By Collin Kelley
with Jacob Nguyen
Last year, shortly after the release of the “Reputation” album, Taylor Swift posted an Instagram video with paper cutouts of the stage she had designed for her stadium tour. Seeing that stage brought to towering, flamethrowing, fireworking, gargantuan snake-hissing life inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium was truly a spectacular thing to behold. And that was just the main stage; there were two smaller ones at the opposite end of the field also put to dramatic use. Swift said she wanted to get as close to the fans as possible for the “Reputation Stadium Tour” and she succeeded, making even the massive MBS seem, at times, intimate.
Before we get to Swift’s hit-filled headliner, let’s start with the night’s two opening acts: Brit electro-pop queen Charli XCX and Camila Cabello, the former member of Fifth Harmony whose ubiquitous “Havana” includes a shout-out to East Atlanta. Charli XCX surely deserves MVP for getting the still-arriving audience fired up with a set of danceable hits like “Boom Clap,” “Boys,” “I Don’t Care” and a sing-along solo version of “Fancy” without Iggy Azalea. Cabello infused her opening slot with some agile dance moves and nods to dancehall favorite Sean Paul and icon Prince. Our favorite: “Never Be the Same,” a proper power pop ballad that showcases Cabello’s soaring vocals.
But the night was really all about Taylor Swift and her wall of sound and vision. The entire stage – including the floor – was made up of seamless video monitors that projected not only closeups of Swift and her troupe of backing vocalists and dancers, but eye-popping, crystal clear imagery. It’s truly a wonder. When jets of flame – hot enough to be felt on the floor midfield – and fireworks burst from the set, we thought for sure MBS’s newly-completed roof would, literally, be toast. And what about the sound? Garth Brooks had an audio debacle when he performed an inaugural concert at MBS, but those troubles are long gone. Swift’s sound was impeccable – from the pounding opener “Ready For It?” to the tender “Delicate,” which she crooned drifting over the audience in a lighted gondola.
Another way Swift connects with fans on this tour is by giving every concert-goer a bracelet switched on just before the show and synchronized to pulse and glow in time with the music. MBS was a constant sea of moving light, which helped add the aforementioned intimacy. The lights also helped propel the narrative of the show, which tells of Swift earning her “bad reputation” after intrusive tabloid coverage of her love life and a nasty social media war with Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian, who described Swift as a snake. Swift laid claim to the reptile and has made it a centerpiece of the show. Snakes slither across the monitors, coil around microphones and tower over the stages. “Look What You Made Me Do” and boisterous show-closer “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” are a big middle finger to West/Kardashian wrapped in power pop sophistication. Swift went silent for a few years in a self-imposed exile where she obviously licked a few wounds, found real love and discovered a much more powerful version of herself.
After arriving at the second stage on her gondola, Swift was rejoined by Charli XCX and Camila Cabello for a rousing version of “Shake It Off” before she picked up her guitar for “This Love” from her previous album, “1989,” and an effective acoustic version of the moody “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” from the new one. Swift then walked through the audience shaking hands on her way to the other small stage for a trio of tunes including “Dress” and fan-favorite “Bad Blood,” which was sung as she crossed back to the main stage inside the chest of a floating python. Swift certainly knows how to work a theme.
What Swift gets so right is the pacing of the show, easily transitioning from the choreographed dance numbers to strapping on her guitar to sitting down at the piano for a moving medley of “Long Live” and “New Year’s Day.” While this tour primarily draws on the “Reputation” album, there were enough past hits like “Style,” “Blank Space” and “You Belong With Me” thrown in to keep the fans happy. Swift excels at deftly blending and reimagining her early catalogue so that it fits seamlessly with the new, edgier tunes. Massive tribal drums and crunchy power guitars also helped give much of the evening a true rock ‘n roll feel. Swift has come along way since her innocent, country music days. This is a woman in full command of her stage and the audience – many dressed in Swift’s various music video incarnations – were loud and proud in their adoration. She, in turn, was chatty, funny and had some nice things to say about Atlanta and the new stadium.
The bottom line is this (and other artists should take note): Swift has set the bar sky high for what a stadium tour can do. It’s no small feat to bring 60,000 people together and make them forget they are in a sports arena. The “Reputation Stadium Tour” is a fabulous spectacle from a top-notch showman, who also happens to be a damn good singer/songwriter. If you can pick up a ticket for Saturday night’s show, it’s worth every single penny.