It's not really country. It's pop. Overblown, gaudy pop, with a huge band, multi-level stages, numerous outfit changes (mostly sparkly) and a troupe of dancers, played out in front of a sea of glow batons and riotous shrills. It's more Bonnie Tyler than Patsy Cline and every utterance and movement feels choreographed.
However, Taylor Swift's Red Tour is a compelling spectacle and the multi-millionaire is a genuine talent and an adroit lyricist. The 24-year-old songwriter knows her market and London (or “Fundon”) loves her. It feels like a US election rally or an evangelist meeting. Her faithful, ostensibly teenage girls (the bar areas are almost entirely empty), know - and sing - every word of her (mostly) heartbreak numbers.
“You can take me down with just one single blow,” maintains America's sweetheart on one of tonight's highlights “Mean”. It’s doubtful any meanie could flatten this willowy force of nature. Taylor might have been subjected to some spiteful barbs for losing out (and head-banging to “All Too Well”, which she does again here) at the Grammy's and she’s under an intense media glare for her famous exes (Harry Styles, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal etc) but what’s obvious is that Swift is a gifted musician. She plays the banjo, guitar and piano for pity’s sake. She is “so money” as Vince Vaughn's Trent would say in Swingers.
This is the first of the Nashville-based artist's five O2 dates and the set mainly focuses on numbers from her fourth album, the mega-selling Red. It's her strongest record yet and full of lyrical zingers such as “I’ve loved in shades of wrong“ on "State of Grace" and "I'm really gonna miss you picking fights" on the fearsomely addictive "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together".
Swift has been knocked for (sort of) naming and shaming former lovers in her songs - but it's always been so. Also see Dylan, Cohen and Lennon. Male songwriters have always done it.
Every song seems to signal another costume change (Union Jack top, Marie Antoinette garb, scarlet cape dress etc) and sometimes the choreography, endless catwalk-model strutting, lengthy pre-song preambles (“No matter how hard you try you can't make someone like you if they don't and that's okay”) and fireworks do seem like a fearful faff and we could have done without the home footage of Swift performing from infancy to adulthood before the winsome “22”.
However, Swift's committed song delivery and obvious charisma carry us through the cheese. And on “You Belong with Me” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” she recalls the likes of Sister Sledge and The Supremes. Perfect, perky pop.
The screams are a constant but they go up a few notches with the introduction of Swift's new bestie mate, Ed Sheeran, who delivers a charming version of “Lego House”. She sweetly lets the Suffolk singer take centre stage - which is very un-diva like.
Swift, despite losing out at the Grammy's, is clearly at the top of her game and could well be at the pinnacle of her fame, which is always an intoxicating thing to witness. Her time is now.