At Gillette, Taylor Swift proves her pop superstar status
FOXBOROUGH — The first few times Taylor Swift played at Gillette Stadium, starting in 2010, the same thing happened over and over. At some point, she would stand in a freeze-frame pose, her mouth open and eyes wide as she surveyed the masses while they roared their approval. It was deafening, like Beatlemania 2.0, and her disbelief suggested she couldn’t fathom her good fortune.
Swift returned on Friday, but under different circumstances. Her wonderment had turned into assurance that she belongs on that massive stage in front of nearly 60,000 people. No longer a doe-eyed ingénue, the 25-year-old Swift now commands an audience like none of her peers can after successfully transitioning from country-pop sweetheart to the world’s most influential pop star.
She still has a soft spot for Gillette. It’s been her Boston-area venue for the past several years, not to mention the first stadium she ever headlined. (Her 2010 performance also marked a milestone for Gillette as Swift became the first solo female artist to headline.)
“I have been counting down to these shows the entire tour,” Swift told the squealing sold-out crowd on Friday, the first of two nights there. (Saturday’s show was also sold out.)
If anyone can pull off such a feat, it is Taylor Swift. On a world tour behind last year’s “1989,” her blockbuster album that wiped out any traces of her country origins, the singer has finessed her new persona. Like its star, the 2-hour, 15-minute show was all about poise and poses. The set list was devoted to her latest songs, whose sleek, electronic contours hint at the album title’s year in question. (Swift was born in 1989.)
Everything was in its right place, from the over-the-shoulder glances she aimed squarely into the camera that trailed her to her broad strides down the stage’s runway. It was all cookie-cutter perfect in a way that sometimes felt scripted and, frankly, a little uninteresting in a live setting.
Not that anyone minded. Swift remains the patron saint of her fans, who arrived with handmade signs and in outfits that glowed in the dark, with mothers often in tow. Swift preaches self-empowerment with an outwardly feminist stance. “Boys only want love if it’s torture,” Swift led the thousands of young girls in a singalong of “Blank Space.” “Bad Blood,” her kiss-off to a former friend (rumored to be fellow pop star Katy Perry), rang out in thunderous waves that sent fans running out of the bathrooms for fear of missing it.
She rearranged two of her biggest early hits, “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” with synth-leaning arrangements that complemented her new musical direction. There were subtle shifts in her other renditions, too. On a revamped “I Knew You Were Trouble,” her take on Joan Jett-style arena rock, Swift’s voice grew dark and corroded to conjure something much more sinister than the original version.
For the evening’s surprise guest, which she has been using throughout this tour, she brought out two members of Walk the Moon, the indie-rock band that has ruled radio this year with the hit “Shut Up and Dance.” And “Shake It Off,” Swift’s exuberant call to arms, sent the crowd off on a high note (though it wasn’t that easy to shake off the traffic leaving Gillette).
This tour is very much a salute to Swift’s powers. Where other artists might project music videos on the surrounding screens, Swift put together testimonials from her famous friends. Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, and the Haim sisters, who were among the opening acts, spoke about Swift as if she were a deity: what happens on a Taylor hangout (lots of food), how does she handle all that fame (it’s so invasive), and so on. Their comments felt oddly reverent, like vapid confessions from a clique you’ll never be part of.
In the opening slots, Swift essentially picked a mix of artists who represent both sides of her appeal. Vance Joy offered sweet but innocuous folk-pop, as did Shawn Mendes, the young singer-songwriter packaged as a teenage matinee idol — all acoustic chords, apple cheeks, and shy smiles. Mercifully, HAIM cleared the air with their barbed pop confections that, like Swift’s, had some bite but a lot of heart.
With HAIM, Vance Joy, and Shawn Mendes
At: Gillette Stadium, Friday (repeats Saturday)