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Taylor Swift, wearing a black hat, white top, black shorts and sparkling, sequined ruby red shoes, appears onstage, smiling, wide-eyed and full of wonder.
“Oh, we’re finally back in Los Angeles, aren’t we?” she coos into her red bedazzled microphone, sending the crowd of tween and teen girls into fits of high-pitched squeals.
Swift, 23, might look like Goldilocks, but she’s very much channeling Wizard of Oz‘s Dorothy in the early moments of her Red Tour at Staples Center, the first of four sold-out shows in the L.A. arena.
Of course, considering Swift’s multi-platinum success — with four albums under her belt in only six years, she’s landed a colossal 50 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 — she’s clearly not in Kansas anymore, but Swift’s amazement at seeing a room full of worshipers remains, even though she long ago sold out her first stadium. Indeed, Swift has been working as a professional singer since she was 16, yet she takes the stage with the sort of open-mouthed awe that makes you feel like she’s brand new at this. It’s an endearing trait to present to the nearly 14,000 fans who packed Staples.
She peppers her show with stories about her songs, explaining that her fourth studio album — which was the second biggest-selling album of 2012 in the U.S. and has sold more than six million copies worldwide — is called Red because it’s the color she associates with the emotions of those songs, full of intense love and even more intense heartbreak.
The seven-time Grammy winner’s two-hour show goes heavy on theatrical elements, much to the pleasure of the crowd of young women and girls, many dressed in signature Swift outfits and waving their sparkly wands in the air. During her very first song, “State of Grace,” the ceiling over the stage explodes in a cascade of sparks. In fact, every number was its own mini-show, ranging from an Old Hollywood femme fatale story for “The Lucky One” to Victorian costumes and masquerade dancers for “I Knew You Were Trouble” and a flying cage carrying Swift high over the audience as she sang “Sparks Fly.”
Her strongest performances were the up-tempo songs, which involved plenty of dancers, backup singers and costume changes and focused more on the show rather than her voice. When Swift stripped down to just her and a banjo or piano, such as for “Ours” or “All Too Well,” it was more evident that, while her voice has gotten stronger over the years, it still has a habit of faltering or being too soft to hear over the band.
Swift spent quite a bit of time talking to the audience in her sing-songy voice. Before “Mean” she spoke about bullying and how she vowed to never be mean to anyone on purpose after she was treated so poorly as a child. Before “Ours,” she revealed that she’d written the love song about a guy who her family thought was bad news (spoiler alert: he was).
But while the stories were an appropriate fit for the audience, they often went two minutes too long and brought down the energy of the show.
A fan of the concert cameo, Swift welcomed two special surprise guests to the Staples stage. X Factor U.K. grad Cher Lloyd joined Swift for “Want U Back” and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles performed “Brave.” Swift also performed her duet “Everything Has Changed” with Ed Sheeran, who had earlier in the night performed a solid set as Swift’s opener.
Swift closed out the show with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” complete with stilt walkers and the night’s headliner dressed in a circus ringleader costume. Heart-shaped confetti exploded from the ceiling as Swift exited the stage. There was no encore, despite the teen crowds’ pleading screams.
While Swift focused her set primarily on the songs off Red, she had a couple hits in the set from each of her four albums. Some tunes, like “Fifteen,” “Speak Now” and “Mine,” however, did not make the cut.
No matter how many hits make it onto Swift’s set list, her greatest love song might be the one she didn’t write at all. Rather, her millions of young fans sing it to her every night. Now that’s a happy ending.
State of Grace
You Belong with Me
The Lucky One
Everything Has Changed (with Ed Sheeran)
Want U Back (with Cher Lloyd)
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well
Brave (with Sara Bareilles)
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
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