Rod Laver Arena
Hordes of chattering fans crowd outside the arena, as attendants spray Taylor’s custom perfume on proffered wrists, and lightbulb-lined mirrors reflecting excited tweens getting makeovers. The atmosphere is one of a fairy tale coming true and it’s very hard not to be caught up in the excitement.
Inside, the stage extends over the seats, a Juliet balcony hangs high beneath the roof and a pop quiz about Taylor Swift is projected on looming screens. Lights dim, massive red velvet curtains part and the - largely female -audience drown out the first 30 seconds, as the star herself appears meters from the front row, rising through a trapdoor amidst gusts of dry ice. Before ears can comprehend the music, the eye is struggling with the sheer volume of exploding glitter, the Venetian staircases, balustrades and bridges, erupting fireworks, an interpretive dance troupe that burst from trampolines beneath the stage and dance in a way that is wholly too enthusiastic for country pop, a nine-piece band, massive back-projected screens showing animated videos and the gold sparkly dress Swift strides about in. Despite the scale and jaw dropping logistics required to make such a show work as seamlessly as it does, it never for a moment feels alienating. Swift constantly sings about personal connections, and we respond in kind.
Opening with Drop Everything Now, she moves on to latest single Mine, the first of many country pop songs about of small-town girl falling for or getting over a cute guy. She then tells us that this is the second last date of her world tour and spends several minutes explaining in a refreshingly unrehearsed way, what she loves about Melbourne and us.
Tap dancing, ballet, acrobatics, elastic trapeze and many massive, briefly used props spell out songs’ themes and explain why Swift was the highest touring earner of 2011. This bizarre combination of Andre Rieu’s stupendously opulent sets, Cirque de Soliel’s atmospheric dance pieces and the cheery Grand Ole Opry shouldn’t work, but does. The entire scene shifts from minute to minute, as if each song has its own live video acted out onstage. ‘I'm not a princess, this ain't a fairytale’ she sings in White Horse, while wearing a gorgeous dress and living every girl's dream.
Balancing this out are the periods in which Swift brings it back to just her sitting on stage with a banjo, or walking through the audience to sit, mid-crowd, underneath a rotating luminous tree where she talks to us about writing songs about friends, and strums a guitar. Her she plays Ours and Last Kiss before returning through the hordes for You Belong With Me, still one of the best pop songs of recent years. Her song Safe & Sound from the Hunger Games soundtrack and Fifteen close the show, as she circles over our heads on the Juliet balcony. Throughout, her warm, unaffected voice softens and humanises everything she says, and it this plainness that makes her songs’ PG-rated drama all the more real and affecting. Wasn't My Girl a more honest and heartbreaking story of relationships than 500 Days of Summer?