I’ve only been to a handful of concerts in my life, and most of those have been small venues with an adult demographic. Singer song writers, moody, intellectual. The crowds mostly stayed seated.
You can imagine, then, how overwhelming was the spectacle of Taylor Swift at Soldier Field last night. Part of the 1989 World Tour, Swift performed to a packed crowd, about 55,000 people, give or take a thousand. As the sun went down and the star walked on to the stage, our concert bracelets lit up, synced with the music. They went red and yellow, then blue and green, twinkling sometimes and flashing others. Swift said she wanted to be able to see us and know we were there.
She spent quite a bit of time on the stage by herself with a guitar or keyboard and no dancers. I had to wonder, looking at her face on the huge jumbotron if she was fazed by the enormity of the crowd, by our noise and presence. There’s a fine line between fans adoring you and fans devouring you.
No matter, she commanded the space, inhabited its size and power with her own outsized presence. She’s an old hand at this job, and she made it look easy.
I was struck mostly by two things last night: her gratitude and her commitment to a clear message.
There was a lot of love at Soldier Field, a completely different sort of emotional blueprint than that stadium is used to. Swift will play in front of that 55,000-person-fueled love fest again tonight, and she was generous with her gratitude.
I loved what she did with the gratitude, too. She thanked us for filling the seats, selling out the concert and demanding a second one. But she transformed her obvious popularity and fandom into a testament to our shared love of music.
We come together at a place like Soldier Field to share our joy, express our sadness, feel all the feelings through music, she said. Or something like that.
The emotions are big. Gigantic, in fact, when you’re feeling them along with 55,000 other people. Watching and feeling her diehard fans listening to “15,” from her 2008 “Fearless” album was a sort of pop culture religious moment. So many girls and young women, swaying, singing every single word.
And the words are about perspective and empowerment:
Cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you
You’re gonna believe them
And when you’re fifteen and your first kiss
Makes your head spin around
But in your life you’ll do things greater than
Dating the boy on the football team
I didn’t know it at fifteen
So, she told us, she’s grateful that so many of us feel about music what she feels about music. And, forgive me, please if I believe her, believe every single word.
She returned several times to her main message—through her songs and through her spoken words, aimed primarily at the young girls, the 11 to 17 year olds, at the 20 year olds who used to be 12 year olds, and at the moms who hope like hell their girls are listening—that we are enough in this moment.
Swift manages to tell girls that they don’t need boys in order to succeed while at the same time loving romance. She tells girls to love themselves and to stand up for each other. She shows, and doesn’t just tell, with videos of her friends speaking about the importance of friendship. Her generosity with other women is her calling card. Every girl and woman in that stadium could imagine being friends with Taylor Swift.
By 11:30, after two hours of opening acts and two hours of Swift’s performance, I and most of the crowd, had forgotten about “Shake it Off.” We’d gotten the tour de force of “Bad Blood,” and our fill of the oldies. But the opening rhythm started and it was there. Swift’s parting shot.
She’s just dynamite. She’s gorgeous and a dork and resilient and vulnerable and she’s all about the music. Maybe she didn’t know it at 15. But she damn well knows it now. She is enough in this moment. And so are we.
I’m dancing on my own (dancing on my own)
I make the moves up as I go (moves up as I go)
And that’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm
That’s what they don’t know, mmm-mmm
But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop grooving
It’s like I got this music
In my mind
Saying, “It’s gonna be alright.”
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