On Tuesday night, the sparkly-dressed and curly-tressed masses swarmed Verizon Center. They had to come to see her, she whose name is never just spoken but is squealed, gasped, breathed: “Taylor!”
They were speaking, naturally, of Taylor Swift, the country-pop star whose Speak Now Tour has a sold-out, two-day stop in Washington. Swift’s disciples, 13,523 strong, arrived in homemade T-shirts and cowboy boots, with moms and best friends in tow. They expressed nothing but love — omigosh, LOVE, hands in a heart shape held over the heart for double-hearting-emphasis love — for the current poet laureate of puberty.
“She’s a role model,” said Katie Barner, 15, who came with a friend in short, Swift-inspired dresses designed and sewn for the occasion. “She’s amazing to everyone. She doesn’t do anything bad. She loves her fans so much.”
Kiri Spiotta, 16, wore a glittering headband that Swift bestowed upon her from the stage during the Fearless Tour. “She took it off her head at the end of ‘Love Story’ and gave it to me,” said Kiri, gently touching the band. “This is my fourth time seeing her in concert. She puts on an amazing show.”
Swift, 21, wrote every song on this latest album, and its confessional format supports her claim that she puts her whole self into her songs. Her lyrics, however, are as decidedly vague as her music videos and concert set pieces are literal — the better to impose your own life on them, which is exactly what fans want.
Swift the superstar has nothing on Swift the everygirl. Despite her beauty and celebrity, Swift is celebrated by fans for her ordinariness, her self-imposed status as the girl in the bleachers.
“She’s so normal,” said Abby Sisson, 16. “You can imagine her being your best friend. . . . Every situation that you’re in, there’s a Taylor Swift song for it.”
“I love how you can relate to her songs,” said 18-year-old Grace Gioglio. “I love how she seems so real, not like a fake celebrity.”
There are those who doubt Swift’s singing abilities, who are disturbed by the damsel-in-distress rhetoric of her lyrics, who scoff at her pretty-in-pink take on country music, a genre that purists reserve for whiskey-swigging friends in low places.
But Swift’s fans, like most religious zealots, have no interest in alternate narratives. The girls belting into their hairbrushes at slumber parties across America embrace Swift with an unwavering devotion. What else matters, when Swift can articulate the feelings they have but can’t describe, wear the dresses they can’t afford and date the male celebrities they fantasize about? Swift is the 2.0 version of the average girl, and average girls love her for it.
And as it turns out, average boys love her, too.
“She is attractive,” said Alex Rendon, 18. He and his friend, Andy Cameron, 16, gestured to the Swift merchandise in their bags. “We got posters for a reason.”
Rendon attends an all-boys school, where classmates can be “more out” about Swift fandom.
“I go to public school,” his friend says. “Guys keep it on the D.L.”
“I know a lot of guys that like her music,” said Rendon. “Some of it, not necessarily the stuff about boys, we can kind of relate to it, too.”
He has no patience for boys who think liking Swift is uncool. “Who cares?” Rendon said. “Man up and go to the concert.”
Kristin Jeppson, 17, is a Swift doppelganger, all lanky limbs and long blond waves. Her mom, Lori, carried a poster that read: “Taylor Swift for President.” They’d flown in from Wisconsin for the concert.
“She’s just amazing,” said Jeppson. “She can put emotions into words in a way no one else can. This is my seventh concert of hers.
“This guy from a radio station just gave us meet-and-greet passes,” she went on. “I am going to tell her that I love her, and thank her for giving me confidence and for being there when I needed her. My brother was diagnosed with cancer last year, and listening to ‘Fearless’ made me feel like I had my best friend there with me.”
“When you’re sad, her songs make you feel better,” said Emma Anderson, 13. When “I was feeling really sad about my crush, I listened to ‘Teardrops on My Guitar.’ Her songs are so raw and direct.”
That is the thing — the heart — of Taylor Swift. The emotions are real; everything else is irrelevant. Which is the heart of all music, really.
Swift speaks to her fans and no one else. Throughout the concert, she paused between songs to tell the crowd how much she loved them.
“You guys are so wonderful,” she said, sounding, as usual, surprised to hear people cheering for her. “And sparkling and loud and amazing.” The screams her fans let out in reply probably could have been heard down the street, several blocks away.
As the show began, the lights went down, but the room still glittered with the light-up signs raised around the arena: TAYLOR spelled out in gold, Swift’s lucky number, 13, shining in electric blue.
And, directly across from center stage, halfway between the front row and the nosebleeds, a glowing, red heart.