When Taylor Swift stepped out to 15,000 fans at the Manchester Arena on a Wednesday night, me and the other photographers had to momentarily cover our ears. I’ve been to a lot of concerts and heard a lot of cheering, but this beat them all. Bursting to the stage with Welcome To New York, an upbeat pop anthem from her latest album 1989, it was clear that her fans were no longer watching a country star but a pop star. Swift danced around stage in a sequined silver jacket that made her impossible to miss, and a purple glitter skirt, encompassed by her ensemble of dancers, and a visually stunning NYC backdrop.
Having already set extremely high expectations for the remainder of the night, Swift followed up with the heavily 80s inspired New Romantics. The sequined jacket was removed and she fully exploited her ability to make a crowd come alive, with LED wristbands given to every audience member lighting up with the beat of the song only adding to the already electric atmosphere.
One of her better-known songs, I Knew You Were Trouble, was reworked into a punchy gothic rock version, a stark contrast to the electro-pop original and a contrast that only increased her already massive stage presence. Going from one extreme to the other, from gothic reworkings to stripped down acoustic ones. “I want you to sing a duet with me” Swift told the Manchester crowd, wanting them to sing the line refrains in You Are In Love, while she smiled ear to ear throughout the entire song.
All the way from Welcome To New York to songs like Clean, Bad Blood, and the conclusion of the night with Shake It Off, the crowd never ceased to be amazed by Swift’s performance. Even the likes of Love Story, the oldest song of Swift’s on the set list, was given a 1989-esque makeover, interlaced with a heavy dose of synth, helping to show again that she had undergone a full transition from country to pop stardom.
Taylor introduced many of the songs throughout the night with life advice on topics such as friendship and self-esteem, and for all of these the audience fell silent, aside from the cheers when Swift made reference to them. “We see the behind the scenes of our own lives, and then compare it to the highlight reel of other people’s lives. So I say to you, when you start to compare yourself to other people, please change the channel in your mind to something else. If there’s one thing you remember from tonight, remember what I’m about to say. You are not the opinion of somebody who doesn’t know you, you are not damaged goods just because you’ve made mistakes in your life.”
Between her variably themed outings onto the arena stage, the crowd was treated to video-diary like clips of Taylor’s friends, including Selena Gomez, Cara Delevigne, Lena Dunham, Karlie Kloss, the Haim sisters (and her cats Meredith and Olivia) to name a few. They all shared insights into life with Taylor and a to why she’s an amazing friend to them, and then once again, the lights raised and Taylor came back to the stage. Her stage presence didn’t falter for a single moment throughout the night. She was either on a spinning hydraulic platform surrounded by her ensemble of dancers, or with all eyes drawn to her and her only as she was hit by spotlights whilst she played on, as she put it, a “weird space piano” for Wildest Dreams (which was combined with elements from Enchanted).
From the moment she came to the stage for Welcome To New York, to the final moments of the show with Shake It Off, all eyes were firmly fixed on Swift and all ears fixated on her voice. Amazed with the enthusiasm of her Manchester fans, she joked “We should just do 4 dates in Manchester next time”, although with the performance that she produced, along with the incredible stage production, many attendees of the night will be wishing that to be true, and many more will be waiting for her to announce her next UK stint, having been left in awe, wanting to see it all over again.
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