Last Friday night, at 29 years old and in my home state, I popped my Taylor Swift concert cherry amongst little girls in ballerina costumes—inspired by Taylor’s look in the “Shake It Off” music video—and other millenial women wearing Taylor-branded crop tops in various hues of red lipstick. Red, of course, is a signature trope in Taylor’s music, and in the crowd, a sea of women in red clung to her every word, like Rajneeshee kneeling at the feet of their beloved Osho. Myself a loyal Swiftie, I wore a crimson NARS lipstick for the occasion.
What brought us all to a football stadium in New Jersey on a Friday night is the power of Taylor’s relatability. Her music unifying us with nostalgia for the moments where we confided the minutia of our lives solely in our journals—expressing vulnerability with abandon and never being judged for it.
Months before her big comeback album, Taylor disappeared from the public eye: her personal life became private again. And in November 2017, she returned with a bold statement of confidence and sexuality, and a keen sense of self-awareness on Reputation, her sixth studio album. The record sold over one million copies in the first week and launched a new era for Taylor, balanced with both familiarity and maturity.
When the record’s first single “Look What You Made Me Do” came out with a dazzling, controversial video alongside it, fans filmed themselves watching the video for the first time and posted the results on YouTube: gasping, laughing, crying and screaming. The reactions became a montage, and the reel even became a part of her Reputation tour set. Tiffany Haddish made an appearance reciting Taylor’s most quotable line from the song on the MetLife screen, “I'm sorry, the old Taylor can't come to the phone right now "Why? Oh, 'cause she's dead!"
On stage, snakes were everywhere: giant, golden cobras, slithering green reptiles and bronze snake sculptures—an emblem of Taylor’s Reputation era, set off by the pivotal pop culture moment in 2016 when Kim Kardashian West called Taylor a snake on social media, after leaking video receipts of a phone call between her husband, Kanye West, and the young pop star that Taylor had said never took place. Fans frantically took sides and a social media war erupted. Taylor’s feeds, comments, and mentions were flooded with serpent emoji. Swifties stood their ground, though, defending their idol every step of the way.
What came next was the most significant shift in her narrative during Taylor’s 13-year career. She absorbed the hatred directed at her and turned it into creative fodder for her next hit album—the chronicle of a woman scorned. Then, with the Reputation tour, Taylor set out to prove her reputation for putting on a damn good show. Following her shows over the weekend, she’s also making history as the first female artist to play three consecutive nights at the New Jersey stadium.
“I grew up going to the Jersey Shore every single summer,” the singer announced to the crowd early in the evening, connecting to her audience in the way only Taylor, connoisseur of surprise fan visits knows how to do.
“We feel we don’t have a problem with our reputation when we feel it matches up to who we are as a human being,” Swift told the crowd before performing “Delicate,” the most vulnerable track on Reputation. “But when we feel people are saying things about us behind our back that don’t match up with who we feel we are as a person, your reputation can torment you.”
While the hitmaker declared the old Taylor over in “Look What you Made Me Do,” at MetLife stadium, Taylor showed that all versions of her were alive and well—woven into an immaculate narrative that reveals what happens when a country-turned-pop singer has grown up. Having followed her trajectory all these years, I noticed a change in the pop star. The shy girl strumming intimate acoustic guitar ballads is now a woman soaring through the air (literally) from the stage to the middle of the crowd, commanding attention as she descends on a piano, tapping out the first few notes. Glancing quickly around at the crowd, the iPhone flashlights filling the 150,000-person stadium warp into a flurry of stars, and Taylor the deity perched over this receptive cosmos.
As she flies back to the main stage in her balloon basket, Taylor demonstrated her magic power, the way that she can make the quietest moments of a heavily choreographed stadium tour the most memorable. When Taylor moved from the booming “Bad Blood/Should’ve Said No” and “Don’t Blame Me” to stirring ballad “New Year’s Day,” it was clear the concert had become a sacred space where Taylor’s diary could exist unabashedly no matter what else had changed. After just one night in New Jersey, Taylor proved that she didn’t have to be just one thing to put on an incredible performance. That complexity of character is what made Taylor and the Reputation tour so magical, and it’s why I’ll always be a fan.