A friend request from Taylor Swift isn’t some blip in your Facebook feed. It starts with leggy strides across a big stage, and it ends with a fireworks show, and through all of the va-voom and ka-boom, a multimillionaire is trying to convince you that she simply wants to be your pal.
“I’m smiling so much,” Swift told a worshipful crowd at Nationals Park on Monday night, lightly tweaking a stump speech about friendship that she has given at previous concerts. “I feel like I’m standing here with 45,000 of my friends.”
This was one of numerous reminders throughout the night that Swift was playing her first of two sold-out gigs at Nats Park — and she presented this information as if it was her audience’s accomplishment instead of hers. But it also posed a trickier question for the singer: Are there any more worlds for Swift to conquer?
Her planet-eating fifth album, “1989,” recently passed the 5-million-sales mark in the United States, and on Monday night, Swift presented herself as the biggest pop star of her era at the height of her renown.
She put all of her resources into making the transaction feel personal, because, obviously, she’s great at it. Instead of bridges, some of the loudest songs in the show were retro-fitted with simmering banter-breaks that allowed Swift to offer her adoring young flock various affirmations and life tips.
And if you’re wondering what happened to that precocious teenage country singer who once seemed poised to pave her own six-lane highway through America’s pop consciousness, she’s gone now. Instead, grown-up Taylor Swift has chosen to reign over pop music’s biggest, blandest center, singing one-size-fits-all hits that wouldn’t sound that strange coming from the lungs of Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato or a dozen others on today’s airwaves.
And while that’s disappointing in one sense, it was encouraging on Monday night to see Swift doubling down on the most recent entries in her songbook. Very much living in the present, she sang the sleekest tunes from “1989” as if she has been making this kind of music all along. Even “Love Story,” the only tune on the set list released before 2012, was excellently reimagined as a surging new wave ballad, heavy on synthesizers and doused in Aqua Net.
Between songs inspired by the boys foolish enough to burn her, there were Jumbotron testimonials from Swift’s famous gal pals — Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez and the sisters of Haim among them. (The rock band Haim and singer-songwriters Vance Joy and Shawn Mendes were opening acts.) This felt like an attempt to erase the boy-crazy narrative that the media has unfairly attached to Swift, and it’ll be interesting to see how this new gang of BFFs factor into Swift’s future hits.
On Monday, fans had to settle for a surprise appearance from New Zealand phenom Lorde, whom Swift introduced halfway through the show as “one of my best friends in the world!”
Gliding across the stage, singing Lorde’s breakout hit “Royals,” the duet partners looked like the prom queen and the goth girl from third-period art class. And if those two can be friends, maybe we can all be.