I still can’t believe I actually did it. A few weekends ago I took my girls to a Taylor Swift concert. In L.A.! They LOVED it.
It was my 12-year-old’s first “real” concert and the second for my jaded eight-year-old, who happened to have seen Katy Perry only two weeks prior. Lucky! I think I would have enjoyed Katy Perry way more. At least for that show I would have expected the spectacle.
I am familiar enough with Taylor Swift to know that she is a young, down-home country girl who writes her own sweet coming-of-age songs about love and heartache and bullying. I went to the show expecting that girl.
Instead, sadly, the girl I saw Saturday night has let her handlers craft her into a shiny, shimmery glam girl who struts (awkwardly) around stage, flips her hair (awkwardly) around like she’s pushing “volumizing” shampoo, and pauses (awkwardly and for way too long) to do a wide shifty eye-thing (a la Susanna Hoffs in the Walk Like an Egyptian video) directly at the cameras.
It is that image that I just can’t shake. She did this mostly at the beginning, between songs. Without a word, she would plant herself front and center, and mug for the video camera as it projected her close-up on the jumbotrons on either side of the stage. You could almost count her pores, it was that close.
She’d stand motionless, coyly smirk, then shift her eyes sharply to the far right and then sharply to the far left and then back again. She bathed in the applause that seemed to get louder the more she mugged and a few times she mouthed “OH MY GOD” as if in total shock that all these (35,000) screaming fans were there to see her – never mind that it was the 60th (!) show of her 106-date, 19-country world tour. It was disappointing because it seemed really rehearsed, really forced, and really insincere.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Taylor Swift is darling, and when Kanye West upstaged her at the MTV awards I wanted to hurt him. It just seems that she has allowed her handlers to mold her into something that is too far removed from her sweet country-girl origins. I can’t help but wonder how much say she’s had in it all or if she just signed the contract and let “her people” take it from there.
During the concert, the 1980’s song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was on a continual loop in my head. I guess there’s no turning back—now singer-songwriters can’t be just singer-songwriters. Now they have to act and dance and be the flawless face of huge make-up conglomerates (her tour is sponsored by Cover Girl). Never mind the music. Now their shows need to be spectacles!
There were fireworks and smoke, actors, dancers, acrobats in the style of Cirque du Soleil, and elaborate sets (a bridge, a tower, and a house/porch combo for her down-home “country” songs). A nonstop slide show played on the backdrop behind her and three massive Liberty-like bells dropped down from the rafters (one of which served as a dressing room for a quick costume change). Last but not least there was a “balcony” that hoisted Ms. Swift overhead and circled the entire arena during her last song “Romeo and Juliet.” Oh, yeah—during her flight, glittery confetti rained from the sky.
The show wasn’t to my taste. Spectacles bug me. But my girls LOVED it, and—keeping my eye on the proverbial ball—I loved watching them love it. To them, the spectacle made perfect sense. They don’t know any different. They don’t know the days, before video killed the radio star, when it was about the music. I’m hoping some day they do.
Kim Haggin Rossi is a Santa Barbara-based graphic artist, a collector of “Got (blank)?” photos, a writer, and mom of two girls. She has a blog (everythingbugsme.com) where she rants about things that bug her, and things that don’t. This piece is from that blog.