Photographs by Sean Chin.
Taylor Swift reigns supreme. That’s an easy statement to make and defend, given the 25 year-old swept into Toronto for two easily sold out nights at the massive Rogers Centre – welcoming 50,000 “friends” each night to her extensive 1989 world tour.
Between the mounds of $45 t-shirts being sold at the merch stands and the plushy $60 blankets embellished with her face, a Swift show is a profitable venture. But don’t worry: she’s not there for mom and dad’s money. She’s there to be your best pal and has somehow found that important balance between larger-than-life megastar and oh-so-approachable buddy.
Every move she makes is meticulously planned out without being rigged. Every piece of advice she offers is rehearsed well beforehand but given in such a wonderfully heartfelt way it’s like she’s talking right to you – helping you through heartbreak and love.
Swift spent a good chunk of her set looking out at the crowd, offering smiles and waves. It wasn’t to anyone in particular (though she told the audience how much she loved being able to see everyone individually thanks to the synced light-up bracelets strapped to everyone’s wrists), but it sure seemed like she was looking for you.
She’s also, very clearly, having the greatest time on stage that anyone’s ever had.
Swift’s a pop star. And she’s very, very good at it.
As fans shuffled to their seats at the start of the night, behind-the-scenes clips of Swift making the “Blank Space” video played on the jumbotrons between trivia questions covering her discography and cat names. There were also glimpses into her listening parties (complete with Swift serving homemade cookies to lucky fans) prior to the release of 2014’s 1989 – Swift’s fifth studio album. Early on then, the theme of Swift being your new best friend was drilled home again and again.
Shawn Mendes was first to take the stage – offering a half-hour show to his hometown crowd. Armed with just an acoustic guitar and sans-backing band, Mendes provided an intimate serenade with songs about young, unrequited love. “Life of the Party” played well thanks to a familiar chorus and Mendes showed off a strong voice through the duration of his performance – even speed-singing his way through a verse of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” during “Something Big”.
“This is by far the loudest crowd I’ve ever had on this tour,” Mendes told us prior to a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”. Perhaps that note was a bit tongue-in-cheek, given it was Mendes’ first night with Taylor Swift – but it was evident that those that showed up early were fans.
Next on stage was an artist that came a little further for the show, though similarly brought a strong voice. Melbourne’s Vance Joy continued the theme of guys with guitars – albeit he received help from some other instrumentalists, too.
While he seemed surprised to be playing a show of this size – gazing around during his performance of songs like “Mess Is Mine” and “Georgia”, all from 2014 debut Dream Your Life Away – he was able to solicit a crowd sing along during his cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and his big hit “Riptide”.
If we’re talking big hits though, we need to start talking about Taylor Swift.
Through the duration of her two-hour long, 18-song performance, Swift sang the big ones while also playing the majority of 1989 (forgoing only “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and “This Love”.)
“Well good evening Toronto. I’m Taylor,” she told the eager, shrieking audience after storming the stage with her 10 backup dancers, five-piece backing band, and three backing vocalists for 1989 lead track “Welcome to New York”. “There’s one thing you should know about me: I was born in 1989.”
Indeed, 1989 was a great year (thanks Taylor!) and the album was a shift for the artist who moved both figuratively and literally away from her country rise in Nashville to the more dance-pop friendly floors of New York City. Of course, I know to point this out because we were collectively told as much during one of three video intermissions that depicted Swift’s famous friends gushing over their experiences with the Grammy Award winning megastar.
Lena Dunham, Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez, and the Haim sisters were among the familiar faces splashed on the screen. In person, though, we were teased with the promise of our own special guest. Swift told the crowd outright that she’d have a surprise in store if we could keep up a specific level of enthusiasm.
“In Toronto there are endless possibilities with what you could be doing with your Friday night,” she told us with a knowing nod – one of many she gave to the crowd over the course of the night. “I decided that I would really like to make it worth your while.”
But before we got to that, she had more of her own hits to run through – including the big 1989 single “Blank Space” and a reworked version of “I Knew You Were Trouble” from 2012’s Red. Both saw Swift take on something of an angry outlook (the former more ferocious, the latter more menacing) to convey the singer’s notoriously scrutinized relationships as she’s navigated life in the public eye. “Trouble” was interestingly reworked to the point that it sounded more like a Lorde number than one of hers.
She made it a point to show off her musical prowess sans-backing help, too. Mid-way through the set, Swift stood solo on her elevated, rotating catwalk with an acoustic guitar on one end of it and a keyboard on the other. Without the frills of a big stage show, she sandwiched 1989’s “Clean” between Fearless’ “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story”. Both tracks – released in 2008 – are idealistic love songs written from a much younger pen, but they both still clearly resonated with Swift’s younger audience.
It was during this three-song interlude that she gave us her heartfelt talk – Swift explaining how heartbreak feels and her advice on love, telling everyone: “The worst part about heartbreak is the first thing you do is you start regretting trusting them, letting them in, and being vulnerable.” So if the whole selling-out stadium thing doesn’t work for her, she at least has the capacity for relationship counseling.
To show off 1989’s wide range of genres, Swift went from “Style” to the stomping “Bad Blood”. It was a move that saw her shift from glitter to leather in one fell swoop. She followed it up with the grunge portion of the night and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, complete with a “Seven Nation Army” styled video playing behind her as she strummed an electric guitar.
We weren’t getting Jack White though. Swift instead opted to go back to her roots – pulling out country megastar Keith Urban instead. While many in the audience had been crossing their fingers for a hometown hero a la Justin Bieber or Drake, those that had fallen in love with Swift during her country years were downright delighted with Urban’s interlude of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Somebody Like You”.
A brief cat video and two more from 1989 followed, but it was the encore of “Shake It Off” that sent everyone off into the night – the big band hit accompanied by blasts of fireworks and confetti. Swift ended it all just how you’d expect it: with the requisite thank you’s and bows, waving at an audience hungry for her friendship but well satiated by the night’s offerings.
So if Friday night’s Toronto show proved anything, it’s that Taylor Swift has a whole lot of people that want to hang out with her. Stadiums of them, really. We’ll never really be friends (unless she absolutely falls in love with this review and decides we need to hang out ASAP, in which case HEY TAYLOR!) – but for just one night it kind of felt like we were all part of her meticulously planned but altogether pretty incredible world. All hail friend Taylor.