A 'Fearless' Taylor Swift at Merriweather: Pop Without the Tart
Saturday, June 13, 2009
As the music industry continues to fragment into a niche-oriented landscape, Taylor Swift stands out as an exception. She's a hit at the cash register: Her 4 million albums sold in 2008 was tops in the business. She's a star on the radio: Swift owns the country charts and has made a successful crossover to pop and Top 40 stations. This summer's Fearless Tour -- her first headlining venture -- is one of the season's hottest tickets, selling out sheds in blue states and red states alike. Tickets for Thursday's show at Merriweather Post Pavilion were gone in 30 minutes, a record for the venue (since broken by reunited jam band Phish). This outing is being positioned as nothing less than the coronation of the next great pop music queen who, at just 19 years old, will be the shining star to prop up a faltering industry.
No pressure, kid.
Thursday's show made it clear exactly why Swift is viewed as a star with some serious staying power. After her opening number, the infectious "You Belong With Me" -- which, like many of her songs, had only a slight hint of twang to go with its bouncy pop delights -- she soaked in the deafening cheers at center stage. Sporting a sparkling silver dress (one of some 10 she'd wear over the course of the evening), Swift repeatedly mouthed the words, "Oh, my God" as she surveyed the screaming, sign-holding, picture-taking masses. A few minutes later she told the audience, "This is the most beautiful sight I've seen in my entire life."
It's likely that every crowd gets the same treatment. But in the moment, it was hard not to believe her, that this was truly special. She's the kind of girl you want to believe.
Of course, modest charm alone does not a star make. There's a reason the gracious guitar player at your local open mike night can't find another gig, after all. Swift's songs -- all of which she at least co-wrote -- are mostly masterful, if slightly formulaic, creations.
That Swift doesn't have the most dynamic stage presence is neither surprising nor disappointing. The dramatic hair fling was about as showy as she got, leaving the limited pomp and circumstance to a small team of extras who acted out the lyrics to "You Belong With Me" and "Love Story" in a manner as cheesy as you might expect.
It's also easy to overlook the fact that Swift has a fairly ordinary voice. Belting is not a part of her oeuvre, and there were a couple of moments of minor fluttering. But when the occasion called for it -- take the fire-breathing chorus of rage-rocker "Picture to Burn," for instance -- she proved to be game by rising above the din, all while skipping across the stage.
Still, it was the poignant ballad "White Horse" that found her most in her element. She was alone, strumming an acoustic guitar, singing words that were clearly penned by a teenage girl (" 'Cause I'm not your princess/This ain't a fairy tale/I'm gonna find someone, someday/Who might actually treat me well") but had a universal appeal. It was sentimental, just the right amount of sappy and more than plenty catchy.