In keeping with the theme of her most recent album, Taylor Swift’s new Netflix concert special, Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour, opens with a black-and-white retrospective montage featuring some of the many headlines — the good, the bad and the very ugly — that the country-turned-pop star has made over the years. After one reporter announces, “Taylor Swift is in hot water again” and another whines, “She holds too many grudges,” the word “reputation” begins to repeat as the woman at the center of it all takes the stage.
Swift, 29, arrives at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a sparkly black leotard with a hood over her head. She looks tinier than ever as she stands before a pair of larger-than-life video screens on a grandiose stage with four massive catwalks shaped like an X. Without much pomp and circumstance, the growl from the beginning of “…Ready for It?” kicks in after Swift utters the first lyric and strikes a pose, driving the sold-out crowd of 60,000 fans wild.
Early on, the 10-time Grammy winner exudes confidence and attitude. She makes sure to ramp up the dramatics by slowing down the opening lines of “I Did Something Bad.” And when she’s joined by a group of all-female backup singers, Swift stares directly into the camera before launching into a choreographed routine, backed by fireworks so massive that the heat practically radiates through the TV screens of viewers at home.
Swift breathes new life into each and every song with innovative arrangements. Not a single track from her career-spanning setlist sounds identical to the album version, which is refreshing in an age where many pop stars lip-synch their way through less-than-inspired concerts. Swift makes the usually upbeat “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” an acoustic campfire sing-along, while the country-twanged “You Belong With Me” transforms into a Springsteen-esque stadium anthem. Even “New Year’s Day” is, somehow, more tender.
“I’ve always written songs with the lyrics, the feeling and the melody in mind, hoping that no matter what production I added to the top of it — whether it took a turn for pop or acoustic or whatever — I always wanted for a song to be able to be stripped back down and still be something that you liked and wanted to sing at the top of your lungs,” she tells the audience.
Throughout the unforgettable two-hour show, the cameras cut to fans hysterically crying and screaming in support of their idol — and that feeling of admiration is mutual. Swift often gets nostalgic while speaking to the crowd, at one point noting that she has been performing in Dallas since the age of 15. In fact, she boasts that the concert special, which was filmed in October as the final U.S. date of her world tour, marks her 30th show in the area.
“I can see you dancing. I can see you throwing your hands in the air,” she says. “And on top of that, I can hear that it really seems like every single person in this crowd has memorized every single word to the songs and is not just singing them, but is, like, screaming them.”
There are cameos aplenty in the Paul Dugdale-directed special. In a video that plays during “Look What You Made Me Do,” Tiffany Haddish declares that the so-called “old Taylor” is dead. Later on, Swift’s opening acts, Camila Cabello and Charli XCX, join her for a fun, confetti-filled rendition of “Shake It Off.” But the most unexpected guest comes in the form of a 63-foot cobra named Karyn that inflates during performances on both the A- and B-stages. (Hi, Kimye!)
The highlight of the show comes when Swift takes a moment to sing “All Too Well,” describing it as one of the songs that her fans request the most. She explains that she wrote the ballad (which is widely believed to be about her brief 2010 romance with Jake Gyllenhaal) during a period of “catharsis and venting and trying to get over something and trying to understand it and process it.” However, her fans have since turned her view of the song into “a collage of memories of watching you scream the words.”
Other standout performances include a theatrical version of “King of My Heart,” a haunting “Don’t Blame Me” with immaculate production, a stomping medley of “Bad Blood” and “Should’ve Said No,” a crowd-pleasing take on her masterpiece “Blank Space” and an epic encore of “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.”
Sure, Swift’s vocals are a bit shaky at times. But in her defense, she explains that she has been battling “a tiny, minuscule cold” and even pauses to blow her nose on stage after one of her dancers presents her with a tissue — on bended knee, of course. Swift’s imperfections are a reminder that no matter how big of a force she is in the music industry, she is still human. She isn’t afraid to pause mid-lyric to take a breath or giggle with fans at her own lyrics, proving that maybe, just maybe, the “old Taylor” is still alive after all.
Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour is now streaming on Netflix.
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