Undeniably talented, remarkably successful and that rare recording artist to match her age with millions of albums sold absent Svengali rumors or meme exploitation, Taylor Swift appears at the tender age of 21 already guaranteed an enduring career never quite of the moment. It's no small testament to the power of the Princess Economy that ticket sales for the ongoing Speak Now tour overwhelmed the usual boys of summer (Paul McCartney; U2) and rather more publicized contemporaries (Britney; Katy Perry; Ke$ha, her essential opposite, arrives at the Rose Quarter days afterward; the dialectic between should replace Beatles/Stones for the next decade's co-eds). Lord knows, the happily ever after ascendancy of pop's last good girl should thrill parents tasked with late summer entertainments, but, as Walt well knew, the villains are always more interesting.
Despite the ungendered qualifier as nom de pop—does Kim Possible tour?—Taylor Swift has no actual Disney lineage and insistently plays no character beyond that of the preternaturally driven young singer-songwriter. Launched toward fame by Nashville, her only appreciable relevance within even the newest of country music must be the recurrent whiff of red state values, all the more striking as her closest competitors for tweener hearts and minds turn relentlessly blue. Most notably, plainly distinct from the natural performers dancing as fast as they can through their fifteen minutes, the unpublished teen novelist was not born to the limelight.
Still a bit gawky, gowns suggesting a sexless maturity—unkindly highlighting the occasional androgynous glimpse, Nicole Kidman fading to Hedwig; more than a girl but not yet a woman, indeed—stagecraft limited to the motivational speaker's prowl and game show contestant's bodily quiver, Swift's appeal rests solely in an affecting but hardly bravura delivery of enviable songbook stuffed to bursting with singalong anthems. For better or worse, Swift represents the logical evolution of Music City chanteuse in more ways than just the freely embraced rawk backing and minimal twang. However buried within the array of Broadway set dressing-to-impress she sometimes appears, what would be more suitable context for Nashville royalty so denatured? She'd no more fit a honkytonk than crackhouse.
Indeed, for all her celebrity dalliances (and the embittered ballads studding her set should come with TMZ annotations), has there been another recent star as enthusiastic the role model? While, true enough, such intense humility cannot be entirely genuine, she never lets drop the mask of earnest older sister doting on the massed little women, rendering likable the keening careerism and dampening expectations for the lackluster theatrics to come. One always would've assumed Jo to be a crap diva. The numbed succession of gaudily banal backdrops, as if every theater in Branson packed up shop to tour painstaking recreations of beloved scenes from commemorative dishware, was largely unforgivable, and the shameless excess of a plasticine schmaltz threatened to overwhelm the tunes through limp spectacle. Her gifts for the wryly etched lyrical detail and navel-gazing sentiment writ transcendent hardly benefit from snowfalls and sock hops, but Swift's simplicity of image lends a peculiar burden. If one can sell out stadium shows at top dollar, one must, of course, but the audiences shall inevitably expect something to compare with the vivified hentai extravaganzas begging warm-weather attention.
Without a doubt, the set pieces satisfied parents—and grandparents, a weathered vein of seniors palpably enjoying the transparent cost of pageantry and unquestioned respect paid to core values; let's guess they came from out of town—and the younger children, though one suspects a burning oil drum may have the same effect this late on a school night. The tweeners, though, stared rigid, rapturous, approaching a devotional experience. The little girls understand. They could've cared less about the garishly precious packaging, aside from that addled sense of reciprocity between artist and true believers (obsessively encouraged by our host) falsely sharing victories and anxieties alike, and constantly changing sets allowed plenty of each.
Swift isn't, perhaps, playing a role, but hyper-ambitious post-adolescence could be considered an elongated pose all its own. One feels, above all else, the effort to please, and the crowds respond in kind, hardly fading even as the concert passed its second hour without break. For an encore, the faux wedding chapel's stained glass frieze had transformed to an over-sized mirror upon which close ups of our heroine shone triumphant. Tad heretical, perhaps—and the most obvious shout-out to Disneyfied imaginings—but this was not false idolatry.
As lights finally turned on and heads of household broke from their crouch to half-carry progeny of all ages toward far-off SUVs, an elder king of the road staggering away from nearby detox center almost fell beneath the tidal wave of madly focused families. Grabbing hold of a lamp post, he took measure of the crowds and the time and the muted contentment before asking: "Who won?" Taylor, of course, one leggy eleven year old shrieked, pockets of cheers cascading, and hard to argue the point. The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance matter less than we'd like to think.