See pics of Taylor Swift taking over The Juice Box in our slideshow.
It's perhaps unfair to say Taylor Swift has "snuck up" on us, considering she's sold over 20 million albums and was featured on just about every one of last year's "top entertainer" lists. But that's what happens when you're an artist who confines your emotional turmoil to your lyrics and not, say, shaving your head or walking around with no underwear on. The Britneys and the Mileys attempt to cling to relevance by wearing fewer clothes and courting controversy, while Swift merely writes songs addressing the everyday problems of legions of tween and adolescent girls.
Her stage show is part Broadway extravangaza, part confessional, and Minute Maid Park was packed to the rafters with
daughters kids and their parents Saturday night who had come to take part in the spectacle and bask in the non-judgmental glow of Taylor Swift, the patron saint of unrequited teenage love, sundresses and cowboy boots.
Funny story. On the way to Guns N' Roses Friday night, Rocks Off was discussing the Taylor Swift show with our guest for the GnR show, TK, a mother of two with much more knowledge of Swift's catalog:
TK: You can't name one Taylor Swift song?
RO: Not off the top of my head. If you started playing one I might know it.
TK: Not even "Party in the U.S.A.?"
RO: Wait, I know that one!
TK: That's Miley Cyrus.
To say Rocks Off ain't in Swift's target audience is, to put it mildly, an understatement. Never was this more apparent than upon our approach to the ballpark, surrounded as we were on all sides by 8-15 year-old girls and their parents, who cast suspcious eyes upon the two childless dudes loping alongside them.
We don't want to dwell too much on the atmosphere, but shows aimed at the younger crowd are hard to describe to someone who's never been. Hordes of children tearing pell-mell through the venue, harried parents struggling to keep up, and pubescent freak-outs every 50 feet can be a little disconcerting. The good news was, they were still serving beer. The bad news? None of the actual bars were open, meaning the wait to get one of those overpriced frozen margaritas was about 20 minutes.
As was the wait to get your own CoverGirl makeover (Swift is one of their "faces" and they're sponsoring the Speak Now tour). We opted for the margarita.
Swift's stage occupied most of the outfield. Sets included a rural homestead, enchanted moonlight vistas, and Cirque du Soleil style weirdness (including trapeze artists and acrobats). There was also a walkway extending out into the ground-level seats, which she made extensive use of, and also played four acoustic songs (including "Last Kiss" and "Never Grow Up") from a mock-up of a deserted (i.e. "lonely") island near home plate. She then took an extended stroll along the right field line to shake hands with fans.
This accessibility, and the impression she gives of being "just like you," are big reasons for her popularity. Her opening remarks thanked us "from the bottom of her heart" for "hanging out with her" on a Saturday night. Hell, the entire set dripped with this sort of gee whiz whillikers/I can't believe this is happening to me kind of stuff.
And the thing is, it works. At 21, Swift is one of the most successful artists of our time, and the fact that she can still project such modesty and self-deprecation means she's either the most sincere human being on the planet or a pure sociopath. Everything about her, the doe eyes, off-kilter smile, alabaster skin, golden ringlets and still somewhat awkward frame seems engineered to appeal to upper middle class, adolescent females. If the technology was available, I'd suspect a joint venture genetic experiement by CoverGirl and Wal Mart.
And the cynic in us would have a bigger problem if, comparatively speaking, her music wasn't very good. Do we really care about bad break-ups and teen romance? Of course not, but speaking as the father of daughters, we'd (probably) rather our girls latch on to someone like Swift — who writes her own songs and plays guitar, banjo and piano — than whatever auto-tuned abomination is coming down the pike.
And her songs really aren't that bad. They're catchy, and they speak to matters important to her fans. Artifice or sincerity, Swift puts on a hell of a show.
One moment, however, made us wonder how much longer she's going to keep up the teen angst. That was when Nelly popped in to duet with Swift on "Just A Dream." For the only time that night, in front of many perplexed parents ("What's a 'Nelly?'"), Swift finally deviated from her heavily scripted performance and appeared to be having fun. Being an adult now, we'd say her days as spokesperson for adolescent square pegs might be numbered.
Then again, the Ramones did it for 20 years.
Personal Bias: None whatseover. Swift occasionally pops up between Miranda Lambert and Emmylou Harris on our female C&W Pandora station, but we've never been what you'd call a fan.
The Crowd: From far away they came: Far far flung Sugar Land and Katy and the Woodlands. They came riding minivans and Chevy Tahoes and Land Cruisers, their screaming broods in tow, to see the one called "Taylor."
Overheard In The Crowd: "Anyone know the score of the LSU game?"
Random Notebook Dump: "Pretty impressive she got Don Johnson and Russell Brand to play guitar. Does Katy Perry know?"
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The Story Of Us
Back To December/Apologize/You're Not Sorry
Better Than Revenge
Never Grow Up
You Belong With Me
Just A Dream (w/Nelly)