Taylor Swift's "New Taylor" Persona Battled Sexism With a Sneer at Hard Rock Stadium

Last night, a Taylor Swift fan emerged wide-eyed from a meet-and-greet with the artist. Her mouth gaping at a group of fellow concertgoers, the fan uttered just two words: "She's real!"

You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Swift transitioned from Nashville upstart to larger-than-life superstar in five short years and has remained a household name, a superhuman feat on its own. Her other superpower is dealing with drama: Accusations of fake relationships, faux fan interactions, and general dishonesty have plagued Swift ever since she reached megastardom.

But, yes, she's real, and her Reputation Stadium Tour, like the album for which it's named, displays that realness, warts and all. Critics were not exactly enamored with the 2017 release, calling it "beleaguered and defensive," and dismissing its first single, "Look What You Made Me Do," as "a dreary waste of her creative time." They're not entirely wrong.

But carried by Swift's ceaseless energy through a technically masterful stage show, the songs of Reputation, which made up the bulk of last night's performance, sounded fresh. And while Swift's fans were dancing, the singer-songwriter accomplished an impressive and surprisingly political feat: inspiring thousands of people to cheer for a vengeful woman.
Of course, these weren't just any people. Swift fans wear their dedication on their literal sleeves. They arrived in charming, audaciously girly attire: sequins, glitter, tutus, fake fur, and countless homemade T-shirts sporting lyrics or clever, Tay-inspired puns. One father, a man with an imposing stature and a salt-and-pepper mustache, accompanied his daughter to the show in a shirt reading, "Papa Swiftie."

Swift fans also show up early, with roughly 75 percent of the seats filled when Charli XCX, the first of two opening acts, took the stage. And they were ready to party. Charli XCX, a charismatic performer with a seemingly limitless energy supply, had the crowd jumping and singing along — not an easy feat for an artist opening for another opening act.
Next up was Camila Cabello, greeted with an unsurprisingly warm and very loud welcome from her hometown fans. Between renditions of hits such as "Never Be the Same" and "Havana," Cabello gushed about missing Miami and name-dropped local institutions like Publix. "My hair is 80 percent humidity, and my blood is 80 percent croquetas," she quipped. Naturally, she had the crowd roaring loud enough to nearly drown her out by the end of her set.
At last, Swift took the stage, strutting to "Ready for It." This was not the "Old Taylor," as Swift refers to the love-seeking girl-next-door image she cultivated before the release of Reputation. Her opening song was not one of her romantic, please-like-me-back hits. "I know I'm gonna be with you," she sang, owning her own foregone conclusion with a sneer.

Swift has long been confident onstage; Reputation simply allows her lyrics to back up that confidence. Her unapologetic charisma powered the two hours she spent onstage.

Well, that and snakes.

If you're a follower of Swift's, you know about the snakes. If not, here's the gist: Giant reptilian set pieces, fixed with ruby-red eyes and fangs, loom over every stop on the Reputation Stadium Tour. They are no subtle metaphor; they're a reference to an insult hurled via tweet by Kim Kardashian during a dustup over lyrics penned by her husband, Kanye West. Kardashian's insult helped launch a social media pile-on targeting Swift, and afterward, Swift took a break from the public eye. Reputation and its supporting tour are her scorched-earth response, and the snakes are its least subtle metaphor.
The snakes rise dozens of feet high. The snakes bob in the wind. The snakes appear to strike back-up dancers on the massive screen behind the main stage. If there is one rule of Reputation, it is this: You can't not look at the snakes. During "Shake It Off," performed by Swift, Cabello, and XCX on a side stage, the snakes rise from the floor and dwarf the whole performance. They looked especially ridiculous swaying above the neon-hued party unfolding below, where the singers smiled and danced and generally looked like they were having the time of their lives while enough confetti to blanket an entire football field blasted into the air. It's not hard to imagine that the contrast between the two was the whole point. Who even cares about some stupid giant puppet when they could be getting down to "This sick beat"?

So this whole tour is about some mean tweets? you might be wondering. Isn't Swift overreacting? Didn't she bring it on herself? And even if she didn't, she's not being very nice. Wasn't there a less dramatic way for her to respond — perhaps one that's less, well, emotional?

Roughly 60,000 Miamians think you're wrong. They cheered every angry line and delighted in every curl of the lip Swift performed. Sure, it's partly because they like the music. And it's partly because the show was technically spectacular, punctuated by fireworks and blasts of flames and traveling cages transporting Swift from one stage to the next. But it's also because Swift's fans, like Taylor herself, have been jolted out of the fairy-tale stories of previous albums such as Speak Now and Fearless.

They still love the old material — Swift sang "Breathe," a rarely performed cut from 2008's Fearless, to much excitement. But most fans who've followed Swift's 12-year career are now women in their 20s and 30s. They've lived long enough to face their own tough decisions and make plenty of mistakes. They battle the same dismissal and derision that has plagued Swift her entire career.

In a video interlude between songs, Swift contemplates her situation: "Whatever you say, it is not right. Whatever you do, it is not enough." That's a dead-accurate description of the female condition. Fucking right women are cheering her on.

Perhaps most important, though, they've been hurt too. They live under threat of violence and harassment, and many of them have already experienced those things firsthand. In the #MeToo era, they've witnessed women stand up to men who've hurt them, including Swift herself, who won a lawsuit against a DJ who groped her in 2017. But they've also seen the world drag down others who speak up. How reassuring, how affirming for them to see Swift lash out at her treatment — and to see thousands of people validate her feelings in response.
But is that enough? Critics have pointed out that Swift rarely broadens her scope beyond her own thoughts and feelings, and they're right. It's especially disappointing that the "New Taylor," whose rage could send thousands of voters to the polls, is still focused on what's happening inside her own head.

Still, from my seat among the throngs of adoring, indignant fans, last night felt like a victory. Strip away the pyrotechnics, the sparkly costumes, and the tabloid gossip, and you're left with this: a woman who publicly names the harm done to her and then delivers justice — maybe not by the most graceful means, but honestly and confidently. She gets what she wants, including support.

Maybe to Swift, the show is just personal. But magnified by 60,000 fired-up fans, it's far more than that. You might even call it a movement.

Set list:

- "Ready for It"
- "I Did Something Bad"
- "Gorgeous"
- "Style" / "Love Story" / "You Belong With Me"
- "Look What You Made Me Do"
- "End Game"
- "King of my Heart"
- "Delicate"
- "Shake It Off"
- "Dancing With Our Hands Tied"
- "Breathe"
- "Blank Space"
- "Dress"
- "Bad Blood" / "Should've Said No"
- "Don't Blame Me"
- "Long Live" / "New Year's Day"
- "Getaway Car"
- "Call It What You Want"
- "We Are Never Getting Back Together" / "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things"
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Ciara LaVelle is New Times' former arts and culture editor. She earned her BS in journalism at Boston University and moved to Florida in 2004. She joined New Times' staff in 2011.
Contact: Ciara LaVelle

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