Pop phenomenon Taylor Swift. Photo: James Boddington
Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
From the ceiling, a cascade of red confetti hearts. Onstage, there are figures on stilts carrying parasols, dancers in rabbit suits or red-and-white chequered tutus. And Taylor Swift, in a red, sequined drum majorette outfit, is cutting loose with the consummate who-needs-you break-up anthem, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, that sends her audience into a singalong frenzy. It’s what you can only call a big finish.
Swift’s Saturday night concert at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium was the last show of 2013 for her Red tour, which began in the US in March this year.
Taylor Swift at Etihad. Photo: James Boddington
Swift, who turned 24 on Friday the 13th, is both a young and a seasoned performer. She began to write her own songs at the age of 12, starting out as a country singer, then morphing into a pop phenomenon. By now, she’s beyond being thought of as precocious.
Her core audience at Etihad, a crowd of more than 47,000, is predominantly young and female, and they know the words to every song. They are out in decorated force, many with outfits and accoutrements that express fandom and devotion; some carry signs of adoration or birthday wishes, many are wearing red.
They might sport cat-ear head-bands referencing her video clip for her song 22, or have her lucky number, 13, written on their hands but Swift takes nothing for granted - certainly not this audience.
She delivers a vivid, carefully constructed show that’s a combination of the polished and the heartfelt. Its spine is Red, her fourth studio album. There are 10 songs from it in the show, as well as two songs each from a couple of earlier releases, Fearless and Speak Now.
There’s certainly plenty of attention to the detail of spectacle. Swift has several costume changes, and she takes part in some elaborately staged numbers, with dance routines that give a narrative to a song - the retro movie star affirmation of The Lucky One - or echo the images of a video clip (the girls-just-wanna-have-fun shenanigans of 22).
But there are simpler moments, too, with some stripped back songs, both recent and old - such as All Too Well and You Belong With Me - that take on a new poignancy. And Swift, in strong voice, is the confident centre of it all.
She goes out on a limb in a range of ways - she takes to a crane, walks a quasi-tightrope. But the songs remain the focus.
Swift takes the opportunity to play guitar, banjo and piano, and there’s a section in the middle which sends her to the back of the stadium, making her way through the crowd to a revolving platform where she performs a bracket of songs to the audience members who are at the furthest remove from the main stage.
There are punctuating elements and interludes, and occasions when Swift addresses the audience in a confiding tone - she talks about why she writes, or what she feels, or what a specific song says about her philosophy of life.
These are, in an odd way, risky moments, because they could easily seem rambling, inconsequential, even sentimental. But they’re part of the appeal of Swift - the notion of her as any and every girl in her bedroom, writing about what just happened to her and how she feels about it.
That seems to coexist, quite comfortably, with the pop culture figure who’s confident enough to refer, wryly and self-reflexively (in We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together) to that infuriating ex who takes refuge in listening to “an indie record that’s much cooler than mine”.
Red, an album of pop, heartbreak and bravado, playing with danger, hope and sharp observations, was a step up for Swift. It’s going to be interesting to see where she goes from here - and what her next big finish will look like.