Music

Taylor Swift’s Melbourne Show Proves The Old Taylor Isn’t Actually Dead

Performing at Melbourne's freshly re-named Marvel stadium poses the question: Is Taylor Swift a superhero? Or villain?

Taylor Swift Review Melbourne

Taylor Swift is the first artist to play Melbourne’s newly renamed Marvel Stadium, and it’s too tempting not to make the connection: is she a superhero, or a villain?

Is the old Taylor really dead? Or has she been here all along? Tonight, on the second show of her Australian tour, a capacity crowd awaits answers.

The lights darken; newsreel footage plays, alluding to the turbulent events of her last few years. The beat drops, introducing the explosive ‘…Ready for It?’ Clad in a sparkling black jumpsuit, Swift commands the stage alone, as comfortable as she ever was with an acoustic guitar: “Baby, let the games begin!”

Taylor Swift Review Melbourne

Taylor Swift on stage in Melbourne, in front of said giant LED screens. Photo: TAS Rights Management

We’d all like to think we know who Taylor Swift is, but this a new level of spectacle — far beyond what we saw three years ago on the 1989 World Tour. Unlike other recent headliners — Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Kanye — she hasn’t cut down her staging for her Australian shows.

In fact, this is the rare show where you might not want to be in the front row, because behind her are the two biggest LED screens you’ve ever seen. They’re so mind-bogglingly huge, like two castle walls, that seeing them overrides the rational part of your brain. It’s like being inserted directly into the tech landscapes of her Joseph Kahn-directed music videos.

Everything about this tour has a purpose, even down to the wristbands we’re given on the way in — which light up in sync with the music, making us part of the visuals too.

Typically, when you’re in the back half of a stadium, it’s easy to get lost in watching the screens, not the performers. But Swift’s solved the decades-old problem of line of sight: from any angle, you can see both her and her backdrop, which never distracts, but complements what she’s doing. Everything about this tour has a purpose, even down to the wristbands we’re given on the way in — which light up in sync with the music, making us part of the visuals too.

With ‘I Did Something Bad,’ Taylor revels in her recent heel turn: “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one / So light me up,” she sings, with the stadium drenched in red by pyro and fireworks. “If a man talks shit I don’t owe him nothing!” she yells, pausing for effect, hoping all the primary school-age girls in attendance get the message.

Taylor Swift Review Melbourne

Taylor Swift at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium. Photo: TAS Rights Management

The show never dwells on any one theme for too long. Next comes the laugh-out-loud funny ‘Gorgeous,’ an ode to awkward infatuation, where she and her backing vocalists sashay like they’re singing in front of a bathroom mirror.

‘Look What You Made Me Do’ finds Taylor at her most extra, splitting the difference between villainy and dark humour. Reputation’s polarising lead single feels right at home, especially when she unveils the tour’s mascot — a giant cobra statue that’s nearly as tall as the stadium, that must be seen to be believed.

‘Delicate,’ the single that kicked off Swift’s 2018 redemption tour, sees her floating above the crowd on a gondola, the way she used to perform ‘Love Story.’

On the B-stage, under yet another giant snake, she introduces ‘I’m Only Me When I’m with You‘ — a power-pop bonus track from her 2006 debut, that she hasn’t played live since 2009. Alone with her acoustic guitar, she turns back time. She’s the same girl, but she’s more confident, more herself. The room she’s singing in is bigger, but she still has the unique ability to make you feel like she’s singing to you alone.

The room she’s singing in is bigger, but Swift still has the unique ability to make you feel like she’s singing to you alone.

Swift’s back catalogue has become far too big to represent in one show, so her setlist is full of mashups: ‘Style’ merges seamlessly into ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong with Me.’ At the piano, she gently sings ‘Long Live’ alongside ‘New Year’s Day’ — pairing one of her most optimistic songs with one of her most devastating.

Her 1989 singles — ‘Blank Space,’ ‘Style’ — are still triumphant, but feel a little bluer than three years ago, when her reputation was at an all-time high. ‘Bad Blood,’ paired with ‘Should’ve Said No,’ has more rage than it used to. ‘Shake It Off,’ though, is as irrepressible as ever — especially when she’s joined by her opening acts: Georgia Nott from Broods, and Charli XCX.

Two later songs find her performances reaching new heights. ‘Don’t Blame Me,’ a bluesy, intoxicating Reputation power ballad, builds to the highest note she’s ever sung, with a piercing belt we never knew she had in her vocal range. She acts with her entire body and face, expressions flitting from coquettish to vengeful on a dime.

Taylor Swift Review Melbourne

Taylor Swift at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium. Photo: TAS Rights Management

And then there’s Reputation’s true centrepiece, the epic Jack Antonoff cowrite ‘Getaway Car.’ Over backdrops of lost highways and mountains, she struts across the stage, as if she’s in a live music video.

On the album, it’s a thrilling song about romantic betrayal. In person, it takes on another dimension entirely — imagine seeing Dunkirk or Mission: Impossible — Fallout at IMAX, but several times bigger.

There’s so much more to Taylor Swift than what you may see in her reputation.

It’s not just the sheer spectacle that hits you, but the dark, intimate moments of desperation within ‘Getaway Car,’ and so many of Reputation’s songs about finding love within the noise of modern life.

The 1989 World Tour felt like Taylor’s victory lap after conquering pop music. Reputation is more vivid, more aggressive, more tender. It jumps between moods in a way that’s almost jarring — like when the contemplative ‘Call It What You Want’ leads into the sardonic, celebratory closer ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.’

But there’s a point — that you can be any given version of yourself at any time. It’s all a performance, but it’s all real. So ignore the hype: there’s so much more to Taylor Swift than what you may see in her reputation. There always has been.

Richard S. He is a pop songwriter and producer in ELLE, and an award-winning journalist. You can tweet your grievances to @Richaod.

Lead photo: TAS Rights Management 

Taylor Swift 2018 Australian Tour Dates

  • Friday November 2 — ANZ Stadium, Sydney
  • Tuesday November 6 — The Gabba, Brisbane