Taylor Swift Is Larger Than Life on ‘Reputation’ Netflix Special

Taylor Swift is truly in a category of her own. At first glance, she might seem, to the undiscerning eye, to be just one amongst myriad attractive pop singers who cultivates a massive fan base by narrowing in on just the right measure of easily digestible commercial appeal. But if you look a bit further, she could hardly be more different. First of all, she started as a country darling, of sorts, garnering massive praise for writing her own songs – big deal that is. Let’s remember now though that this is the pop world, so apparently, it is – which makes it all much more a befuddling head game that mid-career, she drew massive controversy for making a transition from “country” to “pop.” Now, let’s be honest, she was always pop. Much of country falls neatly into the pop category. And she never even had that much twang in her voice to begin with. So really, the whole “pop” transition was nothing more than a magnification of ambition – along with a slight deviation from genre. At this point, she’s made lists from Forbes to Rolling Stone to Guinness World Records, so it’s safe to say she handled the “pop” transition magnificently. And nothing proves it more than her epic “Reputation” stadium tour performance, strategically released on Netflix on New Year’s Eve.  

Now we’re talking epic on, say, Beyonce proportions. Swift showed up very leggy, and making such an impact, just from an instinctive, visceral level that it’s a shame the audience seemed to be made up of approximately ninety percent gushing, TRL-style female fans, eight percent homosexuals, and and two percent extremely supportive, slightly begrudging boyfriends. The rest of you can catch in on Netflix. The entire act was very, very pop. Strict country enthusiasts should perhaps avoid watching, as it may make the prospect of suicide take on a whole new allure. For the rest of us though, it was an incredibly amazing performance. Moreover, it took place in Dallas – so even real country folk ought to give it a chance, simply based on the intensity of enthusiasm that she drew from the crowd. Anyone who can tap into the collective subconscious so effectively is someone special.

There were snakes – giant cobras were a motif. Apparently, someone called Swift a “snake” at some point – and rather than cowering or embroiling, she totally owned it. It’s essentially the same idea with the whole “Reputation” album and tour title. After being covered on the likes of “60 Minutes” as some sort of puritan ideal, she’s been vilified for nothing more than having several boyfriends over a stretch of time. It might be more suspicious if she didn’t. So she turns the snake thing into her favor, and has a massive cobra head behind her at times. There are loads of meticulously choreographed, mind-blowing dance routines. At one point, illustrious entourage member Tiffany Haddish answers a phone on stage, and says that Swift can’t answer the phone “because she’s dead,” after which Swift promptly bursts into a routine around the lyric of “Look what you just made me do.” Oh dear.

Interspersed with the setlist is a good amount of dialogue with the audience. At one point, she says, “I can see every single one of you,” which is believable, as everyone is professionally lit up. At one point, she addresses the audience directly about the whole gossip issue, by saying, ” What if they have these preconceived notions that they got from me from gossip.” And the response is a stadium full of salivating, screaming fans. Score one against the tabloids. This is the intro for “Delicate,” which is certainly one of the highlights of the show, judging from sheer enthusiasm of the crowd.

Eventually, Swift pulls out the guitar, and tells the audience that it’s going to be “just you and me and the guitar.” It doesn’t turn out to sound as, say, rustic as that may imply, as she’s, at this point, internalized a sort of grand, diva persona that eclipses all the elemental qualities. That said, she does it well, and it shows that she’s a real musician, who can simply grab a guitar and play some tunes, without all the backup dancers and confetti.  

There are points when she floats above stage in some apparatus of sorts, and it becomes full circus fare. And at one point she takes the piano, and pours out a few tunes just on the keys. Ironically, she’s arguably more glitzed up than ever during this stretch. In one of her addresses to the audience, she says, “Honestly, I have never experienced the tour. It seemed to fly past just quickly, because we’re having so much fun. I can’t even tell you how much.” Anyone could say such a thing, but it really sounds sincere coming from her, and seeing the audience react in real time is a beautiful depiction of, well, empathy? They really love her, and it’s easy to understand why.

Swift kept “We Are Never Getting Back Together” for near the end, and then ended with a surprise number of “All Too Well,” which she hasn’t sung live since 2014. It was a nice gesture of balance, showing that even with all the ultra-epic histrionics, pyrotechnics, dance routines, etc, she still makes a point to cater to the fans’ cherished memories. Netflix concert documentaries are prime subject for ridicule, especially when they involve a current artist rather than an old icon who ends up shielded by the sucurital veneer of time and legend. Somehow, however, Taylor Swift has managed to do more than merely pull this off. She’s memorialized an epic tour with an epic performance. Admittedly, that might sound ridiculous, but so is the performance – in the best way ever.

Reputation” premieres Dec. 31 on Netflix.