Taylor Swift, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Country's squeaky clean new queen
Monday 11 May 2009
Taylor Swift certainly knows how to work a crowd of adolescent girls. "Thank you so much London, I've missed you so much!" fawns Swift, encouraging those piercing screams that over-excited teens do so well. "I've missed your adorable accents and your adorable people," she goes on. "I've missed your beautiful city and... I've missed Topshop!" Alright Taylor, let's not get carried away.
In 2008, the biggest-selling artist in the US was not Britney or Beyoncé, not Kings of Leon or Coldplay, but a precocious 19-year-old blonde from Pennsylvania called Taylor Swift. Travelling to Nashville aged 11, she started handing out demos of her self-penned songs to country labels and radio stations. Eight years on, Taylor Swift is being touted as the saviour of an industry in steady decline. Think Miley Cyrus meets the Dixie Chicks. Now the squeaky clean singer has arrived in London to see how her brand of high-school heartache goes down in the UK.
Despite only releasing one single, "Love Story", and the album, Fearless, in the UK to date, the buzz that precedes Swift is huge. Waiting inside the venue there are scenes of hysteria. When she finally begins it seems that everyone in the room knows every lyric to every song. Sometimes they sing along so loudly, they drown out Swift.
And what catchy tunes they are too. They all have more or less the same theme: unrequited love in the cafeteria. Much of Swift's appeal relies on her insistence that she didn't really fit in during high school; she didn't have a lot of friends and she rarely got the boy. The opener tonight, "You Belong With Me", has the lyric: "She wears high heels/I wear sneakers/She's cheer captain/I'm on the bleachers". Although it's hard to believe that this willowy beauty was ever the one the boys didn't want at school, Swift's confessional style of singing about not being the most popular is a winner.
The show is unashamedly girly (at one point she even uses a guitar covered in pink crystals) and it's defiantly PG. You won't find Swift doing raunchy routines (although she's not averse to a bit of awkward dancing), and even her sparkly black dress comes down to her knees.
So tracks about boys and heartbreak with names like "Our Song" and "Teardrops on My Guitar" are played out. "Always and Forever", a song about her split from Joe Jonas, middle brother of the Jonas Brothers, and like, omigod, totally the hottest one, goes down a treat with these girls brought up on a cultural diet of High School Musical and Hannah Montana. There's even an unintentionally hilarious cover of Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around... Comes Around" that shows Swift could use a viewing of The Fabulous Baker Boys to learn how to use a piano as a prop. Still, the kids love it.
It will be interesting to see if Swift can maintain her country fanbase now that she's found mainstream pop success. There's the odd nod to country, but with all the electric guitars and drums going on, the sound is much more pop-rock lite. It's a terribly bland style of music, but it's done extremely well. Like a Häagen-Dazs French Vanilla ice cream as opposed to Tesco own brand. But it's all still vanilla.
There's no denying that Swift is a polished performer, can write a great little pop song and seems like a thoroughly nice girl. In an age of Paris, Lindsay et al, perhaps such a wholesome role model for younger girls shouldn't be sniffed at. But isn't it just a bit disappointing to see so many blinkered teenagers, so thoroughly into this, when musically, really, there's so much more out there?
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