sun 19/11/2017

Taylor Swift, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Taylor Swift, O2 Arena

Taylor Swift, O2 Arena

Camp and catharsis go hand in hand for the pop star's dramatic new tour

Taylor Swift: the eyes have it

When the red curtain opens - or drops with delicious melodrama - on the second night of Taylor Swift’s residency at the O2 Arena, the first thing you notice is her eyes. We’re a crowd of thousands, packed into the second largest stadium in the UK, and with our monumental collective gaze directed at one person you wouldn’t expect such intimate details to translate. But Swift need move only her eyes to elicit screams like you’ve never heard in your life. She swoops them oh-so-slowly to the right, pauses, then to the left, pauses, smiles. She is choreographed down to the retinas, and she is impeccable from that first pristine gaze to the final triumphant note.

As Tavi Gevinson so astutely put it for Believer last summer, Swift’s greatest strength is her “unique ability to focus in on one detail or exchange and magnify it completely in this way that makes it feel at once universal and deeply personal.” This ability defines the Red tour. The magnification is immense; Swift wears 11 costumes to perform her two-hour set with a sprawling troupe of dancers and musicians, and every song has a theatrical setpiece all of its own.

It’s an endlessly Snapchattable visual feast

Ballerinas erupt from a music box for "Love Story"; a violinist writhes around the stage to dubstep before the whole stage becomes a raunchy masquerade ball for "I Knew You Were Trouble"; BBC Sound of 2014 winner Sam Smith joins Swift onstage for a duet of vocal acrobatics, and the circus-themed finale of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" sees performers on stilts, confetti pouring endlessly from the sky and Swift travelling around on an elevated podium. The production values have come a long way from her early “you don’t need gimmicks” gimmick to embrace the high camp of her pop anthems, and it’s an endlessly Snapchattable visual feast.

But the details win out. Swift delivers a series of heart-wrenchingly perfect monologues that pick at universal feelings with such clarity and textbook sweetness that you can’t help but feel she’s talking straight to you. At one point, sitting down in the spotlight with her guitar to play "Fifteen", she tells the crowd she wants to get a little “one on one” time with us; in another affecting soliloquy, she says she has a feeling that most of the people in her audience are creative types, and talks about how she started writing songs from the age of 12 because she didn’t have any friends or “much of a social life”. The ugly duckling backstory is perfectly deployed - there’s also an adorable montage of home footage of Swift growing up used to introduce "22" - and the whole narrative is so delicately teased out over the course of the show that you can’t help but leave feeling a little emotionally winded.

The finest detail of all is Swift herself. Headbanging at a piano for "All Too Well", playing her banjo for the rousing "Mean", twirling in a white dress with perfect porcelain anguish during "Love Story", she is the picture of everything you would expect Taylor Swift to be. Her voice is faultless, her moves clearly not totally natural but poised and precise, and her presence is unwaveringly happy, warm and gracious. With a reputation built on humility and empathy, her persona shouldn’t work at all in this arena, but it’s a credit to her and the team behind this behemoth show that they’ve figured out how to create something so Swift-like in an arena as massively impersonal as the O2.

Her final song, to drive the point home, is the biggest show-stopper of a performance, and yet also borderline ritualistic catharsis. As Swift looks us all in the eyes from her floating podium, the room swells with the explosive energy of thousands of people at once picturing their exes and screaming “We are never, ever, ever, getting back together.” Paper lovehearts fall from the sky into the waiting hands of young girls who will take them home and stick them to their walls; the moment burns long and bright enough to form a lifelong memory in the mind of each rapt young fan. It’s deeply personal and boldly universal. Swift looks to the left, pauses, then to the right, pauses, and bows.

She is choreographed down to the retinas, and she is impeccable from that first pristine gaze to the final triumphant note

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Comments

So you liked the show, Ms. Cliff?

Oh Aimee, this is brilliantly written and almost makes me feel as if I'd been there. My sister and I had tickets for the Saturday, but we couldn't afford the London trip in the end and had to sell them - so I've been scanning photos and reviews with utter jealousy.

I'm glad it was such a great show.

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