If Old Taylor Swift was dead, the massive animatronic cobra that slithered onto Detroit’s Ford Field on Tuesday night was the 28-year-old music luminary’s incarnate, as New Taylor deliciously acted the insidious part written for her by tabloids and pop peers. She was the serpentine out for blood, winking ever so playfully at her reputation, even opening the show with soundbites from the speculative media and her adversaries. Taylor is one hell of an actress, and I don’t know what her forthcoming role in “Cats” will entail, but after witnessing her shed the skin of one Taylor for another Taylor, it all makes perfect sense now.
Taking to the industrial-looking, red-stained Ford Field stage (think Madonna “Drowned World Tour”-level dark) like the defiant, confident pop icon she’s become, Taylor arrived like I wish I had every time I walked into a gay club in my 20s. Dancers cloaked in elaborate black robes flanked the singer, who stormed the Medieval-era stage with some fierce choreography and communicated as menacingly with the scorching fire in her eyes as she did with the blazing lyrics of “…Ready for It.”
“Let the games begin,” she urged, swinging open the door to her lair.
Dark forces carried into “I Did Something Bad,” another brooding banger from Taylor’s latest studio album, “reputation,” after which the star’s stadium tour is named. For two hours, she oscillated between her various incarnations and reinventions: the mature, experimental boldness of “reputation”; the bright, neon-colored “1989,” her foray into pure pop (and one of the best pop albums of this decade); and the many banjo-flecked country albums responsible for her initial star-making catapulation and world domination.
Old Taylor was very alive. She smiled the Old Taylor smile, just two songs in, right before performing “Gorgeous” and a dreamy medley that merged 1989‘s “Style” with early Taylor ditties “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me.” She sang a song she hadn’t sung live in eight years, “Jump then Fall,” and mashed up “New Year’s Day” and “Long Live,” which she played solo on piano. (I cried, shut up.)
She also paused to acknowledge Aretha Franklin’s passing, asking the house lights be lowered for a moment of silence to honor the legendary Detroiter’s music and commitment to women’s and civil rights. “She was one of those people where no matter what you said, no matter what glowing positive thing you could say about her, it would be an understatement,” Taylor said. “Words could never, ever describe how many things she did in her lifetime that made the world a better place, and this is her home.”
Then, she made fairy-tale dreams come true, floating over to the other side of the stadium in a glowing carriage to the very audible elation of girl tweens and gay boys and me. She sang “Delicate” in flight. And after landing, she shook it off during “Shake It Off” (obviously), with openers Charli XCX and Camila Cabello. But holy shit: “Don’t Blame Me,” replete with those caped dancers and a gospel choir that took the song sky high, was so hot I was surprised it didn’t start a fire. At any rate, it burned me down to the ground.
Taylor’s show was a flashy, unforgettable spectacle of the tallest order, masterfully directed and magically lit, with attendees’ light-up bracelets synced to the production’s rich color palette. Giant, disassembling screens were immersive, so even when the staging felt big enough to swallow the whole stadium, it always felt like Taylor was performing just for you.
This was certainly true during “reputation” standout “Getaway Car,” when she glided solo across the stage like it was her bedroom and she was your dorky friend. Mountains and roads and footage of Taylor as she appeared on stage flashed behind her. We were all on the road to… well, who knows where the hell we were going. Just like the twists and turns Taylor has boldly taken on her own path to becoming a pop queen, that night, nobody minded being her passenger.