She played too long, the skits became tiresome, but last night I saw the future of the music industry, and it was HEARTWARMING and EXCITING!
I got there during Kellie Pickler's set. I expected glitz. But what I got was a crack band, and rather than an overemoting "American Idol"
contestant, a woman who was thrilled to be there, thrilled to be performing to this audience of peers and soon to be peers.
During the intermission this cauldron of estrogen typed text messages to the Verizon screens. There were none of the salacious and snarky comments of the hipsters, just endless expressions of friendship and love for Taylor.
About to go to the bathroom, I was confronted with Ms. Swift on the big screen. Talking about being friendless in high school, but having something special. She urged those in attendance not to feel bad if they didn't fit in, if you were pursuing your dream, your time would come.
And then I RAN out for my pee, figuring there would be more interstitial material before Taylor took the stage that I didn't want to miss. And I was confronted with a vast wasteland. Barely a soul in the halls. Everyone was INSIDE the arena. This wasn't a perfunctory show, but an EXPERIENCE! They were bonding, they didn't want to miss a moment.
I was aghast at the dancers in the opening number. Was this necessary? Kellie Pickler had done without, she'd relied solely on the music. Thank god, this was about it for bouncing bodies, the music took over. There were endless costume changes, all this peripheral stuff that I deemed superfluous, but was obviously the fantasy of a nineteen year old. One with a bunch of hits who'd earned the right to do it HER way. It was quite clearly her show. No adults saying no, just the endless hopes and fantasies of a teenager.
I'd played both albums incessantly in order to prepare.
But no matter how many times I'd heard them, I was no match for the girls in the audience. THEY SANG EACH AND EVERY WORD! It was like a school exam, one that got you the date of a lifetime, one that gave you the keys to the kingdom. They WANTED to know these songs, they were the story of their life. I've been going to shows for decades and I've NEVER EVER heard the audience sing along like this. To say it put a smile on my face would not convey the unbridled thrill I got being there. This was what music was supposed to be, not posing, not attitude, but JOY!
Even the six year old behind me in a newly-purchased t-shirt was singing along. They'd bought "Fearless" and played it in their bedrooms, when their friends were over, when they were depressed, when they were happy. That's what music is…ACCOMPANIMENT! And now you can take it along with you, on your iPod. Music is EVERYWHERE! And you HAD to go to this underpriced show (top ticket $59.50), it was a tribal rite.
"You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors It's the morning of your very first day"
Do you remember high school? Both the trepidation and the hope?
Wanting to date a senior but believing he has no idea you exist?
That's a story Taylor Swift told. She had it right. AND THE AUDIENCE KNEW IT!
"'Cause when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you You're gonna believe them"
You still want to believe them, no matter how old you are. It's just that attrition sets in, you want to have hope… Listening to Taylor Swift's music gives you hope.
Most of the hit crap is massaged by middle-aged people, giving the public what it thinks it wants. But this filtered crap bears no resemblance to reality. But Taylor Swift's music is direct from her to you.
Does it last? Does it matter?
A decade ago girl power was represented by the Spice Girls, a manufactured act that neither wrote nor played, and it was dubious as to their singing abilities. Taylor Swift is the OPPOSITE! She's the veritable BEATLES! The fact that she writes her own material makes all the difference. There's an honesty that cannot be denied. Her looks are secondary. And when she actually picked a lead on her acoustic guitar you could see Guitar Center's stock go up. Youngsters model after their heroes. If Taylor Swift can do it, I CAN TOO!
Instead of Mariah Carey clones, melisma-popping girls with their hands in the air singing bland crap, we're going to have a generation of empowered women needing to state their truth, delivering something that starts in the head and the heart as opposed to the office of a plastic surgeon. No one's done as much for women's music since JONI MITCHELL!
Highlights? ALL THE HITS!
Singing "Teardrops On My Guitar" at the other end of the arena… If you haven't been in love with someone who hasn't loved you, you're not alive. If only you could TELL THEM! But you can't. The rejection would just be too painful, you'd be MORTIFIED! So you've got this secret crush, that can go on for years.
"Hey Stephen", with its jaunty groove that forces your toes to tap and head to bob involuntarily. The lyrics of obsession are just the cherry on top.
"Tim McGraw", introduced in a video by the man himself.
"Should Have Said No". Why do people cheat and lie?
"You should have said no
You should have gone home
You should have thought twice before you let it all go You should have known that word 'bout what you did with her'd, get back to me And I should have been there, in the back of your mind Shouldn't be asking myself why You shouldn't be begging for forgiveness at my feet You should have said no Baby and you might still have me"
They say that feminism has taken a hit. That little girls want to dress like whores and trade on their sexuality. But Taylor Swift sacrifices neither her femininity nor her dignity. You don't have to play by a man's rules, and you have the right to call out bad behavior. That's an ongoing theme in Taylor's work, expressing hurt, pain, wanting to set wrongs right. Fascinating in a culture where everybody's supposed to be a winner, where you can't show vulnerability, where you put on a smile and bury your feelings.
But obviously Taylor's got it right. This gig was SOLD OUT! Even the UPPER DECK, high above the three rows of luxury boxes, was full. And that's almost like viewing a show from the OUTSIDE!
There were no losers. No moments when you went out for a pee and a pretzel. But the true highlight was "White Horse".
Oftentimes during the show Taylor would just stand there, drinking up the applause, not like a pro, but someone reveling in having made it, basking in the acceptance, FINALLY! And after one of these long pauses, launching back into patter, and Taylor spoke regularly, it was an ongoing conversation with the audience, she told the assembled
multitude how great they were and said they deserved a special guest.
I was stunned. He's not country. And he's not female.
But Taylor Swift isn't country either. Occasionally a banjo was featured, but this was pure rock and roll. More guitars than you see at a classic rock show, no tapes, no hard drives. Top Forty is for drum machines, for altered voices, country's for music.
There was a big roar. But there wasn't the love for the rendition of "Your Body Is A Wonderland" that I expected. But then John switched from an acoustic to an electric, the same worn-out Fender that he uses to play those Stevie Ray Vaughan licks, and Taylor started picking out the notes on her acoustic…
"That face of an angel comes out
Just when you need it to
As I pace back and forth all this time
'Cause I honestly believed in you"
This ain't revenge rock. This isn't accusatory, rather the protagonist is disappointed, and is doing her best to display strength.
"I'm not a princess
This ain't a fairy tale
I'm not the one you'll sweep off her feet Lead her up the stairwell This ain't Hollywood This is a small town I was a dreamer before you went and let me down Now it's too late for you and your white horse To come around"
Actually, this was Hollywood. But almost none of the throng in attendance will achieve any fame. They'll have victories and disappointments. They'll go to school, get married, have jobs and children. Hopefully they'll avoid the diversion of drugs in the fast lane of life depicted in a media that's full of sensationalism but absent much reality.
Life's the same for everybody. You start off scared, knowing nothing. And by time you realize nobody knows anything, that the bullies and those screaming from the pulpit are full of crap, no smarter than you, it's too late, your skin has sagged, you're over the hill. Money matters, but it's not everything. A smile on the face of a loved one, helping another…they can make you just as happy as the billionaire, if not happier.
But suddenly the "artists" were aligned with the billionaires. It became about lifestyle, separating yourself from your fans. But on her way back from performing in the rafters Taylor stopped and hugged fan after fan. Because she knew what it meant to them. And what they mean to her. We're in it together. There's no show without an audience. And an audience is drawn to flash once. But to sustain a career, you've got to deliver more than a momentary hit, more than train-wreck value.
Taylor Swift has earned her headliner status. And she delivered on it. My complaints as to length and style are irrelevant. She did it her way. And that's all that matters in this life, having no regrets.
"Romeo save me, they try to tell me how to feel This love is difficult, but it's real Don't be afraid, we'll make it out of this mess It's a love story baby, just say yes"
Wall Street told us they had the economy handled. Clive Davis told us if we just did it his way music would not only survive, but be great.
But they were both full of crap.
As the Beatles once sang, you've got to think for yourself.
Taylor Swift heeded their advice.
And by hewing to her own line as opposed to someone else's she's inspiring a generation of young women.
And me too.
She made me a believer. Not only in her, but music and the music business. If someone as great as Taylor Swift can make it, think of all the great acts to come!