My college roommate Ryan dissolves into gales of laughter when he recounts the morning senior year when I painstakingly set my iHome alarm clock (RIP) to wake me up to the sweet, sweet strains of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.” For whatever reason, I left the house much earlier than the appointed time, but I forgot to turn the alarm clock off. As iHome apparently programmed the volume on the assumption that you were sleeping in another ZIP code, my omission caused “Love Story” to reverberate throughout the apartment, on repeat, all morning. It was only after two hours of delightful pop-country, Ryan has since gleefully recounted to anyone within earshot every time we’ve been together since, that he finally decided to check on my empty room to see what in the world I could possibly be doing that required 37 straight renditions of the tale of Romeo & Juliet.
My love story with “Love Story” (sorry) continued into law school, where it became the staple of the standing Friday night karaoke expedition. While I can sing on-key, especially after several drinks, I do not have, shall we say, the particular vocal range of Taylor Swift, which meant that patrons were treated to what probably sounded like a dad singing along to a NOW! album that his daughters left in the car. Even now, my friend Andrew will occasionally text me asking if we can go sing “Love Story,” and I brusquely remind him that we are adults and professionals and that he needs to grow up, but I also then close my office door, put on my SOUL (TM) by Ludacris headphones (frequently on sale and not a bad deal if you don’t mind looking like you robbed a fat white suburban kid on his way to middle school), and crank it, so who am I to judge.
Sorry, what was the question? Yes, it’s fair to say that I like Taylor Swift, and someday when I don’t have an actual job that takes up so much of my time I’ll give you 25,000 words definitively breaking down her top 96 songs (I counted). But I appreciate her for another reason, too: while I’ve spent most of my life looking up to athletes and singers and entertainers, Taylor Swift is…my peer. As she is fond of frequently reminding people as if it were some sort of badge of honor, on her Tumblr and via her album title and probably to bewildered strangers who pass her on the street, she was born in 1989! Setting aside the fame and fortune and talent that she has and I decidedly lack, we have stuff in common. At the very least, I have to imagine that we could have been MySpace friends. So when Taylor Swift, purveyor of “Love Story,” former dorky white suburban girl, and my alternative-universe college classmate, announced a world tour promoting her new 1989 album, I wasn’t going to miss out.
There are only seven things you need to know about everything that happened pre-concert:
- You know that the Swifties are coming before you see them because of the borderline-opaque cloud of Lucky Brand perfume hanging in the air so thick that it looks like her people misplaced a fog machine on the Metro platform. Good Lord.
- I’m not sure the percentage of girls under age 16 in the Metro in downtown D.C. on a weekday at 4 PM has ever been higher.
- Everyone shrieks and falls to the side whenever the train starts moving, like, you know, they weren’t aware that this was an event that was going to occur.
- I keep waiting for all the girls wearing Aeropostale to gather up and face off with all the girls wearing American Eagle in a silent, solemn death match. (There are only like three girls wearing Hollister so I figure they’d get smashed first.)
- At first I thought there was a surprising number of homemade Taylor Swift “Shake It Off” cheerleader outfits, but then again, maybe I should have expected this exact number after all.
- Also not in short supply: bright red lipstick on people whose age and complexion makes that a…deeply controversial choice.
- The saddest bouncer line of all the bouncer lines is the bouncer line to get into a Gordon Biersch. It’s 90 degrees and humid, all the patio windows are open, and the entire 1989 album plays twice while we are in there; I’m sure this was his personal hell.
8:39: And we are off! Wait, with “Welcome to New York”? Lasers that go up on the background behind her form outlines of the street signs at the intersection of West 42nd Street and Broadway, apparently in order to remind you that, yes, New York is a place, and Taylor Swift lives there, and they have streets there (but streets unlike anywhere else on earth — you just can’t understand if you don’t live here). But as everyone under the age of 26 who has lived on the Eastern Seaboard learned during one ill-advised weekend trip or another, that’s the address for…the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Not the Empire State Building, not MSG, not Rockefeller Center, not even Times Square. Port Authority. This is more than a little funny; nothing quite drives home Taylor Swift’s fanciful “New York is magical” message like homeless people peeing in bathroom sinks.
8:43: “Good evening, Washington, Dee See!” <high-pitched shrieking noises only dogs can hear>
8:44: Here is the correct ranking of terms to use, in speech, when referring to the city that is capital of the United States:
- The District (but only if you’re inside the area codes immediately contiguous with D.C.; otherwise you just sound like a bit character in The Hunger Games)
- District of Columbia. Shouts to everyone who just muttered “You Bernie Mac funny,” I see you.
- Uh, Chocolate City, I guess?
- “Good Lord it’s hot, fuck this place.”
- Washington Dee See.
That’s way too many syllables! And yet that’s how she will refer to the crowd for the rest of the night. I wonder if that choice is the product of a guy in Taylor’s ear constantly reminding her so as to avoid a repeat of that old Southwest Airlines “THANK YOU DETROIT, WE LOVE YOU” ad. Whatever. She could shout out Benghazi and this crowd would still love her.
8:47: The first few bars of “New Romantics.” I’m already thinking about shouting for “Tim McGraw,” but most of the people in attendance at this concert were in diapers when that came out. Also, that’s not who she’s trying to be anymore, and that’s totally fine by me. For all the heat Taylor Swift has taken for calculatingly abandoning the country genre once she became old enough to step into her role as a full-blown pop star, that transformation has probably had as much to do with becoming an adult as it does with some notion of genre loyalty. It’s a universal part of the human experience to look back on adolescence, no matter who you are or what you did or what you’re doing now, and just cringe and do your best to pretend it never happened. If I were a 25-year-old artist playing before 45,000 adoring fans every night, I definitely wouldn’t be playing stuff I wrote when I was 13. Though in my case, that would admittedly consist of ill-advised raps, hypothetically appearing under the name of one “Lil J,” scribbled in my science notebook. I’ve probably said too much here.
8:48: Based on the number of sweating men who are clearly over the age of 43 and are wearing Tevas, sitting with their arms folded patiently, and only occasionally visibly grimacing, a LOT of Good Dad points are being earned tonight.
8:50: The first of several short video clips of Taylor’s best friends, who are, oh, just casually Victoria’s Secret supermodels Cara Delevingne, Karlie Kloss, and Lily Aldridge; pop-rock sister act Haim; Wizard of Waverly Place Selena Gomez; and girl who won’t stop talking about sex toys Lena Dunham. They go on for some time about what a great group of girlfriends they have using one-liners clearly ripped from the script of Crossroads.
Karlie: “It’s not about where you are, it’s about who you’re with.”
Selena: “Having a good group of girls, it’s the family you create.”
Yeesh. Next, a series of glowing reviews of how glamorous and wonderful it is for them to live in New York City! I bet they have the best time hanging out together at the Port Authority. There’s no antiquated, grimy bus terminal like an antiquated, grimy bus terminal in New York City.
8:51: Also occasionally popping up in these videos is Taylor Swift’s friend Abigail, her onetime high-school classmate who served as the inspiration for “Fifteen” and remains Taylor’s BFF to this day despite the fact Taylor in “Fifteen” announced to the world that Abigail lost her virginity that year, which seems like a not-BFF thing to do? Abigail absolutely won the high school friends lottery; all mine do is proclaim their support for Donald Trump on Facebook and send me incoherent texts asking if I want to go get drunk and eat “shame sushi” at 5:30 PM on a Tuesday.
8:57: All kidding aside, the genuine, unadulterated joy emanating from every shrieking girl in this stadium right now is delightful. The Good Dad behind me offers a fist pound to his beaming daughter, who can’t be more than eight, and she happily reciprocates. He even breaks out a little Dad Research: “Honey, ‘New Romantics’ is a great song!” She beams wider. +1000 Bonus Dad Points.
9:04: Taylor comes out in thigh-high leather boots and matching black garters to strut around for “Blank Space.” The fear that suddenly emanates from Good Dad is hilariously palpable. Wait, wait, I thought this was the girl who sings about being a princess? Oh…oh no.
9:09: Everyone received plastic bracelets on their way into the arena that are programmed to light up in different colors and at different intervals in sync to the music. It’s a pretty cool effect that doubles as an emergency signal device and, after the concert is over, a fashion accessory that flashes different colors on impact, not unlike light-up sneakers, the undisputed highlight of your third-grade existence. (File to “good business ideas”: I would absolutely buy business shoes with an optional light-up feature.)
9:11: The first of several odd sequences in which Taylor breaks out an electric guitar, dims the lights, and starts a song in a slowed, almost menacing growl that sounds like a cross between aging marijuana enthusiast Dave Matthews here and your average Rick Ross ad-lib (“RUHH”). Everyone looks a little nonplussed at first, but Jenna accurately points out that this is precisely how Taylor perceives herself: grown-up, sophisticated, and badass. She’s rich, famous, and 25, and she’s going to give the people whatever she wants to give them, and they’re going to like it.
9:15: “I Wish You Would.” Sure. Four songs in, I would rank Taylor’s dance moves like so:
- Moving her hips and head in opposite directions a la the girl with the green background in that old iPod commercial set to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”
- Squirming behind a microphone stand in the style of erstwhile Destiny’s Child backup dancer Michelle Williams
- Wait, you don’t think what you’re doing here is sexy, do you? [wrinkles nose]
- Oh Lord, you sure do.
I’m cringing every time she’s done anything on the stage other than “walk.” She is doing zero favors for stereotypes about white girl dancing right now.
9:19: “How You Get The Girl.” Taylor gives us one over-the-top, sweep-me-off-my-feet anthem on every album (in chronological order, “Our Song,” “Love Story,” “Enchanted” (and “Speak Now”), “Stay Stay Stay,” and the bonus “Today Was a Fairytale” from the Valentine’s Day soundtrack, because of course she was on that). No reason to stop doing what works, I suppose.
9:23: Seriously, I wish I loved anything as much as these little girls love Taylor Swift.
9:29: Finally, Taylor arrives at a classic Taylor calling card and asks if we are ready for a Surprise Guest. Hell yeah we are! She explains that it’s the man who made the song of the summer, the one song everyone’s singing and can’t get off their minds, yes, she’s brought him here tonight, for you, Washington Dee See! Who could it be?!
9:29: IF YOU BROUGHT NELLY AND FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE TO PLAY THE “CRUISE” REMIX I’M GOING TO DIE TONIGHT RIGHT HERE IN SECTION 319
9:30: Nope. But almost as good:
9:30: JASON DERULOOOOOOOOOOOO! [Beluga Heights]
9:31: Jason’s bouncing around stage, belting out “Want to Want Me” and effortlessly fitting in more dance prowess in 30 seconds than Taylor has managed to give the people in the last hour. You’re not going to believe this, but he rips his shirt off and throws it into the crowd. That’s the worst best present ever on an 88-degree night like this. “Jason DeRulo’s shirt, I got it! He threw it to m — GROSSSSSSSSSS NOOOOOOOOOO.”
9:33: Jenna and I engage in a scholarly debate over which one of them is more interested in hooking up with the other one tonight. Jenna says it’s him, because she’s already happy enough with Calvin Harris; I agree with her pick, but I think it’s because I bet Jason would think a song on her next album (1990?) that takes veiled shots at him would be pretty cool.
9:35: After the lights fade momentarily, Taylor reappears stripped down (I MEAN THE SET, COME ON, BE REAL) with just a guitar. It’s “You Belong With Me,” which the whole stadium gleefully belts out in the loudest they’d get all night. I love this song, not because it’s adorable (although it is) but also because if you were to divorce these lyrics from the accompanying music, you’d be Googling things like “restraining order” and “can people smell fear via iMessage” instead of happily humming along while thinking about t-shirts and bleachers.
If you could see that I’m the one who understands you, I’ve been here all along, so why can’t you see that you belong with me?
You recognize that as a Taylor Swift lyric, but you can also admit that this type of poetry is typically composed with cut-out letters from magazines and hand-delivered at 3 in the morning.
Standing by and waiting at your backdoor all this time. How could you not know, baby, you belong with me?
9:40: Taylor takes an extended break to express her appreciation for the fact that our favorite songs are inextricably entwined with memories, and she adds, “If any of my songs are one of your songs, thank you. That means the world to me.” Good Dad behind me: “NOPE!” He’s at the point where he should have stopped at two beers, but he went with the third, and now he’s saying embarrassing things in front of his daughter and all her friends, they can hear you, Daaaaaad! So much for the Good Dad points. Dad is so lame. I think Taylor’s thigh-highs pushed him over the edge.
9:41: After “Clean,” which I have nothing bad to say about because it’s a jam and Imogen Heap is great (as Jason DeRulo well knows), Taylor again reappears stripped down (STOP IT), this time in front of just a keyboard. She explains that while recording 1989, she also took the time to play around with some of her old songs and “give them a new, fresh sound.” And with that…
9:42: Holy shit! It’s a synth-heavy electropop version of “Love Story” with an 808 so overpowering that it reminds me of “Robocop,” which was basically Kanye at his weirdo zenith of seeing just how gigantic of a drum machine part he could fit on a track and still occasionally fit in some lyrics. As previously noted, I love “Love Story” (who doesn’t love “Love Story”? You don’t love “Love Story”? Fuck you), but Taylor the savvy businesswoman isn’t willing to pretend to be a 13-year-old anymore. What’s old, even if it’s also insanely popular and made you more money than any other song you’ve ever done, must be made to sound new in order to be cool again.
9:54: Another brief video break features Taylor Swift’s Impossibly Wealthy and Good-Looking Friends talking about “just a typical hangout sesh with Taylor.” Several of them note that baked goods are almost always prominently involved, which, just, hahahahaha, OK, group composed almost entirely of supermodels. I love the idea of all the girls baking cookies every night, and then just no one eating them, and instead they all order sensible side salads on Seamless.
9:55: I keep imagining the first time Taylor Swift invited over all of these people and got too excited and made like five dozen cookies and then Cara Delevingne (the accent makes me assume it was her) had to say something uncomfortable like, “Oh, dahling…that’s just…not a thing we do.”
9:58: “Bad Blood.” Good Lord, this song is horrible but it is also an absolutely stone-cold brilliant attempt at a very particular niche that will also prove totally timeless: middle school girl feuds. Millions of seventh-graders, now and in years to come, will lip sync along to this song in their rooms with the door locked and pretend that they’re talking to Ashley after Ashley stole their boyfriend in front of everyone during fourth period last week and was ALL OVER him at the mall on Saturday and ugh Ashley is the WORST.
9:59: Sure is catchy, though. I contemplate starting a “Katy sucks” chant. Decide against it at the last minute.
10:02: Another weirdo guttural song intro accompanied by a gigantic, perpetual electric guitar lick. This time, it transitions to “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” which, come to think of it, is also going to be a pretty timeless sentiment for middle schoolers. My friend Kristine had a habit all through seventh grade of breaking up with her boyfriend in second period and getting back together with him in fifth period. She would have played this in her Walkman during the interim every time.
10:03: Add “collapsing on her knees and slapping the ground in front of her with one hand like she’s about to start twerking very badly and/or in a way that makes you wonder if she just blew out her ACL” to Taylor’s top dance moves (A horrified Jenna, plaintively: “Oh no, is she going to start twerking? Taylor, please, please don’t twerk.”)
10:08: Taylor talks about the role that music plays in helping all of us through dark periods, like the one she had two years ago, when, if you’ll recall, she had a few short relationships occur and then end during a time when she was, you know, a millionaire many times over and one of the most popular and successful music acts on the planet. Anyway, when you’re having a year like that, Taylor encourages you to keep up the good fight. The struggle is real.
10:09: This is the most poorly-executed attempt to “connect” with an audience since Good Dad opined to his daughter last week that The Wanted is a better band than One Direction.
10:10: Another Taylor and friends video, this one on (prepare to be shocked) love! It bestows the exact same amount of wisdom and insight as the others and is only notable for the fact that Selena Gomez looks straight into the camera and flatly states, no, if she’s being honest, she doesn’t have any idea what it’s like to be in love. I love it and am a firm supporter of all of the shots at Justin Bieber, all of the time. You know the girls exchanged a high-five over that one while staring at cookies they didn’t eat.
10:11: Taylor and her friends are just like you and your friends, except they have so, so much money and have basically forgotten what unattractive people look like.
10:13: Jenna briefly dies laughing when Taylor Swift notes that she voluntarily named her cats “Dr. Meredith Grey” and “Detective Olivia Benson.”
10:15: What’s this? Taylor interpolates Speak Now deep album cut “Enchanted” as a bridge to “Wildest Dreams,” a power balled with a gigantic, cascading hook so gorgeous that you almost miss the fact that it doubles as probably her dirtiest lyric yet.
I said “No one has to know what we do,”
His hands are in my hair, his clothes are in my room
And his voice is a familiar sound, nothing lasts forever
But this is getting good now
He’s so tall, and handsome as hell
He’s so bad but he does it so well
Yikes! Does the bridge get dirtier? The bridge gets dirtier.
You see me in hindsight
Tangled up with you all night
Burnin’ it down
Like sex. Get it? She’s talking about sex. All the Good Dads earning Good Dad Points tonight are loosening their collars and having second thoughts about this Swift Tailor character.
10:19: Hehe, the lyrics are so distracting that you almost miss the fact that Taylor is obviously not playing the piano or even trying to pretend that she is. She’s just raising her hands dramatically and pounding on where the keys would be, like Snoopy commandeering Schroeder’s piano.
10:23: “Out of the Woods.” Trivia, Jack Antonoff (of fun.) sent Taylor this entire prepackaged song, including the haunting chopped-up sample of his own voice during the intro, and all she had to do was add vocals and lyrics. While catchy as hell, this bizarre backstory also explains the forced, awkward “andIrememberthinking” bridge that follows each verse. I start eyeing the exit to see if I can get a good deal on a 1989 world tour T-shirt before I remember that I gave my wallet to Jenna for this exact reason. Damn.
10:24: I strongly feel that my light-up bracelet from this concert is now my most valuable asset, and I plan to bequeath it to whichever of my children is better at karaoke.
10:29: “Shake It Off” as the finale. Fireworks, fog machines (affirmatively not Lucky Brand perfume this time), and more fireworks. “Thank you Washington Dee See, we love you!” Sure enough, she didn’t say Detroit. Taylor, out.
Taylor Swift remains fascinating not only because of her undeniable pop music prowess but also because she is the absolute best-case scenario for every dorky middle school girl who dreams of making it out someday. At the same time, what makes her so interesting is also precisely what prevents her from having people take her seriously as she tries to embrace the Britney, grown-and-sexy stage of her career. She may be a 25-year-old superstar with commensurately famous and talented friends, but what she’s obviously proudest of is what every girl ten years her junior hopes for: she has a tight group of besties who hang out, bake cookies, take selfies, love life, and unconditionally have each other’s backs. And I have to admit: that sounds pretty great. Good for her, good for them, and good for Dr. Grey and Detective Benson.
I rate this concert a solid 13/10 Friendship Cookies, and if wearing a light-up bracelet underneath my sleeve doesn’t conform to my law firm’s dress code, I don’t want to hear about it.