Taylor Swift, Hyde Park | reviews, news & interviews
Taylor Swift, Hyde Park
Taylor Swift, Hyde Park
Showbiz pizzazz ramped up to the max, but great songs remain pop minx's true forte
While most contemporary entertainers rely on a little of the old smoke and mirrors, no pop culture phenomenon requires the same suspension of disbelief as the 21st-century pop concert. When you pay your money, it is with the understanding that, while everything you see may be staged, the sentiment is real. And, since most of us cannot afford to see the same artist twice on the same tour, the bargain holds.
Taylor Swift, perhaps more so than any other contemporary pop artist, thrives on her genuineness: her confessional songwriting, her interactions with fans on social media, the way she incorporates her friends and family into the celebrity aspects of her life. The 1989 World Tour relies as much on Taylor's personality as it does her songs: there are extended monologues about love and friendship; empowering, sisterly pep-talks; on-camera interviews with celebrity BFFs Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez and Haim; giggles and glances and gratitude. It's only when you see the show twice in a week that you realise how tightly scripted the whole thing is – right down to the dancer who pulls a funny face through the glass and makes Taylor laugh during the "Bad Blood" routine.
Although it sounds like a criticism, two things should be borne in mind here: first, how cleverly staged and beautifully executed the whole show is; and second, how much the young girls who continue to make up the largest share of Taylor's audience (and, let's face it, some of us older ones too) need to hear their idol tell them that they are beautiful and worthwhile and that they deserve to be loved for who they are. Besides, when you're addressing a sold-out crowd of 65,000 – as was the case at Hyde Park – it's probably best to have your lines prepared. While the structured nature of the show left little scope for changing it up to fit different surroundings (plastic wristbands we were all given that flashed along to various musical cues looked spectacular in Glasgow, for example, but less so in a huge park in central London at 8pm on the hottest day of the year), I doubt those that came without spoilers left disappointed.
The set became a catwalk on which Taylor paraded her friends
The show was very much a product of the album that birthed it: 1989, Taylor's Apple-beating smash and first bona fide pop album. It too began with "Welcome to New York" – Taylor's Human League-esque homage to the city she now calls home – accompanied by a stunning light show. Both it, and spectacular 1989 bonus track "New Romantics", got pretty straight readings before the first of many costume changes, but there was plenty of scope later for Taylor to have some fun with songs old and new.
"Blank Space" lost some of the fun of its hilarious video to a vamped-up dance routine, but the live loop pedal trickery that allowed a hollered "HYDE PARK" to ring through the song's cathartic bridge was a nice touch. Red favourite "I Knew You Were Trouble" got a similarly sexual reworking, while the wearable tech in the crowd pulsed a raw, angry red. Later, Taylor performed a new version of old favourite "Love Story", from 2008's Fearless, on keyboard and synthesiser – it may have been a contemporary rebelling, but the song lost none of its heart – while a Joan Jett-inspired rampage through cutesy-pop hit "We Are Never Getting Back Together" was a masterstroke.
The big singles got saved for the second part of the show: a stirring "Out of the Woods"; a gloriously fun "Shake It Off"; and "Bad Blood", which boasted the show's best choreography – even if it wasn't on a par with the dystopian havoc of its star-studded video. For "Style", the set became a catwalk on which Taylor paraded her friends: tennis aces Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki and the models Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss and a Union flag-toting Cara Delevingne.
But despite the dance routines, flash backdrops, celebrity guests and techno wizardry, some of the show's stronger moments were its lower-key ones: "You Are In Love", performed solo by Taylor on acoustic guitar with a little crowd call-and-response vocal on the chorus; and a gorgeous piano mashup of the old ("Enchanted") and new ("Wildest Dreams"). What sets Taylor apart these days may no longer be her spontaneity, but is definitely her songwriting, which remains leagues above the majority of her pop contemporaries. You can't script for that.
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