Published Aug 04, 2018Few know what it's like to be Taylor Swift. As a young, global female superstar her truth is pretty damn singular. So it's hard to say how justified Swift, who once proudly sang of shaking off the haters, is in building a record cycle and tour around a supposedly tarnished reputation. Sure, she's taken some image-busting lumps of late, but after more than a decade in the game isn't that par for the course? The Toronto stop of her massive "Reputation Stadium Tour" gave few clues — in fact, it only complicated matters, as Swift asked her audience to reconcile her persecution complex with the supreme adulation of 50,000 fans.
Regardless, she sure knows how to pick opening acts. Where Swift holds down pop's current mainstream centre, Camila Cabello represents its R&B cousin while Charli XCX, born Charlotte Aitchison, is out on the fringes, forging its future.
Given a thankless 7:15 pm time slot, Aitchison leaned hard on established hits, frontloading her set with "Boom Clap" and "I Love It," which she co-wrote with Icona Pop, while skipping over much of the more experimental (and in my opinion, better) AG Cook-produced material she's been dropping over the past 18 months.
Cabello too leaned hard on her hits during her short set, opening with "Never Be the Same" and closing with monster jam "Havana." Yet Aitchison appeared more ready for a Swift-sized crowd, owning the sprawling stage and crowd at every angle.
Swift finally emerged from the tip of the stage's outward facing "V" shaped screen to a rapturous reception. She — and the screen, which towered over everything — would be reconfigured many times over throughout the two-hour, tightly choreographed set. Opener "...Ready For It" set the tone: Reputation, and consequently her reputation, would be the night's centrepieces.
"I Did Something Bad" and the bouncy "Gorgeous" followed, with Swift backed by a team of dancers and an ever-evolving visual presentation. She finally unveiled her band for a medley of "Style," "Love Story" and "You Belong with Me," one of the few times she'd reach back past 1989 in her catalogue. Now 28 years old, it's hard to fault Swift for preferring not to revisit her teenaged emotions. But "Love Story" in particular evoked a simpler time in Swift's life that she may have moved past, even if the audience, many of whom have literally grown up on her music, haven't.
"Look What You Made Me Do" introduced the snake theme that would run throughout the show — she even sang part of "Bad Blood" while suspended over the audience in a snake's-rib-cage-shaped gondola while giant inflatable serpents flanked the two mini satellite stages that were placed midway through the crowd. From these she brought Cabello and Aitchison back for a run through "Shake It Off," then, moving from one satellite to the other, performed "Blank Space" on her own.
The show's production is an impressive spectacle that reaffirms Swift's status as one of music's dominant figures. But it sees the star dancing and moving in sync with her visuals far more than it does playing an instrument and indulging her muse. Even her between song monologues felt timed and rehearsed. Swift is a naturally gifted singer, something that often gets lost when talking about her. It becomes readily apparent when you see her perform as a musician, and the pair of acoustic numbers, including a stripped-down version of "Out of the Woods," really showcased that, as did her solo piano turn on "Long Live" and Reputation highlight "New Years Day." It's easy to get swept up in the show around her — fireworks, digital screens, dancers, inflatable reptiles — but a looser production that introduced the possibility of a bit more musical serendipity would go a long way.
But this is where Swift manages to set herself apart from so many of her peers. The bond she shares with her fans works two ways: even as she dug out old hits to please loyal fans, the crowd happily gobbled up the new ones and their more complex themes and presentations. It's weird to see an entire stadium of fans embrace a show whose central theme is that the world is out to get you. In spite of the massive scale on which she's working, Swift manages to obscure that negativity and connect.
With many in attendance wearing outfits specially bedazzled for the show, holding elaborate, homemade signs, they sang along with and hung on her every word. She's essentially forged a safe space for her and her #Swifties. That she cuts through the spectacle and manages to connect is a testament to the bond she's created with her fans.
"Reputation" the tour is as oblique as Reputation the album in terms of what exactly it was that tarnished Swift's character so badly. But it captures the singer's state of mind while showcasing and deepening the relationship between her and her fans.