Don't let Taylor Swift's rosy-cheeked, aw-shucks act fool you. As she proved with her lavishly produced, sold-out Saturday night show at Investors Group Field, America's sweetheart is a commanding, confident performer. No, make that pop star.
As an artist, she's also a bit of a chameleon, a point that's well-documented on Red, the 2012 album she's touring in support of. The record, her fourth, is a brave, bold stylistic departure, a playful exploration of pop music. It's ambitious -- but it's also kind of all over the place.
The accompanying stage show, which draws heavily from the record, is equally as bold, with no shortage of thrilling choreography and double-digit costume changes. It's also as equally all over the place; at one point Taylor was a music-box ballerina, then she was dressed as a circus ringmaster.
Still, as dizzying as the show was, it didn't distract from Swift's killer vocal acrobatics. There was no lip-synching here, folks, although it'd be easy to be fooled by the spot-on, seamless performances she turned in Saturday night.
Opening with an appropriately stadium-sized track from the latest album, the anthemic, fists-in-the-air State of Grace, appearing in silhouette behind a red curtain before the big reveal. It was a spectacle -- you gotta love pyrotechnics just seven minutes into a show -- and it set the bar high. Clad in a bowler cap, a white button-down shirt, black leather hot pants and bright red loafers, she mugged to the Jumbotrons, flashing a steely gaze before breaking into a wide 'Oh my gosh I can't believe you're here' grin.
OK, so she's still the "adorkable" pixie whom birds possibly help get dressed in the morning.
See, the thing about Swift is that she really, really wants you to like her. Her stage banter was self-effacing and charming, but it was more than a little scripted. "The craziest emotions are red," she said with a spectacularly well-timed flick of her hair before grabbing a sparkly red guitar to rock out the title track.
From there, it was a veritable hit parade. Swift donned a sparkly cocktail dress and red elbow-length gloves to do a cute, Supremes-esque version of her super hit You Belong With Me, complete with backup dancers. It wasn't the night's only bit of winking theatricality; she wore a plunging screen siren gown to walk a red carpet while old-timey news reporters tried to grab a shot during The Lucky One (a hat-tip to Britney Spears, perhaps?).
She sat on an antique trunk, picking a banjo while talking about being picked on before launching into one of the night's few countrified numbers, Mean. For that one, she temporarily transformed Investors Group Field into the Grand Ole Opry, her backing band alongside her.
Then Swift shifted gears and went totally Top 40. She did Stay, Stay, Stay, which broke down into a clap-along sample of The Lumineers' Ho Hey, before slipping on a letterman jacket (costume change No. 6, for the record) for a fun, light-hearted rendition of the hipster-mocking earworm 22, which was easily the night's biggest crowd-pleaser. She made full use of the gridiron, her catwalk extending almost the length of it.
The frenetic, dubstep-inflected I Knew You Were Trouble, another radio dominator, was absolutely electrifying. Swift went uncharacteristically sexy for that one, her hyper-stylized white Victorian gown ripped off by her dancers to reveal a slinky black bodysuit.
Some of the show's best moments came when she stripped things down and just let her soaring voice hit its glorious highs. The dusk performance of All Too Well, one of Red's most stunning ballads, was the evening's best showpiece for her stunning pipes -- but when she stopped playing to gaze, eyes full of real or put-on tears, out at the crowd, the moment was lost.
Taylor, you don't have to try so hard. We already really, really like you. The screams during the epic show finale, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, were deafening.
English wunderkind Ed Sheeran opened the show to thousands of screaming fans. It's more than likely you've heard Sheeran's name a lot as of late: his 2011 debut, +, went quintuple (yes, quintuple) platinum in the U.K. and he's blown up big in North America, now too.
Accompanied by only his looping pedal, his 40-minute set, which included a soulful rendition of Nina Simone's Feeling Good, felt intimate despite its stadium setting.
The A Team made for a soaring set closer, Sheeran's voice as clear as the sky overhead.