What It's REALLY Like To Attend A Taylor Swift Concert

Photo: REX USA.
What's one way to tell that a Taylor Swift concert is pretty darn close to being a female utopia? When you find out that the bathroom you’re waiting in line for is normally a men’s room (an exciting discovery until you realize the stall-to-urinal ratio in a men's room at a major football stadium.)

Taylor Swift's world, on display at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on July 11, was a wonder to behold. There were homemade signs that lit up. There were costumes. Two girls wore cat ears, tails, and T-shirts designating one as Olivia and one as Meredith, the names of Swift's cats. There was a whole squad of Swift-style cheerleaders, à la her “Shake It Off” video. We even spotted an adult male chaperone getting into the action with a homemade T-shirt that read, "James Dean a.k.a. Daydream," an allusion to Taylor's hit "Style." My friend who accompanied me to the concert commented on the beauty of it all: With no — or at least very few — boys to impress, these girls were dressing just for themselves, and of course for Taylor.

They — or, maybe I should be honest and just say we — were there not just to listen to Swift's music, but to receive the word of Swift, which is simple, but potent. You deserve friendship. You deserve to be treated well. You deserve to acknowledge your pain and rise above it. You deserve love. During the concert, Swift preached these messages in introductions to songs disguised as big-sisterly counsel.

Nowadays, it seems Swift has things figured out. She has her priorities straight in regards to friendship and boys, and knows that the fairy-tale messages of her earlier songs weren’t exactly realistic. She prefaced a rendition of “Love Story” by explaining how naive she was about matters of the heart when she wrote it.

But the catch is, the more down-to-earth Taylor, the one who has gotten past the phase of dreaming about Prince Charming, is also the more goddess-like Taylor. In her review of the previous night’s concert, New York magazine’s Lindsay Zoladz wrote that Swift is "no longer believable as her fans’ imaginary best friend," and that her "fairy godmother" status is approaching Oprah’s. Zoladz used the paradigm Swift put forth in her song “You Belong With Me” to describe the dichotomous space Swift occupies now. Zoladz writes: “[I]t’s all too clear that she’s cheer captain of the universe and we’re her minions on the bleachers, our wrists glowing at her command.” (Each guest is given a bracelet that lights up on cue with the music.)

On Saturday night, that point was never more clear than when Swift actually sang “You Belong With Me.” She mentioned that she rarely performs this song on her 1989 World Tour — she didn't during the July 10 show — and it's easy to see why. The 2008 track, which pits Swift against another girl for the affections of a boy, just doesn’t fit her persona anymore. When she sang the lyrics, “She wears high heels, I wear sneakers,” she was wearing thigh-high black stiletto boots. (Swift, in fact, loves heels.) If the crowd noticed the incongruity, it didn’t seem to matter. We all sang along, loudly, Swift leading us with just an acoustic guitar, like we were around one enormous campfire.

There were times during the concert when I got lost in Swift’s impressive aura, but others when I couldn’t help but step back from the moment and think: I can’t imagine what it must be like to be her right now. She can call us her friends and peruse our social media accounts — I felt as if I was blessed by her when, on the train ride home, I discovered she favorited a tweet of mine from the concert — but we can hardly fathom what it must be like to be her. Though she may seem like that cool, pretty girl who likes to dole out support, she has the unique experience of standing up in front of stadium full of screaming devotees to do so, an experience only the most powerful and successful pop stars share.

Even Swift’s openers don’t quite know that feeling. The band Haim, made up of three super-cool sisters who happen to be members of Swift’s famous “squad,” had the second warm-up slot of the night. The crowd was still trickling in when they began their set, and their music, which skews more rock than any of Swift’s fare, didn’t seem to be to the tastes of many around me. And yet, like Swift, the Haim women projected a big-sisterly vibe — only if Taylor is the Cher Horowitz of big sisters, Haim seemed closer to the Lindsay Weir. They asked the audience to pretend like we were at a jam session with them. They played ferociously on stage with little care for vanity, their hair in their faces, which contorted along with the music. Just like the relationships they sing about, they were slightly messy — something it seems unlikely that Swift will ever be.

Swift may have outgrown her Romeo-and-Juliet-with-a-happy-ending phase, but she's still living a sort of happily ever after. If her version of adulthood is held up as an ideal by the younger members of the audience, perhaps Haim’s more accurately reflects the reality for the twentysomethings among us. Maybe that’s why Swift herself — who, we must remember, is still just 25 years old — likes their music.
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