Thirty-six hours and 90 miles distant, my wristband from Taylor Swift’s extraordinary Wembley show is still flashing. The white rubber device, given to every member of the audience, is a tireless reminder that when it comes to the maximum dazzle of stadium pop, nobody does it better.
The wristband stunt was borrowed from Coldplay, but I don’t recall theirs flashing with so many colours, or appearing to move in such a quickfire variety of patterns. Mexican waves of light swooped across the vast space, a hypnotic spectacle as the sun went down.
If the negative reports about ticket sales were to believed, those lights could have been significantly less spectacular. A full page advert for the two Wembley shows in Friday’s Standard suggested a last-minute bid to occupy empty seats. In the end, it looked very close to full. Compared with her last London appearance, one Hyde Park show in 2015, I wouldn’t get too worried about the 28-year-old’s bank balance.
In any case, London has rarely had so much to choose from, so close together, when it comes to superstars. Ed Sheeran, Shakira, Katy Perry, Jay-Z and Beyonce, The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters and Liam Gallagher are all in town this month. Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Eminem and Britney Spears are coming in a few weeks. Only an oligarch could attend everything.
But if you had to choose, this was the one. Swift’s Reputation Tour, named for last year’s album, was the moment when pop’s innocent princess took control of her own story. Once upon a time, things happened to her that seemed beyond her control: John Mayer dumped her, a radio DJ groped her at a backstage meet and greet, Kim Kardashian called her a snake on social media, Kanye West did all manner of horrible things.
Now, the DJ has been beaten in court, Mayer was exposed in one of her songs, West’s genius is faltering and as for the snakes, they belong to Swift now. During Look What You Made Me Do, the giant video screens parted to reveal an inflatable cobra looming down at the front rows. A gold one curled around her microphone. As she floated across the stadium in a glowing basket to sing Shake It Off with her support acts Charli XCX and Camila Cabello, two more billowing serpents rose up from stages in the middle of the pitch.
“Your reputation is what people say when you’re not there,” Swift explained between songs. Here she owned the insults, arriving on stage to the sound of media criticisms of her and revelling in a new mean queen persona. The songs of Reputation, whose dark electronic throbs have made it an underwhelming seller next to its brighter predecessor, 1989, came into their own in the stadium. “They say I did something bad/Then why’s it feel so good?” she sang on I Did Something Bad, while her army of dancers formed a funeral pyre beneath her and fireballs exploded.
Later, during Don’t Blame Me, she looked like the black-clad leader of an evil cult, framed on screens altered to the shape of church windows. This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, the fireworks finale, saw her and her team cavorting around a real fountain while an image of a grand house gradually crumbled. Niall Horan of One Direction, a surprise guest for a duet of his song Slow Hands, looked like a lucky competition winner next to her star power (she sang Angels with Robbie Williams the following night).
This was worlds away from the country-pop starlet who released her debut album at 16. She picked up an acoustic guitar just twice, for solo renditions of So It Goes… and Dancing With Our Hands Tied. However, it was alone at the piano that she had her most memorable moment.
In the middle of New Year’s Day, she paused and looked out. Cheering began which went on for an astonishing amount of time, getting louder the more overwhelmed she appeared. At a time when so many seem to be against her, the swelling noise from all those dots of light was a startling reminder of how many still want her to win – which she did in emphatic style.