos by Aaron Tamachi
With an admittance that she now does, in fact, wear high heels, Taylor Swift began to play a song that was written over five years ago but seemingly worlds away. It was You Belong to Me, a sweet, catchy lilt a teenage Swift penned while in high school. In it, she bemoans a pretty girl who also wears short skirts and is cheer captain as she pines for an unobtainable boy.
She is singing it while on an elevated platform at Rogers Centre in front of some 50,000 screaming fans as part of her 1989 World Tour. She wore those aforementioned short skirts as part of many outfit changes, though didn’t quite don the cheerleader costume she does in the video for Shake It Off. She also speaks of love for friends over love for a boyfriend, and championing being happy with yourself over making others happy. She has certainly come a long way.
Despite the scale of her performance, which included a male dancing troupe, props, fireworks, and a special guest, even in that moment above the crowd, with just her acoustic guitar, you can still believe the sincerity in a song that tells the story of a very different Swift.
This well-choreographed, well-produced show led by a captivating performer who knows exactly where the camera is spanned two hours at a raucous Rogers Centre; it did not go ignored that the beloved Toronto Blue Jays have also sold out the arena to passionate fans of later, either. Swift’s Blank Space included a sampling of her singing the words ‘Blue Jays,’ which more or less worked running throughout the refrain.
Opening the showcase with Welcome To New York, a song that has found a way to work as not an introduction to the city, but instead of Swift’s latest journey, she then jumped into New Romantics, her anthem about youthful indiscretion and unbridled passion.
While playing nearly every track from her new album, including a handful of old favourites, the message between the music was also simple and genuine. After You Belong to Me, Swift spoke to a rapt audience at length about staying true to yourself and your friends, striving to become less consumed by people that tell you how to act and be. This was particularly aimed at any partners past and future that could be possessive or vindictive. Instead of decisions in response to those people, “Maybe they’re based on what you want to do,” she said.
Video cameos were made by Selena Gomez, Haim, Lena Dunham, and others, talking to the audience about what it’s like to know and hang out with Swift, which offered some interesting anecdotes while also allowing her to change and catch her breath. Even that, like Welcome to New York, somehow manages to make Ms. Swift accessible and ‘normal’ like those in the audience despite touring the world and having superstar friends.
Performing Love Story on the piano as well as later Wildest Dreams, while in a shimmering form-fitting dress, joined these intimate moments, but the evening was surely not lacking in the extravagant. I Knew You Were Trouble was propelled by a heavy guitar, while How You Get the Girl was envisioned as a dance in the rain, with Swift’s company donning umbrellas that, like her outfit at the moment, lit up like a Christmas tree when the lights went out.
As she has done throughout her tour, Swift welcomed a special guest to the stage, teasing the moment early on. Towards the end of the set, Swift introduced Keith Urban, performing to songs with him in front of an increasingly enthusiastic crowd.
From there it was Dreams and Out of the Woods, a penultimate song performed with wild exuberance and fanfare, outdone only by her encore. A brief respite brought Swift back to the stage wearing a green skirt and top for Shake It Off, as she danced with her backers on a rotating platform, as fireworks shot off by the stage.
While those old, forlorn, wistful melodies may not fully represent where Swift is now, she effortlessly bridges the divide between star and fan, between sought-after talent and goofy cat lady (her friends talk a lot about her many cats). There is a message in her music, yes, but there is also just her music: endlessly catchy, upbeat, theatrical, and unquestionably entertaining.
Click on photos to enlarge or scroll through.
Welcome to New York
Wish You Would
How you Get the Girl
I Know Places
You Belong to Me
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 – With Keith Urban
Somebody like you – With Keith Urban
Out of the Woods
Shake It Off