BY DAN GARCIA
When Taylor Swift announced that she would deliver another two-night residency to Soldier Field, three years after Swift’s critically acclaimed 1989 World Tour rolled through the Windy City for back-to-back nights, the pop superstar’s Chicago fans were instantly Ready For It.
But if you were expecting a repeat of Taylor’s Chicago visit in 2015, or even a repeat of her recent Rosemont appearance for the B96 Pepsi Jingle Bash, you were wrong because Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour raises the bar when compared to all of her tours to date, making it her biggest and best tour yet. While packed crowds, a carefully crafted setlist, talented dancers and screaming fans are all familiar constants throughout the years, the Reputation Tour is an extravagant show that sets a new standard for perfection that only her tours to come will likely have the potential to surpass.
Friday night’s story began, not when gates opened or when the opening acts hit the stage, but months ago when Taylor Swift announced her 2018 tour. In a fight to ensure that real fans get tickets from the primary source, Swift and Ticketmaster joined forces for her verified ticket program, where fans had the opportunity to watch videos, purchase merch and more, to earn points that could be used for early access to tickets. While this program drew some criticism (almost entirely from those outside of her fan base), the end result was Taylor’s most engaged fans having first dibs at their most wanted seats. Fast forward to June 1st, scalpers’ profits were curbed severely and true fans filled the stadium to witness what may be one of the highest grossing tours of all time.
So with tickets in hand, fans made their way to the home of the Chicago Bears to watch music’s biggest artist and two of her own favorite pop singers, Charli XCX and Camila Cabello, all who have performed for huge crowds in Chicago on several occasions before. From Charli XCX’s memorable performances at Lollapalooza to Camila Cabello’s recent and sold-out Chicago show on her headlining Never Be The Same Tour, and of course Taylor’s 2015 visits to Soldier Field, the powerful trio were prepared to deliver a night that the city would not soon forget (only to do it again on Saturday).
To kick things off on a high note, Atlantic recording artist Charli XCX blessed the stage first and rewarded the thousands of fans who arrived to the show on-time. Performing her biggest singles and collaborations, including ‘Boom Clap’, ‘Fancy’, Break The Rules’ and more, XCX hasn’t released a full length album since 2014 but quickly reminded fans that she has recorded some of our favorite pop records throughout the past few years. Even if she doesn’t release another album (something she has hinted at in the past), Charli XCX’s fun energy on stage will draw a crowd every time she returns to the city.
Next up, pop’s biggest emerging star, the lovely and talented Camila Cabello, said hello to her Chicago fan base. The 21-year-old Cuban-American singer and former Fifth Harmony stand-out, has already surpassed the successes of her former group in so many ways. Her self-titled debut is one of our favorite pop albums from the past year and the LP’s lead single ‘Havana’ has topped the charts in countries all over the world. Her stage presence as a solo artist is well beyond her years and her new Pharrell collab ‘Sangria Wine’ has been on repeat since its release. All of the above was on display Friday night.
Camila’s set was a lite version of her headlining tour that made its way through the Midwest just a few weeks ago, but everything that made the tour great transitioned to the stadium level. Cabello performed her album’s best tracks, like ‘Consequences’ and ‘Never Be The Same’, and closed the performance with her mega-single, ‘Havana’.
Two acts in, the crowd already got their money’s worth with great sets from XCX and Cabello. Taylor Swift casted some hard acts to follow on her tour (something she has done in the past with openers like Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran), but the Swifties in the crowd knew that she would welcome the challenge and elevate the night from an A to an A+.
As the last fans through the gates found their seats and the house lights throughout the stadium dimmed, the mood was set as Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” played. Of course tying in the 1981 track’s theme to her newest and similarly titled album, the tour continued with a video montage of mass media critiquing Swift and her lifestyle over the past few years. “Taylor Swift is on top of the world, but has she does some sketchy things to get there,” one reporter asks. Taylor Swift embraced this criticism in her new album, and this was instantly evident in the concert’s opening.
“Baby, let the begins” are the first words we hear as the 100+ foot video screens separate and a smokey silhouette of Taylor Swift appears. The fog settles as Taylor Swift drops her sparkly hood (just one of many costumes throughout the night) and charges towards the snake pit, opening the night with her Reputation single, ‘…Ready For It?’.
Immediately the attention to detail and subtle effects of the production are on display. “Rep” is projected onto stage’s long catwalks as the dancers march to join Taylor while the crowds light-up bracelets illuminate the stadium. Smoke blasts up as the bass resonates through the crowd between verses. All small but important details that help compliment the performance while Taylor’s singing and dancing are at the forefront.
And while ‘…Ready For It?’ is the perfect opening number for this album, the concert’s production levels only increased as the night went on. The fireworks that shot up from the second song until the last, rivaled the fireworks on display every summer week on Lake Michigan. The heat from the pyrotechnics could be felt all the way from the South Endzone.
Plus, if you thought Taylor’s stage on the 1989 Tour was big, then her main stage on this tour is enormous. And this tour has not one, but three stages, where Taylor can make the entire stadium feel like they have a close view for at least a couple of songs. In fact, both B-stages on the Rep Tour are bigger than the main stage from the 1989 Tour. There wasn’t a single bad seat in the house on Friday night.
Staying true to her bad reputation theme, Swift’s showcased her new favorite animal throughout the show. While they will never compete with Swift’s cats Olivia and Meredith, snakes were rapid at Soldier Field. From her custom made snake microphone (subtle detail #173) to the giant 30-foot purple eyed cobra that slithered on stage for ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, Swift continued to flip the script on her haters by making the once negative symbol one of her own.
Seconds later, a brief video skit featuring actress/comedian Tiffany Haddish played, where she subs in for the track’s memorable line.
“Sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now… Why? Cuz she’s dead!”
Even if the old Taylor is dead, she came back to life for the tens of thousands of fans in attendance Friday. Swift performed almost the entirety of her 2017 LP, however she still dedicated 9 tracks of her setlist to the old Taylor, performing songs from 1989, Red and more.
It says a lot about how massive Swift’s catalog of hits are when she performs more old tracks on this tour than any of her tours before, and still big hits like ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Live Forever’ and ‘Wildest Dreams’ don’t make the cut with a two-hour set. Although there were songs not performed that fans would have loved to hear, if Taylor Swift fully solved that problem, the show would have practically bled into Charli XCX’s opening set for the next day. All things considered, fans couldn’t have asked for an objectively better setlist, and to make the June 1st performance different from all others, Taylor Swift even delivered a special acoustic performance of ‘Our Song’, the first time she performed the track on this tour.
Taylor Swift also took to her guitar for an acoustic stripped down performance of ‘Dancing With Our Hands Tied’, a track which is heavily produced on its album version. The change in pace was a stand out moment from the evening.
Another highlight from Swift’s performance was her performance of ‘Shake It Off’, where the Grammy-winning singer was joined by both Charli XCX and Camila Cabello. ‘Shake It Off’ is perhaps the most fun track in Swift’s catalog, so it was only right that the three sang and danced their butts off to the 2014 single. Although Camila and Charli weren’t big surprise guests like the last guests to join Taylor on stage in Chicago (Andy Grammer, Sam Hunt), it was still a memorable moment that fans won’t forget.
To bring night one to a close, Swift paired her John Mayer-inspired ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ track with ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, a record inspired by Mayer’s ‘Bittersweet’ collaborator, Chicago’s own, Kanye West. These back-to-back performances were 0% bitter and 100% sweet, as the tracks went together perfectly, and for the latter Swift totally let loose. Performing the track in a huge water fountain, not too different from Chicago’s landmark Buckingham Fountain, located just a mile north, Swift got more than her feet wet for the grand finale.
From start to finish, the hits, the fireworks, the impressive choreography and the screams and smiles throughout the crowd never stopped. Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour will exceed even the highest of expectations, and Taylor continues to amaze us all. Whether she is penning Grammy-winning tracks for other artists, breaking records with her full length releases, changing compensation structures from streaming platforms for artists everywhere, or of course blowing us all away with her live shows, there isn’t anything that Taylor Swift can’t do.
If you somehow missed out on Friday night’s show (only acceptable excuses include: emergency surgery, wedding, death in family), you’re especially lucky because Taylor Swift will be hitting the reset button in the Windy City and delivering another Soldier Field performance on Saturday, in what will surely be another memorable night.
…Ready For It?
I Did Something Bad
You Belong With Me
Look What You Made Me Do
King of My Heart
Shake It Off
Dancing With Our Hands Tied
Should’ve Said No
Don’t Blame Me
New Year’s Day
Call It What You Want
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things