I’m a 28-year-old guy from New York — not your typical Taylor Swift fan.
But I decided to attend the megastar’s “1989” World Tour when it came through Pittsburgh in early June after hearing she put on a good show.
I came away from the experience with a new understanding of why so many people are obsessed with Swift.
She has emerged as a mega-celebrity, built an entire brand around her image, and amassed some $US200 million in wealth.
But at the same time, Swift manages to appear down-to-earth and approachable, a reputation she’s cultivated by interacting with her fans relentlessly on social media and also in real life.
It was also clear how meticulously she had prepared for the show — she was a master of controlling the crowd and their emotions.
For me, the experience started as I approached the venue. Unlike other concerts I’ve attended, the crew’s equipment trucks were parked on the walk leading up to Heinz Field.
The brightly coloured trucks made the perfect background for concertgoers who wanted to pose for photos before the show — and everyone did. It also got fans psyched about the concert well before Swift appeared onstage.
Anyone within a half-mile of the stadium knew what was going there on that evening.
It was also the only show I’ve been to where there were huge lines to get into the 55,000-seat stadium a full two hours before the opening acts were scheduled to go on.
Those Swifties were dedicated.
Once inside, I was handed a bracelet without much explanation (more on that later), and headed to my seat. I quickly realised how carefully constructed the Taylor Swift concert experience was.
It’s not uncommon for venues to play recorded music ahead of the opening acts, but every five minutes, we would be shown a short video feature featuring Swift. There were several categories: quizzes (“what are the names of Taylor’s cats?”), behind-the-scenes video shoots, and scenes from her “1989” “secret sessions” — private events where she invited fans in several cities to come to her house, eat freshly baked cookies, and listen to her new album before it came out.
All of these clips made me feel like I knew Swift personally, like I was right there with her as she completed her album and started her tour. The woman sitting next to me had had a chance to meet her backstage, and she said that in person, the pop star seemed very approachable and “smells really good.” She told me she thought Swift made a good role model for her daughter, which turns out to be a pretty common sentiment among mums.
The opening acts, Shawn Mendes and Vance Joy, were solo male guitarists who made a stark contrast for the spectacle to come. Both acts took numerous opportunities to thank Swift and say how lovely she was. It was fascinating to see how much the star had permeated the stadium.
Finally, at 9 p.m. on the dot, Swift came on stage. The roar from the crowd was deafening.
Once the show started, I finally figured out why I’d been handed a bracelet. The wristband started to light up in tune with the music, increasing in frequency and vibrancy as the show went on. I’ve never seen something like it before, and thought it was a stroke of genius. The bracelets made the entire stadium pulse to the beat of the music, and heightened the experience for everyone.
Even when I didn’t know a particular song, I could watch the LED fireworks lighting up the whole stadium, so I was never bored. The fans were truly a part of the show, and even as the small children in attendance fell asleep, their little wrists still flashed along as they slept on their parents’ shoulders.
It looked incredible when 55,000 of them went off at once:
There wasn’t a single flaw in the entire production; the lights, sound, and everything else went off without a glitch. Many concerts have some kind of error that humanizes the experience, but not this one.
Swift’s music was as catchy as ever, and I don’t think I had realised that she is an extremely talented musician. She plays the piano, guitar, banjo, and ukulele, and on top of that, she’s an excellent singer.
Her programmed set built up energy over time, and during her wardrobe changes, the jumbotron lit up with Taylor’s famous friends telling stories about their friendship and growing together.
Lena Dunham said it best when she told a story about how she was walking up to Swift, and Swift’s security stopped her.
“It’s OK, I actually know her,” Dunham said. “That’s what they all say,” a security officer replied.
Swift’s unique charm is that she can make everyone feel like they know her, even though they don’t and most likely never will. I guess it isn’t so surprising that someone who grew up on a Christmas tree farm (another quiz question!) could make 55,000 people feel special at one time, because her family business does it every year.
I definitely fell for Swift’s relatable persona, even though I knew that we would never (ever, ever, ever) meet in person. It was the most captivating thing about the musician, and her tour was a physical representation of it. I was so immersed in the experience for two solid hours — and then the music stopped.
As I walked home, still wearing my bracelet — which, after the concert, became a party favour that lit up on demand — I heard countless cars drive by playing songs from “1989.” I get why they will keep coming back for more.
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