“I’m a hopeless romantic,” Taylor Swift told the 15,000 screaming fans jammed into Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Sept. 16. Indeed, her 14-track Speak Now album, which according to Nielsen Soundscan has sold 3.65 million copies in 46 weeks, is packed with stories of love—won and lost. Like a musical Cecil B. Demille, Swift has created an evening full of elaborate song visualizations for her fans to enjoy.
For example, there were fireworks, numerous wardrobe changes, choreography, ballet, acrobatic dancers suspended from a trapeze on bungee cords, snow, and detailed sets. A favorite was the life-size romantic bridge with nine string players perched upon it arching like a rainbow above a bright white piano, played by our star who sang her haunting ballad of regret, “Back To December.”
The “Speak Now” church scene recreated the song’s vivid lyric, complete with stained glass window, pews, bride, and the “snotty little family all dressed in pastels.” As the song ends, Swift ran out through crowd… with the groom!
“When you’re falling in love or losing it, that’s the most intense happiness or sadness and that’s when you need music the most,” Swift told the crowd. Introducing her next song, “Last Kiss,” she opined that although you don’t believe it will ever happen at the time, a first kiss is eventually followed by a last kiss.
Throughout the evening, Swift played piano, acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, ukulele and showcased her accomplished ‘book’ of songs. The crowd screamed, sang along to every song and cheered at each of the star’s glances or expressions. Special guests included Ronnie Dunn, who joined Taylor for a duet of “Bleed Red,” and Paramore’s Hayley Williams who duetted “That’s What You Get.” (see video below)
It’s easy to tag Swift’s popularity as a pop/country culture phenomenon, which it may be. But to dismiss it as such would be a huge oversight. After three multi-platinum albums, sold out international tours, and a slew of songwriter awards too numerous to mention, this unique songstress’ accomplishments have made her a member of the elite group of singer/songwriters that includes greats such as Paul Simon, James Taylor, Roger Miller, Dolly Parton and Kris Kristofferson.
But challenges remain for Swift and her fans as the 21-year-old artist transitions from teen to young woman. Can she maintain current fans while attracting a more mature crowd? Other young artists such as Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears have stumbled while navigating their rites of passage. However Swift’s greatest asset—her songs—may act as a GPS for success if they can continue to navigate through events and emotions to which her fans relate.
“My respect and admiration for her as an artist just shot through the roof while I was watching her go through her 2-hr set. Her voice sounded incredible, she played like a million different instruments, and she told great stories. That is easily my favorite thing about Taylor. Her storytelling. If you haven’t seen her show or never bought one of her albums, you’re seriously missing out. Of all the friends I have who play/write music, I’ve never seen anybody do it all with as much heart and grace as Taylor does.” —Hayley Williams