Taylor Swift begins her second of three nights at the Prudential Center in Newark with her U2-esque rock ballad “State of Grace,” the first track off her wildly successful album RED, which dropped in November 2012 and pushed 1.2 million copies its first week. The 10,000-person crowd (mostly young girls, teens, and moms) goes wild when her silhouette appears behind a red curtain. The silhouette we see is undeniably Tay’s: lanky, tall, and sticking a “power pose” where she stands in second position with a hand on a hip that’s jutted out to one side, like she is about to perform with her dance class at a community talent show.
If I had my way, my girl Taylor would sit with us intimately and play guitar for the whole hour and a half, which she only does for about 20 minutes in the middle of the show at the back end stage. That would deliver her songs to the crowd the way her songs about young love and heartbreak should be delivered — like gentle, rhythmic one-on-one conversations. But it is 2013, and Taylor Swift is America’s biggest pop star. She is an artist who can book three sold-out stadium shows in one city, easily. She is the kind of artist whose tour gets sponsored by Rolling Stone magazine and Keds footwear. So I understand that Taylor can’t just sit and play songs to us like we’re all at a Nashville coffee shop. She must put on a show.
So Taylor puts on a show. With a steady (if affected) voice, she commands the audience by name (“Hello, New Jersey…”, “So, New Jersey…”, “That’s right, New Jersey…”). She welcomes back her old fans and introduces herself to her new ones with a charming “Hi! I’m Taylor, and I write songs about my feelings,” and the crowd responds by going insane.
As expected, the RED tour is indeed a spectacle, complete with heart-shaped confetti, strobe lights and fireworks, sequins, and a flying-through-the-air moment (during “Sparks Fly,” one of the few songs Taylor plays from her third studio album Speak Now.) But Tay stays true to Tay as much as she possibly can. Save for that ridiculous ringleader outfit she’s worn at more than a couple awards show performances of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and the spiderweb dress that has become the costume for “I Knew You Were Trouble,” she spends half the show dressed in low-key shorts, flats, and ponytails. And, thankfully, she keeps choreography to a minimum. If Taylor is anything, she is self aware enough to recognize she can’t dance for beans.
In concert, Taylor looks cute and sounds fine, but the intimacy and quietude of her music, I think, is lost when she plays big shows. I cannot wait for the day she’ll be able to play smaller venues with surprising set lists and zero pyrotechnics, but that day is not going to come anytime soon. She is too huge for that. She is going to have to upset a lot of people before something like that can happen. Or disappear from the scene for a while. Which is something I never, ever, ever, want to see happen. LIKE, EVER.