Over the course of three consecutive concerts leading up to Taylor Swift’s Wednesday night stop at Houston’s Minute Maid Park – the first in Salt Lake City and two back-to-back in Denver – the 26-year-old pop star didn’t bring out a single special guest. Though rumors swirled that H-Town native Beyoncé Knowles might drop in, the track records of the previous evenings didn’t bode well.
Considering there’s been more than 50 celebrity cameos since the ‘1989’ World Tour launched in May, another “standard” evening might’ve disappointed – in the age of the Internet, where you can easily see that other cities got Mary J. Blige, Joan Baez, Justin Timberlake, and Kobe Bryant … well, it’d suck to get nada. Yet, after riling up the 45,000-strong audience with 1989 opening hat-trick “Welcome to New York”, “New Romantics”, and “Blank Space”, Swift eradicated any doubts.
“I love Houston, so I’ve got a big surprise for you later,” she said.
TS followers know by now: the evening’s guest was Wiz Khalifa, clad in a sharp white suit to perform his recent smash “See You Again”, a track that – especially with Swift’s endorsement here – affirmed the rapper’s transition into the pop superstar role. Frankly, it wasn’t the most thrilling rendition – certainly not as once-in-a-lifetime as L.A.’s MJB and St. Vincent x Beck appearances – but it was a blast to watch Swift rapping along with a fairly convincing flow.
For the sold-out stadium’s faithful ranks, Swift was all that mattered anyway. The excitement in the room – continually amped up by the synchronized LED bracelets gifted to every attendee – was palpable during a dramatically slowed-down remix of 2012’s Red hit “I Knew You Were Trouble”, and Swift expertly threw in a few other specialties to keep fans gleeful leading up to the guest appearance.
An apparently impromptu acoustic treatment of “Mean” – “I only decided I was gonna play this like 23 seconds ago,” she insisted – sparked a massive sing-along, and a re-work of 2008 single “Love Story” sounded decidedly fresh and fierce with its infusion of ambient, New Wave guitars and a booming beat to fit the style of 1989.
The latter tune saw Swift settling into the mode of completely confident womanhood – her runway strut at the song’s climax exuded a full-on fearless feminism that was still somewhat tempered during her tour behind Red. Likewise, each aggressively deliberate footfall of her stride on “ I Know Places” and “Style”, which featured an appropriately awing, flapper-style leotard, seemed to sound out a heavily punctuated mantra: “I. AM. IN. CONTROL. I. AM. A. STAR.”
Swift remains a cut above other pop mega-stars because – on top of writing all her songs, singing live, and remaining stylistically versatile (see her badass rock remix of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” performed on a sleek beautiful Fender Jazzmaster) – she doesn’t exploit that sense of command to fuel her ego. Instead, Swift uses it to harness full attention while delivering messages of self-empowerment to countless youths.
“We turn to music in our moments of great joy – driving around with the windows down, falling in love – and in moments of great pain,” she said during an extended speech before Imogen Heap collabo “Clean”. “You are a person who may or may not be going through something but, [despite that], you decided to go out to a concert tonight.
“You are not someone else’s opinion of you that doesn’t know you. You are not damaged goods just because you made a few mistakes in your life,” she added.
Realistically, she spent as much time talking between songs as Kanye does, but the difference is that – despite an unavoidable layer of cheesiness – those statements are vital for impressionable young people to hear from their idols. Looking around at faces marked by glistening eyes and mile-wide grins, I knew they really believed and trusted her. That toeing the line between seductive songstress and astronomically powerful role model makes her one of the most important female influencers in contemporary pop culture.
And let’s face it, despite a couple of flops (“Wildest Dreams” and “Out of the Woods” felt painfully formulaic in this night’s mix) she writes some damn catchy tunes with just enough scathing lyrical undertones to take them beyond mere dance hits. “ Bad Blood” is one of those with enough hooks to make it a staple for decades to come and, of course, there was the one-punch encore of “Shake It Off”.
Fittingly, Swift donned another flapper-inspired outfit (this time, a pink two-piece) as she and her dozen backup dancers gyrated, sashayed, and hair-flipped through that anthem. Here was a Third Wave re-appropriation of that fashion tradition’s sense of defiant independence, a message through song and dance that you can achieve anything in life despite the naysayers or odds against you, and you can do it with class and style. Which, in Swift’s case, meant setting off a dazzling display of indoor fireworks to cap the superbly sassy finale.
Welcome to New York
I Knew You Were Trouble (remix)
I Wish You Would
How You Get the Girl
I Know Places
Love Story (1989 remix)
See You Again (Wiz Khalifa cover w/ Wiz Khalifa)
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (rock remix)
Out of the Woods
Shake It Off