Before launching into her encore at Time Warner Cable Arena on Wednesday night, Taylor Swift cocked her head and raised an eyebrow, her pouty red lips curving into another million-dollar smile.
“Is it alright if I play a love song?”
The crowd didn’t hesitate, erupting into a unified "Yeaaahhhhhhh!" The joke, of course, was that the 21-year-old country/pop megastar had already played a dozen love songs – and the few songs that weren’t love songs were breakup songs.
Indeed, love songs have made Swift a wealthy young woman; they are the key to her being the top-selling digital artist in music history, to four Grammy Awards, to the Country Music Association award for entertainer of the year that she won as a teenager in 2009 and to filling all 14,500 available seats at an uptown venue that doesn’t often sell out.
After opening sets by “American Idol” alum Danny Gokey and South Carolina’s NeedtoBreathe, Swift played 18 songs in just over two hours Wednesday, working her tail off to put on a good show. In this case, a good show meant nine costume changes, an eight-piece band, eight backup dancers, multiple aerialists, a backup singer, fake snow, fireworks, and all kinds of multimedia on a giant HD screen. At times, the sheer volume of activity onstage threatened to drown out her presence.
Still, her stage presence is strong. She swaggers back and forth across the stage with the command of a runway model. Her blue eyes smolder. She’s not an instrumental virtuoso, but she’s versatile enough that she looks and sounds competent playing guitar or piano. She’ll never be a professional dancer, but she has a hip swish that would attract almost any guy at almost any club.
(Her concert was originally scheduled for July 8, but was postponed because Swift had bronchitis. “I got sick. I got so sick I couldn’t even talk,” Swift told the audience Wednesday. “I was sitting at home worried that you guys were gonna be mad at me. But my manager said they just got so many calls wishing I got better. It made me feel so good!”)
The show favored fans who had gotten familiar with the “Speak Now” album she put out just over a year ago now – two-thirds of the songs in her set list were from that disc. That meant many of her best-known hits were absent, including cuts like “Tim McGraw” and “White Horse.”
But Swift’s core fans – women and girls, many of whom were up way past their bedtimes on a school night – didn’t mind. They were there to be as close to their idol as possible, and she didn’t disappoint.
Halfway through her set, Swift waded through the crowd during the title song from “Speak Now” to a tiny stage under an electric tree in the rear of the floor section. Back there, she went acoustic for “Fearless” (on which she played the ukulele and weaved in a few strains of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”), “Last Kiss,” and “You Belong With Me.”
Then she and a small security force soldiered through the throngs on the return trip to the main stage, giving hugs and handshakes along the way. One girl looked at her hand after Swift shook it, eyes widening as an expression came across her face that read, simply: I am never washing this hand again.
The biggest moment came at the end, when the singer stepped onto a mini-balcony that was raised 15 feet off the floor and sent out in a wide, sweeping circle over several portions of the lower level.
As she floated, she sang her most iconic love song – “Love Story” – and oh yes, it was completely alright with her fans. She didn’t even have to ask.