Taylor Swift brings her 1989 tour to Nationwide Arena
Photo by Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch
Near the close of Taylor Swift's sold-out concert at Nationwide Arena on Thursday - the first in a two-night stand - a message flashed across a screen behind the stage: "She lost him but she found herself, and somehow that was everything."
It's a theme that repeated itself throughout the evening, both in the singer's lyrics, which often traded in subjects like heartbreak, empowerment and self-discovery, and in her between song banter, where she offered advice to anyone who'd ever put their faith in the wrong person ("Don't forget how to trust," she cautioned) and stressed the importance of ignoring critics and pursuing happiness on your own terms.
Of course, it certainly helps if you've got 15,000 fans at your back.
"The only opinions that matter to me are yours," Swift said introducing "Wildest Dreams," a dramatic ballad about how right it can feel to fall for the wrong guy ("He's so bad, but he does it so well," she sang).
Further encouragement arrived in the form of the impressively elaborate signs carted in by the largely female audience (favorite spotted: "West/Swift 2020," a nod to Kanye West's much-publicized crack about running for national office) and in prerecorded video snippets from Swift's squad of celebrity friends, including Selena Gomez, Lena Dunham and the Haim sisters. These messages veered from weird, vaguely promotional infomercials (when they talked about hearing Swift's most recent album 1989 for the first time) to surprisingly moving testimonials about the power of female friendship (when they discussed the importance of strong women sticking together rather than falling prey to competition and infighting).
This all-for-one message was undercut just slightly, though, when minutes later Swift launched into "Bad Blood," a cutting song inspired by a simmering feud with a fellow pop star, rumored to be Katy Perry.
Swift, 25, made the leap from country to pop with last year's 1989 (also the year of her birth), and the album's booming, synth-laden material provided much of the backbone for the nearly two-hour concert. The musician even reworked earlier songs, like the fairytale romance of "Love Story," dressing them up in glitzier, more-club-friendly clothing.
The Pennsylvania-born Swift kicked off the evening with a trip to her adopted hometown, performing "Welcome to New York" on a stage as elaborately done up as a Broadway set, complete with park benches and a row of street lamps. To round out the city setting, the singer surrounded herself with a large enough cast to fill a Midtown apartment complex, including a dozen dancers, a five-piece band and a trio of backing singers. Rather than disappearing in the throng, however, Swift commanded it - sometimes quite literally. "Stop!" she ordered in the midst of a sinister "I Knew You Were Trouble," freezing everyone onstage in place as suddenly as Zack Morris calling for a time out on an episode of "Saved By the Bell."
Elsewhere, Swift belted out a buoyant "How You Get the Girl" as digital droplets rained down onscreen and dancers surrounded her twirling lighted umbrellas, and delivered a starry eyed "Love Story" while standing at the end of a raised, rotating catwalk. "I Know Places," in turn, appeared to nod to "Monsters, Inc.," with a parade of masked dancers pushing rolling, standalone doors that momentarily made the venue feel like the inner-bowels of the scream-processing factory.
Due in large part to the outsized scale of the production, those rare stripped-down moments, like a version of "Red" Swift performed solo and acoustic, felt even more intimate - even if she was strapped into a railing on a catwalk that gradually lifted her skyward, making it appear as though she were standing on the deck of some great ocean liner.
"Losing him was a blue I've never known," she sang, helped along by a supportive audience that belted out every word.
Fittingly, Swift followed with an inspirational (if overly rehearsed) speech about rebounding from a broken heart - "Replace spending time with that person with spending time with your friends … and start living life on your terms," she said - and a song, "Clean," centered on the idea of beginning anew.
Judging by the jet-engine intensity of the screams that arrived in the tune's wake, the message certainly resonated with the singer's audience on this night. Maybe that sign should've read "Swift/West 2020," after all.