REVIEW: Taylor Swift w/ Camila Cabello & Charli XCX | 8.25.18 at Nissan Stadium [PHOTOS]

TaylorSwift_NissanStadium8-25-18-Header

Taylor Swift
w/ Camila Cabello, Charli XCX

Nissan Stadium; Nashville, TN
August 25, 2018

Review by Philip Obenschain (@pobenschain). Photos by Nolan Knight.

It’s always an event when Taylor Swift comes to town, but, last week, after a decade of multiple stops at Bridgestone Arena, the biggest pop star Music City has ever produced brought her massive Reputation Stadium Tour back to her de facto hometown for a major milestone: headlining the colossal Nissan Stadium for the first time. The significance of this was not lost on Swift, who first visited Nashville at 11, and relocated at 13, where she subsequently found a community to foster her meteoric rise to country and then pop dominance, as, at various points in the show, she reminisced about first visiting the stadium for CMA Fest as an attendee, in awe of its size, and then returned years later as a performer as a part of the fest. Only now, though, has her show scaled to a size few living artists can claim, landing her top billing at Nashville’s largest space, which hosts no more than a handful of performers each year.

Awe-inspiring and elevated in its size and scope, the Reputation Tour marks the megastar’s most ambitious live turn yet, complete with all of the gigantic production, staging, and spectacle expected from one of music’s biggest stars in 2018. As longtime fans of Swift, we were thrilled to see Taylor’s latest live interpretation of one of her most talked-about works ever, and with months of positive buzz for earlier shows, our anticipation hit a fever pitch. Along with well-matched openers Camila Cabello and Charli XCX, the performance delivered in spades, with all of the conceptual, larger-than-life, and yet surprisingly intimate elements necessary to make a stadium tour work, on full display. Below, check out our full review and photos from Taylor’s Swift’s remarkable Nashville homecoming!

My first time seeing Taylor Swift was on her Fearless tour almost a decade ago. It wasn’t until her more recent 1989 run, which I caught in 2015, that I had the chance to see her in concert again. The transition between those shows, both artistically and personally, was, of course stark, and pretty astounding to see live; a young, beloved country breakout turned certifiable mainstream pop megastar. Though the time between that last show and this was considerably shorter, it has been, perhaps, one of the most significant periods of growth for Swift, who, after hitting something of a public saturation point, retreated to regroup, live her life in a much more private fashion, and spend a year longer than usual crafting Reputation, breaking her two-year clockwork schedule, and refocusing her artistry and image in the process. Though she hardly fell off the map or lost favor in her commercial appeal, Reputation, nonetheless, has a sort of “comeback” air to it, and with this tour, she’s confidently proving not only that she’s relevant as ever in 2018, but also wholeheartedly deserving of a her place in the musical echelon as one of the world’s biggest stars.

Filing into the stadium, I was met with legions of diehard fans, many costumed in various Taylor inspired themes and/or rocking snake related apparel (all stemming from Swift’s effort to turn a tabloid-y feud into a meta commentary on celebrity culture and her public perception). The place was packed and buzzing (I’m not sure the official sales numbers, but certainly close to its 69,000+ capacity), and despite the slightly disorientating element of daylight, opener Charli XCX soon took the stage. I’ve been a big fan of Charli’s since she first sprung onto the electro-pop scene several years back, and after seeing her play the 500-cap Mercy Lounge in Nashville previously, a show of this scale was absolutely wild. Backed by a lean and energetic band, the singer, a permeant fixture on this whole tour, dazzled with confident pop exuberance, strutting around the stage and doing little to curb her unpredictable, party-fueled persona. Her lean set smartly stuck to the hits, opening with “Boom Clap” and Icona Pop breakout “I Love It,” and ending with Iggy Azalea feature “Fancy.” While her collaborations might be the best known, jams like “Boys” and “5 in the Morning” felt like artistic high points, and, as she preps to release her first full-length in years, I really hope the well-earned exposure of this tour helps propel Charli to bigger and bigger things on her next solo run.

After a very quick changeover, second opener Camila Cabello- a burgeoning star in her own right- began an absolutely spellbinding performance, and one that left me with no doubt she’ll be headlining massive shows in her own right soon too. Though I wasn’t particularly dialed into Fifth Harmony, Cabello captured my (and many others’) attention last year with her stellar breakout hit “Havana,” and, wisely, took enough time to craft an excellent debut around its vibe. Beginning her show with hit “Never Be the Same,” it was clear from note one that Cabello is a serious powerhouse of a vocalist- like, goosebumps inducing, pitch-perfect, once-in-a-generation good- and, incredibly, already had the poise and production and stage presence as well (primed by reality TV and famous for a whole different and successful group, she’s in a unique position to start her solo career with a LOT of experience). With dazzling visuals, background dancers, charming and humble banter, incredibly well-crafted video interludes, and hit after hit, my first experience seeing Camila left one of the strongest impressions on me of any pop artist in recent memory, making clear that not only did she deserve to land a tour like this, but also a stage so grand. Ending, of course, with “Havana,” I was already elated just after the openers, and perfectly primed for Taylor’s subsequent set.

TaylorSwift_NissanStadium8-25-18-Insert1Taylor Swift. Photo by Nolan Knight.

Fittingly, the last concert I saw at Nissan Stadium was Beyoncé on her Formation Tour, which, clearly, had visual and production influence on other giant tours that’ve come since, including this one. I couldn’t help but think of Bey’s incredible monolith screen, the centerpiece of her show, when looking at Swift’s similarly massive and futuristic wall of screen and staging. I assumed, after it simply served as a video wall for the openers, that it would be tasked with many more functions for Taylor’s set, and that soon proved to be the case, once the intro music of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” gave way to a video montage of media commenting on Swift’s life, perception, reputation, and public persona (which had the immediate effect of making any prior gossipy speculation I might have partaken in feel gross), before turning red and splitting up, revealing the pop singer emerge from the shadows in a sparkly black jumpsuit looking ready to rock a stadium as she launched into Reputation opener “…Ready For It?”

The 1989 Tour was a major and impressive production, but it was immediately clear that Reputation was on a whole different level; a pop show on a grand scale few artists have ever delivered. As expected, the setlist was predominately pulled from Swift’s latest, and thematically complimented its meta commentary on her public persona and the media and public’s instance on overanalyzing and dissecting it. Through the pyrotechnic laden “I Did Something Bad” and impressive dancer-accompanied choreography of “Gorgeous,” I found myself immediately recontextualizing Reputation both as an artistic statement and personal declaration, brought to life before my eyes both with visual accompaniment and thought-out sequencing. Breaking that pace and doing fan service, though, a medley of “Style,” “Love Story,” and “You Belong With Me” served as a reminder that, though she’s consciously reinvented herself, the various phases of Taylor frozen in fans’ memory are still there and still accessible, even if the Taylor of the moment is where her heart is. Bringing the band on stage for the Fearless cuts was a nice touch too, a callback to her more instrument-driven, band-staged beginnings.

Just as quickly as she reminded us of her past, however, Swift decisively brought things back into the now, using another video interlude for a quick costume change, before the song that started this whole era, “Look What You Made Me Do,” complete with a mid-song clip of comedian Tiffany Haddish delivering the “old Taylor’s dead” clip. Though not one of my favorite songs on Reputation, “End Game” worked considerably better live, and even Swift’s pseudo-hip hop styled flow landed pretty impressively, before “King of My Heart” really showcased her ability to adopt a stylish, modern, and synth-drenched pop jam primed for today’s musical landscape. At one point commenting on her relationship with Nashville and the significance of playing this venue, even from the jump, Swift’s delivery felt so genuine and urgent, and despite her larger than life production, her sincerity and perceived accessibility managed to still keep the performance feeling relatively intimate.

TaylorSwift_NissanStadium8-25-18-Insert2Taylor Swift. Photo by Nolan Knight.

Earlier in the evening as I walked to my seat, I noticed two particularly large platforms on either side of the back, curious to see how or if they’d be incorporated as secondary stages, a pretty common trend for large shows. I’ve seen plenty of artists play from a B-stage, but I can confidently say Swift is the first I’ve seen travel across the stadium on a sort of mini sky tram, bathed in light and high above the crowd, met with deafening and elated cheers. From a tiny platform near the back of the field and next to a massive inflatable snake, she continued her streak of new cuts with the understated “Delicate,” before piling the small stage with backing dancers for “Shake It Off,” joined, partway through, by Charli XCX and Camila Cabello. On the last tour, “Shake It Off” served as the finale, and given the dancing, excitement, and excess of confetti, if it wasn’t so early in the show, I’d almost have thought that was going to the case again. And yet, after dialing up the energy to an all-time high, Swift immediately used the opportunity to flex her impressive range and create a dichotomy with a deconstructed, acoustic rendition of “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” remarking that she believes a good song should be able to stand being stripped to its core. In a particularly Nashville moment, she also took the opportunity to play acoustic her recently-penned hit for Little Big Town, “Better Man,” which was admittedly bit trippy to hear from Swift in this day and age, but also a stellar reminder to her respectable country and co-writing start.

As I mentioned, there were not one, but two satellite stages, and to get to the second, Swift traveled through the crowd, grabbing hands and giving out hugs to shocked and elated fans along the way. For her batch of songs on this stage, things got a bit more performative and pop-oriented once more, first with one of 1989‘s biggest singles, “Blank Space.” After remarking on her fans’ dedication to themed-costuming, Swift admitted to needing to step her outfit game up, before “playing ‘Dress’ in a dress.” One of, I think, Reputation‘s most underrated songs, the tune was enhanced with gorgeous choreography from dancers draped in flowing, ribbon-like fabric, both with Taylor on the small stage and alone on the main one, creating another incredibly visual, artistic, and stunning moment that reminded me a bit of Beyoncé’s show. To get back to the main stage, Swift hopped in another sky tram, this one shaped like massive, skeletal snake, while performing a medley of “Bad Blood” into early single “Should’ve Said No,” for which the stage transformed to reveal a mid-tier platform with the band, dancers, acrobats, and space for Swift to walk around recessed in the platform- yet another unique and dazzling aspect of a stage that only managed to become more and more mesmerizing as the show wore on.

TaylorSwift_NissanStadium8-25-18-Insert3Taylor Swift. Photo by Nolan Knight.

Hitting the final stretch of the performance, Taylor’s dancers donned artsy, costumed apparel as they emerged from the edges of the stage for “Don’t Blame Me” (yet another move reminiscent of Beyoncé), creating a moody transition to more mellow and nostalgic songs to follow. Next taking a seat at the piano, Swift opened up in her most vulnerable, sincere, and humble moment of the evening, reminiscing about how, over the last 15 years of her life, Nashville has come to signify a marker of change, watching the city grow along with her, and relating it to analyzing the changes and phases, the good and the bad, the new and the old, in one’s life, and how fast it all seems when you look at moments as a measure of time. A beautiful medley followed, with a piano rendition of the only Speak Now song of the night, “Long Live,” and Reputation closer (and maybe my favorite song from that album), the earnest and emotional “New Year’s Day.” Again relating her experience and expressing her gratitude to Nashville, Swift opted to play her first hit, “Tim McGraw,” for the first time in five years, with Faith Hill emerging from below the stage mid-song for a huge surprise, soon followed by her husband and the song’s titular subject, Tim McGraw, as the three barely made it through the reminder with all of the overwhelming response and excitement. Though a staple of Swift’s tours in the past, guests have been a rarity on this run, so for two monumental ones to be featured is a real testament to the singer’s affinity for her former home.

This is the last time I’ll say Beyoncé, but I couldn’t help but get Lemonade vibes from the artsy and gorgeously shot video set to Swift delivering a spoken word poem that proceeded the show’s final act, seamlessly giving way to “Getaway Car,” which, itself, included massive and dynamic visuals, which live feed of Swift was merged into (I haven’t really commented much on the sheer impressiveness and creativity in how this show opted to project the singer on screens- always dynamic, different, sometimes framed, sometimes merged, and never dull). “Call It What You Want” had similar cool visuals, before a finale medley of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” saw the stage turn into a sort of dynamic, lighted mansion, as Swift and her dancers and band, all introduced and featured prominently on screen, ended on a note more spectacular than I could have even conceived, pyrotechnics on full force, propelled by anthemic singalongs, the full range of the transformative stage’s capabilities, and electrifying energy. Shows with this kind of structure don’t typically have an encore, but it still felt like a grand finale in the truest sense of the phrase, capping off an unrivaled performance that managed to perfectly provide a snapshot of this moment in Swift’s career and psyche, and well as celebrate the last decade of her rise. I’m not sure where she goes from here, but as she’s proven time and time again, it’ll surely be somewhere incredible, and I for one can’t wait to witness it.

The Reputation Tour runs a few more months, and if you happen to live in or near any of the remaining cities, there’s not a bigger or more spellbinding show you’ll find all year.

Setlist

…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
Better Man
Blank Space
Dress
Bad Blood / Should’ve Said No
Don’t Blame Me
Long Live / New Year’s Day
Tim McGraw
Getaway Car
Call It What You Want
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together / This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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