If we are known by the company we keep, then Taylor Swift is doing all right. The pop superstar summoned one of rock and roll’s all-time greats to the stage Saturday night in Nashville in the form of Mick Jagger, who performed the Stones’ classic “Satisfaction” with her in front of the sold-out crowd of 15,000 at Bridgestone Arena.
It was a move that surprised everyone in the crowd, and served as a reminder of the colossal power she commands as a broker in the industry.
Did she fly Jagger in from London for one song? Was he hanging out in Nashville for something else? Jagger played LP Field with the Stones this past summer, and it marked the first time the Glimmer Twin had visited Music City in a long time. So Nashville is by no means a regular haunt for the rock icon.
Swift’s 18-song show, her second of a two-night stand in Nashville and heavy on tracks from 1989, proved to be a master class in showmanship and arena production, and Jagger’s appearance was just lagniappe — a WTF? moment that enhanced but didn’t define the night. Swift opened with “Welcome To New York,” sporting Wayfarers and a glitter warm-up jacket, backed by a dozen or so male dancers who on the opening number called to mind Biff’s futuristic squad from Back To The Future II. The jumbo-tron flashed with black and white images all night, in an effort to evoke the classic New York of Gatsby. Manhattan may be wildly overpriced and gentrified these days, with a Starbucks on every corner, but Swift’s vision of the city still contains “all the iridescence of the beginning of the world,” as Fitzgerald wrote, and it remains a dreamscape for reinvention, where you take your “broken hearts and put them in a drawer.”
As Swift transitioned to the second song, she shed the warm-up jacket like Larry Bird used to after the first round of the 3-point contest, revealing a black halter-top as she tore into fan favorite “New Romantics,” a bonus track from 1989. It was one of many outfit changes of the night.
Like any masterful politician, Swift knows how to play to the base— and the red-meat wing of the party is still young teenage girls. The high pitched shriek of the crowd when she first strode on stage affirmed that. One of Swift’s greatest talents is her ability to make the fans feel they are as much a part of the show — and her life — as anyone else. At one point she remarked that she recognized several in the crowd from their Instagram pics. (Before the show, fans even approached her dad for a photo op as he was milling about, for that one-degree of separation experience.)
Saturday’s show was punctuated with testimonials from her “squad” (Girls creator Lena Dunham, Victoria’s Secret models Karlie Kloss and Lily Aldridge, Selena Gomez et al.) about what it’s like to hang with Taylor. It’s not so much a lifestyle brand she’s selling a la Martha Stewart as it is the dream of a better, more glamorous existence. It’s the promise of Thunder Road, only this time Thunder Road leads to Xanadu and is populated with beautiful women, talented writers, pastries and cats with funny names. And no matter what your take is on the songs, and we at American Songwriter are bigs fans of her songwriting, naming 1989 one of the best albums of 2014, you can’t help but be inspired by the Horatio Alger ambition on display here, no matter what form your own dream takes.
When Swift delivered a solo acoustic take of “Fifteen” from Fearless, she dedicated it to Abigail, her best friend from high school, and gave a shout-out to Hendersonville High School, a moment that connected the dots between small-town Tennessee girl and world superstar. Watching her show, it’s easy to forget Swift was even associated with country music. And if any of Nashville’s country music stars had joined her onstage Saturday night it would have been, well, a let-down. At another point Swift delivered a monologue about staying true to yourself and shaking off the haters, in her case the tabloid gossip that has dogged her dating life, and she became visibly emotional. “If anyone tells you you are uncool, they’re wrong,” she said.
Tickets for the event were not cheap. As of show time, some seats on the floor were listed on Stubhub for as much as $2,000. There were entire families in tow Saturday night and it was clear that not all of these dads were dentists with disposable incomes. But for so many of their kids, it must have been the highlight of their year. “Every time I get to hang out with you is the happiest I am,” she said near the end of the show, and no doubt many in the crowd returned the sentiment.