It Costs $150 to Be Taylor Swift's Friend on the 1989 Tour

“We are not a fan club. We are a community that celebrates Taylor Swift songs.”

That's the first message I read on the big screen after taking a seat at Taylor Swift's sold-out show at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara Friday night. For the next 20 minutes (before Swift hit the stage at 8:40 p.m.) that “community” of 50,000 were inundated with the type of details you might learn about someone at a middle-school sleepover: Taylor likes cats, she likes baking with her super-normal/super-model friends in the kitchen, and covers her iPhone in quirky stickers in lieu of a traditional case. The only thing missing is which boy from school she likes — but most media outlets are all too eager to cover that topic for her.

[jump] The response to each piece of personality propaganda shown on the big screen was the same: an eardrum-shattering squeal from an audience that skewed heavily toward a younger, female demographic. But the videos were only a warm up — when Swift hit the stage and opened with “Welcome To New York” off 1989 the shrieks reached Beatles-refusing-to-play-shows decibels, completely drowning out the first 5-10 seconds of the song.
After following up with “New Romantics” Swift spoke to the crowd for the first time. “There's something you should know about me,” she said, pausing dramatically before continuing, “I was born in 1989.”

The rather vapid announcement of her age was unfortunately a sign of things to come. Every time Swift spoke to the neon-sign-holding masses it became more clear that she didn't have a story to tell — or at least one that she felt like telling. A weird dichotomy for a singer known for her unfiltered sharing of emotion in songs. Fans drawn to that vulnerable element of her music instead got her safe, “I'm your friend” persona, which served as the perfect canvas for the 50,000 audience members to project their own teenage feelings onto, transforming the pop star into whoever they wanted her to be, perhaps the perfect sub-text introduction to the next song, “Blank Space.”

Other parts of the concert were more inspired though. “I Knew You Were Trouble,” received a sinister reworking, turning it into a slow, metal-tinged, headbanger of a track. Aided with bursts of steam, and a sea of lava (created by color-changing wristbands on every attendee's wrist flashing red) the rock opera-sounding track was the most engaging and exciting highlight of the performance. Swift even managed to hit a big, powerful note center stage — something that had been eluding her up until that point in the show.

The most devastating punches are always the ones you don't see coming, and a live band performing a metal-ish version of “Trouble” at a Taylor Swift concert practically knocked me out — and I wasn't the only one. Behind me, instead of shrieks and squeals, I heard a dad say “Wow, that was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen.” His friend, equally excited, confirmed “Whoa, that was fucking heavy.” But Swift didn't stop there with the reworkings; “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” took a Joan Jett-inspired rock turn, with Swift jamming out on an electric guitar, aggressively shouting the song's chorus, and sporting a black leather outfit.

Some of the revamped songs didn't work out so well though — a pop bastardization of “Love Story” managed to lose most of the song's luster in its restructuring. But really, this concert wasn't about the songs. Fans paid anywhere from $150 to $1,500 to be Swift's friend for a few hours, something Swift's (more famous) friends explained in videos shown intermittently throughout the show is just about the best thing ever.

It seems Swift, at only 25, has managed to create the concert her former 14-year-old self only dreamed of attending. Part sleepover confessional, part pop extravaganza, the 1989 tour is built around a young woman who may not possess the most amazing voice or any jaw-dropping dance moves, but has the charisma and song-writing abilities to connect with audiences in a powerful, deep, and real(ly well-polished and choreographed) way.

Critics Notebook:

– It took Swift an hour to pick up a guitar. She played an “acoustic set” that consisted of only one song?
– I developed a splitting headache from the young ladies behind me screaming throughout the show.
– To keep up with the 1989 tour's reputation of having a lot of guest appearances, Fifth Harmony came out to perform “Worth It”, which saw Swift sporting a costume that made her look like a Comic Con attendee cosplaying as Street Fighter's Chun-Li.
– At times, the long-winded speeches about boys not texting you back, learning to enjoy happiness instead of worrying about when it might end, or how awesome technology is for allowing her to communicate with fans (she even shouted out to tech workers) bordered on an abuse of power.
– Even when a moving platform was perfectly stationary Swift was carefully strapped in — a funny reminder of how much money she is worth and the economic disaster that would result in her injury. This tour, and all the merchandise sales it generates, should make 2015 Swift's first $100 million year, according to Forbes.
– It was an odd experience to know you are standing next to someone who is literally having the time of their life. 
– “Shake It Off” made for a great finale, with fireworks, confetti, and backup dancers giving it everything they had.
– She didn't play “You Belong With Me.” OK, you're no friend of mine then, Taylor.

Set List:

Welcome to New York
New Romantics
Blank Space
I Knew You Were Trouble (Heavy Version)
I Wish You Would
How You Get the Girl
I Know Places
All You Had to Do Was Stay
Worth It (with Fifth Harmony)
Should've Said No
Clean
Love Story (Shitty Pop Version)
Style
Bad Blood
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (Joan Jett-esque Rock Version)
Wildest Dreams/Enchanted
Out of the Woods
Shake It Off 

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