Confessions of a middle-aged Swiftie

‘I just don’t get the whole Taylor Swift thing’ is a sentiment I’ve heard a bit in the lead-up to her concerts at the MCG. Which is totally understandable, after all, there are plenty of things I just don’t get, Eurovision for example. I love that so many love it, and get so passionate about it…but it’s just never done it for me. Horror movies are another thing that has passed me by…and quadratic equations have 100% been beyond my ken since forever.
So I would never say that anyone is wrong for not ‘getting the whole Taylor Swift thing’, but after spending an evening with 96,000 people sharing a communal experience of art and positivity, I do think they’re missing out.
So from someone who came to Taylor Swift in the Folklore/Evermore era, and after at least 35 years of going to gigs thinks they may have seen one of their best gigs ever, here is what I love about Taylor Swift.

The music

Back in 2014 when I was training for the Ironman (for those of you playing the ‘When will Chris mention that he has done an Ironman’ drinking game…please drink now) I was watching a YouTube series about a non-athlete training for the Kona Ironman. On the morning of the race she was talking about how she couldn’t sleep and so had just blasted ‘Shake it off’ in her headphones for an hour to get herself ready for the race. I was genuinely dumbfounded. How could someone who was about to attempt something so massive, be listening to something so disposable?! I had never listened to the song in its entirety, but it very much fell into the ‘teeny bopper’ music category in my mind. It was basically ‘musical cordial’ in that it was sickly sweet, and designed for kids.
But out of interest, I gave the song a listen. As I suspected, it was pop-crap. But I gave it another listen…out of fairness. Ok, that horn sound is pretty cool…and I did kinda sing along to a bit of it…but it was still crap. To prove this I listened to it again…then watched a behind the scenes video about making the video clip…then listened to it again. I decided that maybe even pop songs can be ok at times, but that true musical genius came in the form of little known Belgian guitar bands, or people with ‘Chemical’ or ‘Shadow’ in their band names. So I went back to what I knew.

But then in 2020 what I knew (The National) intersected with Taylor Swift. Aaron Dessner from The National had worked with Taylor on the ‘Folkore’ album…and I was genuinely baffled. This was like Jamie Oliver saying he had taken a job at McDonalds. But the world was locked down with COVID, so I gave the album a listen. I was about 1/3 of the way through the opening track ‘The one’ when she said the line ‘In my defence, I have none’, and I suddenly thought ‘Oh man…that’s GOOD!’ It’s such a little line, but it really landed with me…then two songs later she hit me with ‘I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss, I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs’…and I was hooked.
That night while making dinner I played it on the speaker and asked Holly what she thought, and asked Katie if she could believe this was Taylor Swift? We played the whole album through…then again…pretty soon it was on regular rotation. Then Evermore came out, and it was all over. I was well and truly sold…and Holly went into a level of fandom that exposed me to all of Taylor’s previous work.
As a middle-aged white guy, the less autobiographical lyrics of Folklore and Evermore are my faves…but I can see how the lyrics in her other songs connect with Holly and Katie and have to realise that I’m really not the target audience, but no matter what era you’re listening to, her ability to write an evocative and catchy melody is phenomenal.

The vibe

Normally when a man has as much charisma as Taylor Swift, within a few years they’re insisting they have a direct line to God, and that he’s saying everyone should be wearing orange tunics and marrying him…before eventually everything ends in a hail of gunfire, or poisoned drinks, or massive embezzlement.
Instead of this, I sat in an audience of 96,000 people with a focus of pure positivity. In a world that has us increasingly divided into online factions, where differences are what define us, over three nights Taylor Swift was bringing nearly 300,000 people together to show what it’s like when we unite behind something that makes us feel good.

That was all off-stage. But onstage I couldn’t help but notice that every one of the dancers and musicians on stage looked to be having the time of their life. Now I realise that they’re being paid to look happy, but I do think that you can tell the difference between a stage smile, and genuine happiness (it’s usually in the eyes), and every person on stage at the show I saw looked genuinely happy. That can only happen when the person at the top puts genuine effort into making sure her whole team feels comfortable and confident to be who they are. I find it hard doing that managing a team of 7 people, so how she does it with a team of hundreds (and a personal worth in the billions) is amazing. I wonder how many Tesla employees feel the same level of support from Elon.

The show

There was a part of me that thought that the songs I particularly liked were probably the ones that were the least appropriate to a big stadium show, so I was just excited to experience ‘the show’.
But nothing could have prepared me for ‘the show’. The lights, the visuals on the screen, the use of effects on the live cameras, the motion graphics on the the stage floor, the choreography of a 3.5 hour show, the sheer energy that’s required to sing and dance for that long, and the ability to feed and ride the energy of the crowd. It was all brilliant. I looked over at Xavier at one point and thought ‘How is he ever going to enjoy a live show again?’

Sometimes there are just people or places that are a catalyst to greater things. Like watching a train to the MCG slowly fill up with more and more people wearing smiles and sequins. Or young people going to craft shops so that they can make friendship bracelets. Or hundreds of thousands of women and girls getting to see someone who not onlys says that they can be whatever they want…but also shows that they can be. Or a city that prides itself on being a city of arts, treating an artist with the same level of respect it usually reserves for footy, cricket or a horse race.
There are a lot of things we’re going to have to come together as a planet to fix. We’re going to have to see what we can do as a large collective, rather than a whole lot of individuals. The ‘whole Taylor Swift thing’, leaves me thinking that we’re still capable of doing it.

One thought on “Confessions of a middle-aged Swiftie”

  1. Thanks Chris for making the Taylor Swift come alive on our computer screen. Your photos as always are astonishing.
    The photo of you and Katie and Holly and Xavier are
    incandescent with joy.

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