Taylor Swift shouldn’t have to explain herself.
As she proved Wednesday at the Prudential Center, the first of three shows at the Newark arena, Swift deserves credit for actually singing super-popular songs she actually wrote surrounded by a fantastical stage set-up that she helped design. In the current age where sex tapes, fisticuffs, wardrobe malfunctions and drug-fueled rampages are the norm, the 23-year-old from Pennsylvania gets criticized because she goes on dates -- and then, famously, writes songs about her mostly broken heart.
“I write songs about my feelings,” she tells the crowd, before revving up to “Red,” the title track of her album that went platinum in one week and is the inspiration of her current tour. “I’ve been told I have a lot of feelings.”
Yes, she does. For two hours, Swift revealed them, all well-written and well-packaged and emotionally intensified. Swift’s singing voice is good, but her writing voice is distinctive, powerful and incredibly well trained.
When all of that comes together -- as it did in her show-stopping piano ballad “All Too Well” (yes, the one apparently about her break-up with Jake Gyllenhaal) -- Swift is truly amazing. She created a personal, poignant connection with a sea of 18,000 fans, many pumping their fists and waving glow sticks and smart phones to punctuate Swift’s delivery in a rare moment of quiet in the show. They may not know what it’s like to date Gyllenhaal, but they know what it feels like when a good relationship slips away.
“I really just write about what I know,” she says, adding that the song becomes a coping mechanism. “So I end up writing songs about my own life.”
“All Too Well” hits hard, in part, because for much of her show, Swift is trying hard not to be quite so direct about her personal life. For the once-simple “Love Story,” she builds out the presentation into an elaborate music box theme, surrounded by her dozen or so dancers and her 11-member band. For the self-explanatory “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” she crosses a carnival with “Alice in Wonderland,” complete with Swift’s touring the arena on a hydraulic lift. Nothing distracts from heartache like stilt-walking clowns.
She is also adding new musical twists to distance her performance from simply wearing her heart on her sleeve -- reworking “You Belong With Me” into a ‘60s girl-group number, adding some extra dubstep breaks into “I Knew You Were Trouble,” and giving some extra new wave sheen to “State of Grace.”
Swift does seem to be feeling more outside pressure on this tour than she has in the past, confiding before “Mean” that she thought “meanness was something you outgrow.” While previous tours felt more light-hearted and triumphant, the “Red” tour, at times, feels embattled. “They don’t tell you that they building you up just to knock you down,” she says in a video piece before “The Lucky One.” “But they haven’t yet.”
SETLIST: State of Grace / Holy Ground / Red / You Belong With Me / The Lucky One / Mean / Stay Stay Stay > Ho Hey / 22 / Starlight / Everything Has Changed (w/Ed Sheeran) / Begin Again / Sparks Fly / I Knew You Were Trouble / All Too Well / Love Story / Treacherous / We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together