Croke Park Dublin
Accompanied by giant snakes, fireworks and an airborne cage, Taylor Swift delivered a gravity-defying performance on the first of her two dates at Croke Park, writes Ed Power.
Screams and camera flashes rippled around the stadium as Swift entered to the strains of Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation, confirmation of the 28 year-old’s status as one of pop’s most intriguing stars.
But the inflatable serpents that framed the show were acknowledgment that she is also a divisive figure, the snakes referencing Kim Kardashian's claim Swift had stooped to slithering deceitfulness during their feud.
Swift was thus confronting head on the fact not everybody likes her – which made for a strange chemistry given that she was playing to an overwhelmingly adoring audience.
"Taylor Swift is on top of the world but has she done some sketchy things to get there?” asked a newsreader at the start of the concert.
Here was a continuation of the Taylor-versus-the-Haters theme of last year’s Reputation album, an uncharacteristically angry LP that the singer has declined to promote and which arguably represents the first stumble in her 13-year career.
“I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me,” she sang on Look What You Made Me Do as a huge cobra rose from the floor, screaming guitars giving the moment an edge absent from the recorded version.
Subtlety clearly wasn’t a priority, though the more introspective Gorgeous was a reminder of Swift’s talent for weaving private heartache into teen anthems.
She arrived in a glittery hoodie, surrounded by dancers in terrifying leather trousers. Behind a huge video screen loomed like the prow of a battleship.
"Good evening l Dublin...I don't even know where to start," she said.
The epic production quickly went supernova as she soared across the crowd in a metal structure crooning Delicate.
In a secondary stage in the centre of the audience Swift shared the mic with support acts Charli XCX and Camila Cabello (and more snakes) on anti-bullying anthem Shake It Off and then stripped it back for poignant renditions of her early Nashville barnstormer Dancing With Our Hands Tied.
Another snake effigy materialised as she took a return trip in a reptile-shaped elevator, singing her great feud anthem Bad Blood. As Swift's best tracks often are the song was driven by anger, and she delivered it with genuine bite (ditto the encore rendition of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together).
Neither of the approximately 80,000 -capacity Croke Park dates is expected to sell out and it has been reported in the US that Swift’s concerts have been underperforming due to perceived high ticketing prices (in Dublin the cheapest seat in the house will have set you back €74.50).
Still those who did splash out were treated to an extraordinary turn – high-octane yet open hearted, self-aware but brimming with unprocessed emotion (flashing bracelets distributed among the crowd heightened the spectacle).
The world may be divided between those who adore Taylor Swift and those that find her a bit irritating (that the majority of humankind is entirely indifferent is a possibility that seems not to have entered her head).
But tonight confirmed she’s among the most fascinating icons of the age. Never mind the Freudian snakes and self-obsessive streak – this was a bravura pop odyssey, delivered with a snarl and sealed with a hiss.