Taylor Swift Takes the Throne Atop Pop Music

Taylor Swift at the top of her performing game Saturday night.
Taylor Swift at the top of her performing game Saturday night. Photo by Jack Gorman
Last time I saw Taylor Swift in concert, it was ten some-odd years ago, I was living in San Antonio, and Swift was sort of on the way up in country music circles. What a difference a decade makes.

Swift, once the darling of country music, is a full-fledged pop phenomenon now, as evidenced by her packing NRG Stadium on Saturday night as part of her Reputation world stadium tour. The North American leg of the tour concludes with a pair of shows at AT&T Stadium in Arlington next weekend before heading on to Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Yes, Swift has certainly come a long way from country hits like “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song.” Now arguably (it’s Swift or Beyoncé, and I’m not sure there’s a close third) the biggest pop star in America, Swift electrified what appeared to be a sold out show on Saturday night with a 23-song, two-hour set that leaned heavily on the new but also showcased the old.

Here’s the thing about Swift’s latest, the somewhat-maligned Reputation, which dropped late last year – the album may be hit-and-miss, but live, the thing plays. So it made sense that beat-heavy, dance-centric tracks like “Ready for It?,” “End Game” and “Look What You Made Me Do” did so well before a live crowd.

Swift, who went through many a costume changes as part of Saturday’s show, performed popular fare like “Shake It Off” (alongside openers Camila Cabello and Charli XCX), “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood,” which has been and will always be a great and underrated diss track.

click to enlarge Swift's program contained both old and new music. - PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Swift's program contained both old and new music.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Swift is a pro’s pro, one who thanked everyone from the fans to her backup singers to the band to security, and that goes a long way where a stadium tour is concerned. When you reach stadium status, you’ve moved well past a simple pop concert; instead, people expect a show. They received just that on Saturday night.

Swift’s next move will be a curious one. Will she fully embrace a more EDM-themed sound? Will she revert to a more pop- or country-themed tone? Will she take on a new genre altogether, as she’s done so many times before? It’s hard to say, and it doesn’t really matter.

Taylor Swift the performer was on full display Saturday night at the biggest concert venue Houston has to offer. Here’s hoping it’s not too long before she fills the joints one more time.

So, How Was the Opener?: Caught the end of the Camila Cabello set, as parking, walking, checking in and all that whatnot for a Taylor Swift show is a trek unto itself. That said, what I caught of Cabello’s set conveyed a star on the rise. Cabello’s debut album already hit the top of the charts, and more #1 records will follow.

And the Crowd?: Give Swift fans credit – they show up early, buy merchandise, cheer for the openers and don’t let up until the show is done. One of the more engaged crowds I’ve seen in a decade-plus of covering shows.

Throwback Jersey Alert: None to be found, though Swift’s fans were decked out in prom dresses, cat outfits, snakeskin, and God knows what else. This is a fanbase for which a Taylor Swift concert isn’t just a show, but rather, an experience.

Random Notebook Dump: Props to security and those running the show on Saturday night. When you’re packing more than 60,000 people into one place, this can be overwhelming. But the trains kept moving on time Saturday, and it appeared the majority of fans were in their sets when their beloved Taylor took the stage … This will likely be my last Press article for a while, as I turn the page and embrace new chapters. Until I see you all again, it’s been my pleasure.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale